Piping their way into M’sian hearts
Next gen keeps Sikh marching band going
REMEMBER the viral video of five young Sikhs playing a bagpipe and drums to celebrate the victory of the Malaysian football team against Myanmar during the recent SEA Games?
Two of them, Tripert Singh Khalsa, who played the snare drum, and Tirath Singh, on bagpipes, happen to be from the Sri Dasmesh Pipe Band, the same Sikh marching band that piped their way into the audience’s hearts in the National Day parade at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur
Cutting a striking figure in white turbans and tartan-draped kurta, the marching band evokes images of marching warriors.
Much to the audience’s delight, the marching bagpipe band is not only confined to playing Scottish music, although that is its main repertoire. They can also perform impressive renditions of Rasa Sayang and Shanghai Bund.
For the record, Sukdev Singh, 62, who founded the band with his brother Harvinder, 54, makes clear the outfit has no associations with the armed forces. Admittedly, the idea was inspired from watching the police bagpipe band rehearse at the Malaysian Police Training Centre in Jalan Semarak where they grew up.
But it was not until the boys finished their tertiary education in the United Kingdom did they begin putting the band together in 1987, starting out as a drum corp.
“The band is a reflection of the ‘Malaysia Boleh’ spirit. When we started out, there was nowhere we could send our members to learn how to play the drums or bagpipes. We had a big break when a sponsor sent one of our members for drum training in Scotland for a month.
“In the early 1990s when the Internet boomed and people started posting lessons online, it was a quantum leap for us. This is why I say we can be considered an Internet band,” joked Sukdev, an airline pilot.
Thirty years on, the band is seeing pioneer members’ offspring taking over the various roles ranging from the lowest rank as pipe major to the highest as drum sergeant. The band is fully run by volunteers.
Pipe sergeant Rajdeep Singh Gill, 27, who joined in 2014, was told it would be a “oneway ticket.”
In view of the time and expense required to train a member to play the bagpipes, only volunteers who are willing to commit to long hours of practice are encouraged to join.
“You learn very quickly here what discipline means,” said Rajdeep.
The tradition in this outfit is for a senior to nurture a junior. If a major wants to be promoted to sergeant, he has to ensure his charge is competent enough to take over his role.
“If a volunteer leaves the band, the senior loses face,” said Rajdeep.
Viral video stars Tripert and Tirath, who moved an entire stadium to dance with their flash mob, said being part of the band was like having an extended family.
“In most bands, friendship starts and ends at the gate of a practice area. Relationships are kept professional. With us, it’s different.
“Most of us start off with the band at a very young age, so we grew up together.
“After every Saturday evening practice, we spend time together doing non-musical things like playing futsal and going for dinner together. The founders believe a band that works, eats and plays together, will stay together,” said Tripert.
The band’s biggest achievement was competing in the World Pipe Band Championship in Glasgow Greens, Scotland, in 2015. The band also won gold medals at the Kuala Lumpur Highland Games and the South-East Asia Pipe Band Championship in Singapore last year.
The Sri Dasmesh Pipe Band after a performance in Glasgow in 2015.
Rajdeep Singh leading the way.