SONIK KICKS! The Modfather and The Sikh Weapons Master

Weller’s 35 year career has spawned many high profile collaborations but none quite as unique as that with Nidar Singh Nihang, the last known master of the Sikh battlefield arts.

In an unlikely match rock legend Paul Weller and the last surviving Sikh master of Shastar Vidiya collaborate on an arresting music video – and help to spread awareness of Sikh martial arts and philosophy as a result. Weller fan and GT1588 team member Harbakhsh Grewal explains how it happened. 

When one of Britain’s most successful singer-songwriters’ people approached GT1588’s team we were only too happy (if a little surprised at first) to discuss the idea of helping the archetypal ‘Mod’ Paul Weller create an intriguing video for his latest No1 album of kaleidoscopic sounds, Sonik Kicks.

This request fitted in perfectly with our ongoing mission to highlight the best of Sikh arts, culture and philosophy to the wider non-Sikh world. We are well aware that by sharing our stories and expressing our universal values we can help break down barriers and our rich culture can be better appreciated.

That’s Entertainment!

Weller on Sonik Kicks: ‘If there was any concept at all, it’s to take people on a kind of sonic journey. Not in any thematic lyrical way, but a purely musical colourful trip.’

I’ve been a fan of Paul Weller since his days in The Jam. Some might well call it a sign of a misspent youth but I’ve a wide-ranging appreciation for music across many genres. Weller has always been a bold, immensely talented musician, never afraid to reinvent himself remaining ever true to his artistic muse.

So when I was told that his people had come calling I was a little surprised to say the least. But as a result of last year’s exhibition on the Golden Temple of Amritsar and our association with a certain Sikh martial artist, we were approached by renowned video director (and fellow Weller fan) Ben Jones.

Ben, whose previous clients include Oasis, Lilly Alllen, Coca Cola, BA, and Nokia, and whose work has featured stars including Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney, wanted help with the music video for the track Drifters from Paul’s critically acclaimed new album.

Indian Vibes

Fighting the good fight (Picture: Harbakhsh Grewal).

Ben explained to us his vision and then, based on our discussions with him, presented a treatment to Paul to give the OK to:

‘I love the traditional Indian, slightly psychedelic sound to the track itself… it feels like it has a dream type narrative with an undercurrent of menace running through. If there had been a James Bond film made by Bollywood in the late 60’s and scripted by the writers of the Prisoner then I want this video to be the title sequence for it with the track as the title music.

‘I would combine this feel across the film as we go on a symbolic journey through the person’s mind in the song’s lyrics as he battles within himself. This battle is imagined as a travelling Indian warrior fighting with many incarnations of the devils that appear to him. The devils would be created using classic devil masks that are both brilliantly bright and colourful but grotesque and evil at the same time.

‘For the main hero of the film, the Indian Warrior, I would cast a really interesting martial arts expert called Nidar Singh, who is the last remaining grand master of one of the oldest Sikh martial arts, Shastar Vidiya… he looks amazing and is very photogenic. I believe he would look great on camera and really bring something to the video.

‘Shastar Vidiya is a fighting style that is very flowing and [its] movement and style fit perfectly with the rhythm and feel of the track which is why I like it so much….’

He’s the Keeper

Nidar Singh Nihang, the last known master of the ancient Indian battlefield art Shastar Vidiya on shoot for the video (Picture: Ranvir Singh Jagdev).

Ben had come across Nidar Singh through last year’s BBC World Service programme hosted by Hardeep Singh Kohli which had received an incredible 1 million downloads becoming their most listened to programme of the year.

That broadcast itself had partly come about because of our summer exhibition and Nidar’s role as a speaker at one of the symposiums due to his unique position as the last master of Shastar Vidya. The GT1588 team were consultants on the programme, which led to a host of media stories on Nidar Singh from the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail to The Sun all seeking out this last known teacher.

Ben took his imaginative concept to Paul who gave it the all important nod of approval, choosing it over several other ideas. The shoot took place in a west London studio on a chilly Saturday in January (coincidentally in the same studio used by Paul for a promotional shoot for his clothing line with Liam Gallagher’s Pretty Green brand).

Nidar Singh’s agreement was given as he states: ‘After carefully reading Ben’s treatment ideas we decided to take part. I knew of Paul Weller, mainly from his days with The Jam, and though he’s not exactly my cup of tea – I much prefer classical Indian music in the dhrupad style – I could appreciate Ben’s vision and thought it had value in showcasing Sikh martial arts and philosophy to a wider audience.’

The Way of the Warrior

The Warrior Poet, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru.
Art print available to buy at www.kashihouse.com.

Nidar Singh explained how that philosophy is encapsulated in the teachings of the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh as espoused in the Sarabloh Granth:

‘Though inimical to none, and aided by this perfect Guru, Sikh warriors were taught to confidently engage in a never-ending struggle; a war of wills against ‘opponents’ that are manifested both internally, as vices to be engaged within the battlefield of the mind, and externally, as oppressors in the physical world. Spirituality is necessary to conquer the internal war, but only warrior attributes can tackle those who cause pain to innocent people treading the righteous path. All human beings experience this twofold conflict in varying degrees, but only a few emerge victorious – and indeed are capable of making the required sacrifices – to establish both peace of mind for themselves and peace on earth for others.’

Such exposition makes clear a Sikh’s duty ‘to fight the good fight’ both internally and externally. Ben’s fantastical visual conception of Weller’s swirling John Coltrane inspired ‘heavy psychedelic flamenco raga’ (Q magazine) was made flesh by Nidar Singh demonstrating the very concepts these ancient texts espoused.

Lights, Camera, Action

As you lean into the light. The hallucinogenic effect of prisms and flecks of light were created using old-school, in-camera technique shooting through such material as cut glass and fishing wire (Picture: Harbakhsh Grewal).

The day itself was the expected mix of hanging around interspersed with conversations with the ever helpful Ben and the production team, who gave of their time and knowledge without hesitation.

Upon arrival we received a warm welcome from Soup Factory head honcho and all round nice guy Andy Soup (if you’ve ever seen that wonderful video for Scissor Sisters Don’t Feel Like Dancing – that’s one of his) and spent the day chatting, watching the pros (both behind and in front of camera) do their thing and generally soaking up the experience.

Our team included several photographers and budding filmmakers so the experience was invaluable in a number of ways.

Modern Classics, Ancient Wisdom

Paul Weller has been described as ‘a national treasure’ and a man at a creative highpoint in a career spanning nearly four decades and innumerable musical and stylistic incarnations. And Drifters has been rated by Mojo Magazine as one of Weller’s best twenty tracks from his twenty year solo career and as the new album’s highpoint.

The video itself has been released on DVD as part of the Deluxe Edition of the Sonik Kicks, which comes with this explanation: ‘Sikhism says that each individual must continually battle with 5 inner-demons throughout their life. Here we see the visual representation of this daily journey, played out by a Sikh martial arts master and his pupils…’

You can see the video here and find out more about Shastar Vidiya and Nidar Singh Nihang here.



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