An interesting article on music blog Stereogum takes a look at the horrible shooting that took place at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin this past Sunday killing 6 members of the congregation and injuring 3 more including a non-Sikh policeman.
The gunman, who eventually shot and killed himself, was identified as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old discharged US military soldier with a 9/11 tattoo and a history of hate as a member of white supremacist group “Hammerskin Nation” as well as a devoted member of hate punk bands playing the most racist music you could imagine about murdering Jews, black people, gay people and other targeted enemies.
The post’s author, Amrit Singh, describes the tragedy as “not only a hate crime, but one with deeply illustrative, and bitterly ironic, aesthetic dimension.”
The Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, is essentially a book of songs. It is a compilation of teachings by a series of ten Gurus. These Gurus were mystic songwriters. Each of their prayers (or banis) comes with a prescribed raga (a collection of notes, not unlike a mode, but with set melodic implications) and taal (a time signature but with a more complicated, cyclical component than Western bar measures). Services at a gurdwara are almost entirely comprised of kirtan, or devotional singing of shabads (verses from the SGGS) set to harmonium and tabla. Aspirants chant and meditate. While Sikhs explicitly believe that all religions are equally valid belief systems with a common goal and a common destination — making it one of the most inclusive religions imaginable — Sikhs’ specific practice is predicated upon the power of vibration and song: By singing these songs, alone or in the saad sangat (the congregation at a gurdwara), it is believed that one can commune with the vibratory essence underlying all noumena; that by meditating on these songs, you can shift your frequency, still your mind, transcend yourself, be enlightened. And in this state, one can live a good life, of love and commitment to hard work, truth, service, prosperity, and greater peace.
After knowing that, how fatally ironic does it seem that this killing was committed by a hate rock stalwart? That a man so committed to his hateful cause as to become a prominent figure in his music scene turned up at what is essentially a spiritual concert, to murder aspirants who were using music to achieve a diametrically opposed end? Essentially, a lead singer from one genre came to murder the fans of another. From hate punk to kirtan. And by turning up to the gurdwara as early as he did, before things really got underway, Page killed only the most devout members of the congregation: those preparing for the day’s services, those preparing the langar, or the food that is offered freely to anyone, no matter cast or creed, that turns up to a gurdwara needing a meal. Even Page could have had langar, if he chose to feed his hunger over his hatred.
It is truly tragically ironic that songs with a passion for hate fueled a crime against songs being sung for peace. And it’s really something for us to think about, especially if you’re white. May your next yogi kirtans take on a little extra meaning when you gather together freely to bang on the drums and chant in meditation.