Born in strife-ridden Ireland, raised under Apartheid in South Africa, and finally arriving in Thornhill, ON in his teens, it’s no wonder Kiran Singh’s debut album, simply titled Kiran, is a worldly mix of R&B, soul, jazz, funk and pop. A quiet child who shone when he sang, Kiran’s early love of music has directed his life path, and his experiences along the way have shaped the landscape of his songs.
Fleeing the political climate of their homeland of South Africa, Kiran’s family immigrated to Ireland, where Kiran, the youngest of three, would be born. Despite the sectarian struggles that gripped their adopted nation, the family suffered no real inequity in Ireland (“If you weren’t Catholic or Protestant they didn’t really care,” Kiran remarks). It did, however, provide his first encounter with the societal ravages of discrimination.
When Kiran was 4 the family returned to Lenasia, South Africa, an Indian village outside Johannesburg. The country was still in the grip of Apartheid, and segregation was the norm. “We couldn’t live in Johannesburg because you had to be white to live there. Being Indian we were basically considered middle-class – not upper class like whites, nor were we treated like blacks.” Much of his childhood was shaped by the political backdrop of Apartheid and its racist policies, of which he became more aware as he grew older.
“Because it was so segregated you almost had no idea what was going on elsewhere. We lived about 15 minutes from Soweto, and didn’t know what was happening there,” Kiran recalls. Another time he remembers “seeing people selling flowers on the side of the road with signs that said ‘Whites only’ and asking my father why that was. He said we had our own places to get flowers. It was like that everywhere, for everything.”
His childhood in South Africa awakened a love of music in Kiran. Introduced by his parents and elder siblings, he remembers “there was always music on. It was around the time of Thriller, so Michael Jackson was everywhere. We also listened to old jazz, Nat King Cole, early hip hop and lots of R&B, which was huge over there. There were artists like George Benson that were absolutely huge stars in South Africa, but when we came to Canada I realized hardly anyone here had even heard of them.”
At 10 Kiran was told he would soon be moving to Canada. “Everyone kept saying it’s going to be really cold over there, but I was excited. When we arrived (on a March day) we were driving down the 401 and I could see icicles on the bottoms of cars and my first thought was ‘how cold IS it here!?’”
Undeterred by the temperatures, culture shock (he was suddenly the only brown kid in his class), and loneliness, Kiran found his place in this new society through music. Given any opportunity he would entertain his classmates by singing. “If people heard me sing, they’d talk to me.” He enrolled in piano lessons, a lifelong dream (“there were no teachers in South Africa”), and immediately knew that music was truly his passion. This realization would lead him to Cawthra Park Secondary, the performing arts high school in Mississauga, where Kiran, the artist, emerged.
Through its respected program, Cawthra Park began to shape Kiran’s future musical sound. He discovered new artists and music, learned to play acoustic guitar, bass and percussion in addition to piano, began writing and arranging his own material, and realized “I wanted to learn more. I wanted to go to University, and I wanted to use these new skills in the pop world.”
Kiran enrolled in the highly respected Jazz Vocal program at the University of Toronto, which has graduated some of Canada’s leading jazz talents. Led by a top-notch faculty that engaged students in the learning process (“we had some really cool people teaching us”), U of T also taught Kiran perhaps his most important lesson – he didn’t want to pursue a career in pure jazz.
“I kind of rebelled at U of T, because nobody did anything but jazz. I like jazz-influences, but I wanted my music to be different. School taught me to be less theoretical. I listened, but tried not to do everything that way. I like to take neat ideas and bring them to somewhere I’m good at.” The song “Ready” on the CD reflects that approach.
It wasn’t his training at school that led to Kiran’s first big musical break, though; it was his job at The Gap. “That job changed my life,” he laughs. “Everything that’s in my life is because I worked there.” Not only did he meet his life partner, a female co-worker, another co-worker introduced him to fellow musician and future executive producer Mark Bronson, who immediately noted Kiran’s talent.
Bronson and Kiran began working together shortly after Kiran visited a class Bronson was teaching. Bronson introduced Kiran to his current support crew, which includes co-executive producer Melinda Van Gorp, producers Bryant Didier and Larry Thompson (Neverending White Lights), and award-winning songwriter Michael St. Clair (Jacksoul). Together the team has crafted a solid, pop-influenced debut album that melds elements of Kiran’s musical education in jazz with his love of soul, R&B, hip hop, rock and funk into a compelling musical message of life.
Reminiscent of George Michael in spots, and Prince in others, Kiran is an album that plays with sounds, defies genre classification, and yet has broad appeal. From the first single, “Funky Blue”, with its infectious groove and lyrics reminiscent of a lost relationship, to the soulful “You Bring Me ‘Round”, which pays homage to his musical idols like Al Green, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, the release of Kiran marks the unveiling of one of Canada’s brightest new talents.
And unlike so many new studio-created artists, it is on stage that Kiran comes alive. With top professionals at his side, Kiran owns any stage he steps on. His passion and promise grab the audience immediately, and the live energy further elevates the material’s intensity.
His tumultuous childhood may have been tinted by oppressive politics, but Kiran’s hope and belief in the power of music is a far more powerful force. When combined with a stunning voice and solid songs, as it is on his debut album, Kiran (and at http://www.kiran-funk.com), it’s a force that becomes simply unstoppable.
“Music heals. It reaches people in deeper ways than words alone can, and that power can be felt throughout the world. Music bonds me with my society. I want to use that bond to connect others through my music.” With Kiran we can all connect.