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Jasdeep and Ashnaa release their Orpheus 'hit'

Ahead of his tour of the UK and Europe in May and June, sitarist, composer and Opera North Artist in Residence Jasdeep Singh Degun today releases the viral hit that he wrote for Orpheus, our acclaimed 2022 opera in partnership with South Asian Arts-uk.

The single, Aapki Khushi, on Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records, features British Tamil singer and musician Ashnaa Sasikaran on vocals, backed by members of the Orchestra of Opera North, the Orpheus ensemble and Jasdeep’s touring band.

Orpheus wove Monteverdi’s 17th-century opera together with Indian classical music in an entrancing collaboration spearheaded by Jasdeep as composer and co-Music Director. The production opened in Leeds in October and toured the north to capacity audiences and critical adulation. OperaVision’s YouTube stream brought it to viewers worldwide, and excerpts from Aapki Khushi won an even larger audience, racking up hundreds of thousands of views via TikTok alone.

“I started getting daily messages on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and even through my website, from people encouraging me to record the piece”, says Jasdeep. “Aapki Khushi was the first thing I composed for the opera”, he remembers. “It was written specifically for Ashnaa, who sang the character of Eurydice, and it expresses her love for her new husband, Orpheus”.

Ashnaa Sasikaran as Eurydice © Tristram Kenton

Trained in the South Asian classical tradition of Carnatic music, Ashnaa had built a dedicated international following by the time she was cast in the opera. In home recordings posted on TikTok and Instagram she ventures into jazz, funk and R&B as well as Tamil pop and film scores and her own compositions.

Its hooks and emotional intensity might feel distinctly contemporary, but Aapki Khushi is rooted in the ancient musical system of raags – equivalent to western scales – that Jasdeep and Ashnaa share a deep knowledge of.

“The composition is based on Raag Shahana Kanada”, explains Jasdeep. “‘Shahana’ means ‘of royal demeanour’, hence the stately, worshipful feel that seemed appropriate to a declaration of love: ‘Your joy is my joy’”. The lyrics were translated from the original Italian text of the opera and rewritten by Jasdeep’s sitar teacher Ustad Dharambir Singh and Orpheus percussionist Shahbaz Hussain. “The strings were arranged beautifully by another member of the Orpheus ensemble, our assistant Music Director and harpsichordist Ashok Gupta”, Jasdeep adds. Made by Opera North’s Film Team, the video features footage from the music recording session in a West Yorkshire studio, and a performance by Ashnaa in the Howard Assembly Room.

Jasdeep Singh Degun (right) in the studio with the Aapki Khushi string ensemble

Immediately after co-ordinating and producing the recording, Jasdeep flew to Pune, western India, for six weeks off-grid, returning to the study of his instrument free of the distractions of social media. Adhering to a regime of “intensive daily practise, really immersing myself in the music again”, he is clear that “first and foremost I am an Indian classical musician: that’s who I am”.

He’ll return to the UK for a tour of his debut album, Anomaly, released by Real World records last year. Like Orpheus, it’s built on his unique command of both Western and Indian classical traditions, combining the richness and scale of chamber music with the spontaneity of Indian improvisation. Written and recorded under the mentorship of Nitin Sawhney, its twelve tracks range from shimmering high-wire sitar solos to lush, string-laden cinematic excursions, placing the sitar in innovative and thrillingly contemporary settings.  The formidable eight-piece band assembled for the tour includes string, piano and guitar players from classical, contemporary and jazz backgrounds, and more Orpheus veterans – Kaviraj Singh (santoor) and Kirpal Panesar (esraj) – among performers from the Indian tradition.

He is looking forward to spending more time with his band around the dates – six in the UK and a seventh in Rotterdam: “It’s my first tour with a run of consecutive performances – and a proper tour bus!”

Tickets are already limited for the first date, here in the Howard Assembly Room on 17 May. In the meantime, Aapki Khushi is available via Real World Records on Bandcamp and all major music platforms.

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