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Japjit Kaur

International freelance songstress and multi-award winning actor Japjit Kaur is a former A level student at NewVIc. She studied Psychology, Media Studies, Critical Thinking and Music Technology. Currently recording the second album for a band called Simon Thacker’s Svara Kanti and acting in a play at Shakespeare’s Globe called ‘The Little Match girl and other happier tales’, Japjit takes time to talk about her career and life at NewVIc.

Can you start by telling me a little more about yourself before you came to NewVIc?
I was born in New Delhi and came to England to live with my mum in 1997. I joined Eastlea Community School in Canning Town at the end of Year 7 and took 9 GCSEs there. 

What made you come to NewVIc?
It seemed such an exciting place to be at! At school we used to talk about different sixth forms and NewVIc used to come up quite a bit.  Through school we were informed of the many subjects and facilities available at NewVIc. My best friend was also going to be there and the choice of subjects was quite appealing to me, so it was a no brainer. 

What did you study at NewVIc? 
To begin with, I studied Psychology, Mathematics, Media Studies and Critical Thinking, however I always found myself in music block. I have always been very fond of music and the arts but had chosen to study more academic subjects. One of the music teachers, Mark Ward, who sadly since passed away, really encouraged me to join his course. After much thought, I dropped mathematics and took on Music Technology instead, which I absolutely loved.

Did you continue your studies? 
Yes, I went on study Media at UEL. There was a buzz surrounding the course and it was exciting to learn about the mass media, films, cameras and editing. I didn’t really have a focused outlook or see the possibility of music as a career at that time.

When did you discover you had this talent?
I will never forget the day I auditioned for a talent show held at NewVIc by the students. I was painfully shy but I was roped into singing by one of my friends. I had no idea what was about to happen. As I sang, a room full of people I didn’t know cheered me on and on. I was totally overwhelmed. This was just the beginning of my growing love for music which was nurtured by all the support I received from my peers at NewVIc. From then on I never stopped performing.

Who have you worked with?
I have been lucky enough to work with some of the greatest artists, directors and performers of our time. I have written many songs for the award-winning composer Niraj Chag for his acclaimed albums ‘The Lost Souls’ and ‘Mud Doll’.

I have also worked with actress and writer Meera Syal on a play called ‘Rafta Rafta’ at the Royal National Theatre where I was the Music Director, the film ‘All In Good Time’ directed by Nigel Cole and the Royal Shakespeare Company for ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.

I also worked on a play called ‘Nirbhaya’ directed by Yael Farber in which I played the role of Nirbhaya (also known as Jyoti Singh Pandey) who was the victim of the infamous gang rape case in India. This honest and gripping piece of theatre helped 5 women tell their real life stories and we went on to win several international awards. We toured with it for 3 years to raise awareness of violence against women.

I have worked with Emma Rice, the artistic director of the Globe theatre on three shows as well as with Sir Nicholas Hytner, the former Artistic Director of the National theatre to name a few.

When did you decide you wanted to sing professionally?
I never thought music could be my career. It has never been done in my family, for generations we’ve had teachers, engineers, doctors and bankers but no musicians.  I also come from an orthodox family so being a singer or an actor was a big no-no. After university I got a job which I hated, then a few years later I met composer Niraj Chag. He was an excellent mentor and gave me some great advice; he really liked my writing style and really encouraged me to continue harnessing my musical skills.

Have you always been bilingual? What languages do you sing in? 
Yes, growing up in India and living in an expatriate household, automatically exposed me to three languages as a child; English, Panjabi and Hindi. At school I also studied Sanskrit and Gurmukhi. We learned Urdu and other regional languages such as Bengali, Rajasthani, Bhojpuri and Haryanvi through songs and poetry which were common practice in my school. The main languages I write in are Hindi, Panjabi and Urdu but I have also written and experimented with other Indian regional languages.

How did you get involved with BBC Asian Network? 
I got involved with the Asian Network through my songs and live performances for the BBC. I perform with Niraj Chag and BBC Asian Network and have been a huge supporter of their work for many years now. 

Do you have any fond memories of NewVIc? 
All of my memories of NewVIc are beautiful. The friendships, the fun, the break-times, my tutor group and the talent shows! Being at NewVIc really solidified my relationship with music. I was extremely shy before coming to NewVIc but being there gave me so much more confidence. It was one of the best times of my life.

How did you find the teaching at NewVIc? Did it prepare you for your next educational step?
My tutor was fantastic and so were all the other subject teachers. I particularly liked the music and media departments.  Both Mark Ward and Robert Wells were excellent teachers, they were always so supportive.

How would you describe yourself before you came and after you left to NewVIc? 
As I mentioned earlier, I was painfully shy when I first attended but later I became a lot more confident. The music side of things gained me a lot of popularity and it felt like I knew everyone in the college. I had a lot of fun being at NewVIc and have very fond memories of my time there.

Do you have a favourite quote? 
I have a few. I love Sufi poetry and Rumi is one of my favourites. 
“What you seek is seeking you.” 
― Jalaluddin Rumi

I am also a big believer of us being able to create our own destiny so I love this one too; “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”

Do you have any advice for anyone that would like to sing professionally? 
The best advice that I ever received was never to have a plan B. If you believe you are going to do it, only then will you achieve the results. Plan B means there is room for failure!

What do you aim to next? Your goals and future plans?
I’m writing some new material for the next project. I would love to do some more films and perhaps write my own play one day.

Find out more about Japjit