Last year, Ranj Singh performed close to 220 gigs.
“And this year started off fantastic,” the Surrey-based musician said, “but then this (pandemic) came in and closed everything down.”
No question, 2020 has been a bleak year for the city’s performing artists, due to COVID-19 and the resulting lack of events to play.
In response, Surrey Civic Theatres has rolled out a series of “Digital Stage” online concerts that offer local musicians paid gigs at a time when few are available to them.
The next one, set for Friday, July 24, will feature Singh and fellow player Sami Ghawi in an hour-long showcase starting at 7 p.m. on Surrey Civic Theatres’ Facebook page and also the city’s Youtube channel.
Ghawi has performed a few of the Digital Stage concerts in recent weeks, under the banner of his FUSIONpresents brand, but for Singh it’s pretty much a new adventure in the online-gig world.
“I’ve done a few (concerts) from home, trial and error, trying to get the sound right and things working properly,” Singh said of recent attempts to enter the virtual world of concerts. “Then with Sami’s help he got me set up and I got a bit more gear for that, and now it’s pretty good.
“I type with one finger so I’m not a technical guy at all,” he added with a laugh, “so it’s been a good learning experience for me.”
On July 24 the duo will perform together in the same room at Surrey Arts Centre, for an online audience only.
“We’ve been rehearsing outdoors in a park over the last month or so, with social distancing and everything, and it will be the same setup that night,” Singh explained. “It will be mostly covers, but when I do covers I usually do them quite different, and as you know Sami is a great musician so he adds a whole new flavour to it as well, so it’s been a lot of fun to play with him. It’s going to be his style mixed with my style, with a couple of originals in there too.”
Singh and Ghawi first met in 2018 at the Surrey Arts and Business Awards, although they’d been Facebook friends prior to that. Ghawi’s FUSIONpresents company later began booking Singh at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel’s MIXT Lounge; the upcoming showcase will mark the first time they’ll gig together.
Ghawi, who has hosted the Sunday-night jam at White Rock’s West Beach bar for more than a decade, said he’s thrilled to be a part of the Digital Stage initiative.
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity from the City of Surrey that gives artists the chance to perform and entertain the public,” he said. “Being offered a platform to perform and get paid when all our scheduled shows have been cancelled overnight is a huge blessing.”
Singh is currently performing five or six gigs a month, mostly outdoors.
“I’m at Krause Berry Farms (in Langley) every weekend, booked there until September, which is nice of them,” Singh explained. “And I have a few weddings to do, which have been scaled down to 20 or 30 people, pretty much, and those were booked last year. And I’ve been offered other gigs where I’m like, “nope,” where I’m just not comfortable doing them. Like, when we’re singing, you’re spitting 20 feet in front of you, so you have to have nobody near you. We have to be careful.”
Looking ahead, in a show called “Write the Future,” the Digital Stage concert on Aug. 7 will feature Devon More and her “humble, humorous and harmonious take on the human condition in 2020,” according to an event post on surrey.ca. “Building musical arrangements for her indie rock/pop tunes from scratch, she uses a loop pedal to live-mix the electric guitar, flute, glockenspiel, and whatever else is in her long arm’s reach.”