Sonia Panesar

Entertainment plays a big part at weddings with music being the most popular and live bands creating a unique kind of atmosphere, which forms a connection with all those attending.

Team Sur Sangeet is a traditional Punjabi band with a contemporary twist led by British Asian female vocalists Sonia Panesar and Vinni Virdee, with Dhani on guitar and Bobby Panesar on dholak, dhol and percussion overall.

The band, primarily known for its Punjabi folk repertoire, regularly performs classics and dancefloor hits at diverse weddings, including inter-faith marriages. They were also invited to perform on BBC Asian Network for a royal wedding special early this year, where they wrote a bespoke medley of boliyan specifically for Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and their families.

Eastern Eye caught up with lead singer Sonia Panesar to find out more.

You manage the band with your brother Bobby Panesar. What connected you to the idea of creating a wedding band?

Our journey has been an interesting one. Team Sur Sangeet started off as a sangeet duo. Then it was a trio and then a quartet (band), which means we have various packages depending on the client’s needs. After many sangeet performances, we realised that the ‘personalisation’ through music we offer really connects us to our audiences and families we work with. So we thought, why not transfer this experience over to weddings, birthdays, channi, mehndi, lohri and other events too? And so we did.

How does performing at wedding compare to other events?
A wedding day has so many components to it. So much effort goes into making this big day run smoothly. We take into consideration all of these things and try to understand what the couple and their immediate families are likely to enjoy. The expertise and prior experiences of each of the individuals in the team make this all a lot easier to manage. Of course, we use our spontaneous crowd reading skills too. Our band believes the musical element is what sets the scene, the ambience, fills any gaps and what makes a creative space for couples and their families to truly enjoy the celebrations.

Tell us about the performances you offer at weddings, receptions and sangeets?
The performances at sangeets are specific to the bride, groom or joint bride/groom events. Bride-side events tend to be a little more emotional. That said, emotions are always running high no matter who is getting married. We personalise and tailor songs according to which side we are on, ensuring we cover the all-important traditional tracks too.
Sangeets are usually more interactive and fun and as it’s the first official party of the wedding week, it becomes the first opportunity for families to let their hair down before the main event.

On the wedding day, the performances can vary from covering ceremonies with background music to background songs over dinner/lunch/canapes or high-energy, non-stop dance music. In any case, we ensure that we connect with our audiences as much as possible.

Which are your favourite songs to perform at weddings?
I think it’s safe to say that every song is a favourite, but we do feed off the crowd’s energy as well. So the songs that we like can change depending on the crowd reaction. This obviously changes each time we perform.

Is there one song that never fails?
We have many, but our Vadhaiyan song never fails.

How closely do you work with couples on your sets?
We work very closely with couples as we understand that everything needs to run like clockwork on their big day. We like to find out as much detail as possible about every element of the day, so we get a feel for where we as a band have been placed and for which purpose exactly, be it themed music, artist-focused songs, background music, entrance songs, filler songs, first dance and or songs that achieve the ultimate desi rave.

What advice would you give couples looking for a wedding band?
The day is personal to you, so find a band that understands you both as individuals and as a couple.

Why do you feel a band is better than a DJ?
Because, there is nothing better than live music.

Can you share any memorable or funny moments from performing at a wedding?
The funny moments are always in the interactive segment of our performance. If you know you know. All we can say is we bring the best out of everyone.

Have you had any memorable requests at a wedding?
A groom booked us for his formal wedding sit-down lunch earlier this year. He had us perform only the songs from his iTunes music playlist. The playlist was very personal to him and his wife. The songs were a mix of Punjabi folk and Sufi Punjabi songs, which required collaboration with a carefully selected male Sufi style vocalist. His wife was pleasantly surprised to hear each and every one of their favourite songs performed one after the other and just after they got married. As part of the same wedding, he also requested we sing a Punjabi folk acapella for her as a surprise during her doli ceremony as she prepared to leave her family. It was an emotional yet soul-satisfying performance.

What inspires you as a band?
We feel the rhythm, we feel the music and melodies and we feel the lyrics too. It’s all about the emotion and energy through music for us.

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