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‘Language Gives You Identity’

Contemporary Punjabi music lacks traditional influence: Singer Sukhbir Singh.

For someone who can sing in nine languages including Gujarati, Punjabi, Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili, singer Sukhbir Singh, known as the ‘Prince of Bhangra’, who has given some smash hits like ‘Punjabi Munde Paaun Bhangra’ and ‘Gal Ban Gyi’ feels that Punjabi music has undergone a metamorphosis since the time singers like him started out in the 90s… Sukhbir Singh speaks with Sukant Deepak.

“Of course, it’s in the DNA of music worldwide to change consistently with the times. The same holds true for Punjabi music too, but what we are witnessing is a scenario where it is leaving behind its traditional trademarks, for example the back end tabla, dholak and tumbi. They all are now fast disappearing. It is perhaps another stage of evolution,” says one of the first names in the Indie-pop scene in the country whose debut album ‘New Stylee’ released simultaneously in India, South Africa and Middle East.

Singh, who grew up in Kenya and whose father, a composer, was a priest in a Gurudwara there feels that composing comes naturally to him, and setting to tune his own lyrics is always a double pleasure. “I wrote the lyrics for ‘Punjabi Munde’ and ‘Gal Ban Gayi’ myself. Composing them myself meant much greater creative control. The whole experience was unforgettable,” says Singh who also sang ‘Dil Laga’ in the film ‘Dhoom 2’.

The singer, who is now the brand ambassador of ‘Language Curry’, an app for learning Indian languages, says that what really attracted him to the brand was the fact that it went beyond teaching a language. “It also teaches you a culture of the region in an interesting and fun way.”

Adding that in a highly globalised world, it is important to learn the language and culture of one’s region, Singh feels that the same helps one connect to the community, culture, heritage, and roots. “Also, I feel language gives you an identity, thereby imparting a sense of belonging.”

Talk to him about the several controversies arising out of ‘vulgar’ lyrics being used in many Punjabi songs, and the singer says that it is high time that lyricists understood that using double meaning words cannot guarantee a song’s success. “I have always refrained from objectionable lyrics. I do not think it is impossible to touch the listener with clean and meaningful lyrics.”

The recent lockdown provided enough mental space to Singh to create new music and learn instruments which he always wanted to. “I took it positively and used the time to focus on my work and be close to my family. I am looking forward to the songs created during this period, which will be released soon.”

As the music industry has moved from albums to singles, the singer feels that it is a positive development as now the artiste can focus on one song at a time to make it a success rather than delivering eight tracks in an album. He however adds that the key here is consistency. “Sometimes, many singers tend to put all their efforts into one song, which results in a tremendous pressure to create the second hit. Online platforms are great but let us not forget that if the song doesn’t work no amount of marketing will make it into a success.”

For someone who grew up with African music and British Punjabi bands who redefined the Bhangra beat, international influences continue to enrich him. “Reggae, rap and techno find a way naturally in my songs as I have grown up with all these influences.”

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