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Hitting the right notes

Millions of hits, Bollywood breakthroughs, Punjabi singers are ruling the charts and hearts like never before23 Feb 2019 | 1:25 AM

If one million views make a song a bona fide hit, in the world of Punjabi music, three to four million hits is a norm.

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Nonika Singh

If one million views make a song a bona fide hit, in the world of Punjabi music, three to four million hits is a norm. And 300 million hits is no mirage either. Gyms, clubs, Bollywood movies, radio, playstations, tune in whichever way, everyone is grooving to Punjabi hit numbers. Love them, hate them, slam them as misogynists or promoters of daaru and bandook, there is no denying the “wakhra swag” of Punjabi music and its growing voluble presence. If back in time, Daler Mehndi made whole of India sway to his “Bolo Tara Ra Ra” as well as “Tunak Tunak” and Gurdas Maan became an iconic figure, today the list of star singers from the land of five rivers runs long and is ever growing. Certainly Diljit Dosanjh is the uncrowned prince. Along with Yo Yo Honey Singh and Badshah, he can easily take a bow for paving the way. But if they set the ball rolling, others have not only picked it up but also kept the momentum going. So much so that a new singer is born every day. “Make that figure 50 a day”, says Tej Gobind Singh, head, White Hill music label. 

Indeed, not all aspirants acquire star status. What does it take to hit the right note is hard to say. For a company that launches 15 to 20 new voices every month, Tej Gobind was surprised when Maninder Buttar’s Sakhiyaan hit a record 200 million views. Interestingly, the entry of new singers makes the space expand, creating room for more to fit in. 

So what makes Punjabi music the rage it has become? Atul Sharma, music director and owner of a recording studio in Panchkula, analyses the phenomenon thus, “It’s the Punjabi swag that makes our music inimitable. Besides, Punjabis have this inherent and irrepressible gene in their DNA that impels them to be forever in a state of elation. The same when translated into music becomes infectious and few can ignore it.”

Add to it the fact that Punjabis love to be heard and they go all out to ensure that the voice reaches out. Social media platforms, from Facebook to Instagram to the all-pervasive and democratic YouTube ... is what popular singer Ranjit Bawa of “Phulkari” and “Kangan” fame would enlist as the main reason for the soaring popularity of Punjabi numbers. Coupled with increasing internet accessibility and its vast reach, Ranjit says, “music has no borders.” Bollywood director Mudassar Aziz, in whose film Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi singing sensation Jassi Gill made his debut last year, couldn’t agree more. 

As Bollywood is waking up to Punjabi music and welcoming it with open arms, picking up a Punjabi hit and incorporating it in a film is almost a given. Aziz, however, feels that Bollywood is cashing in on the hit formula. “With or without Bollywood, singers like Hardy Sandhu, Sidhu Moosewala, Guru Randhawa, Jassi Gill and, of course Diljit Dosanjh, were anyway reaching out to the country.”

As not just Punjab but the world becomes their oyster, Jassie is overwhelmed by the response from non-Punjabi listeners. Having recently performed at Crossblade Music Festival in Jaipur and all booked for concerts in UP this year he reveals with a hint of unconcealed pride, “Be it Rajasthan or Himachal Pradesh, a Punjabi musical night is a surefire guarantee of success even more than Bollywood fare.”

Thus to reach out to his fans, Jassi, and many like him, keep the lyrics simple and relatable. Pinglish is an automatic corollary to keep young urban listeners in the loop.

Indeed, Punjabi singers are coming under a lot of flak for its meaningless lyrics too which according to many industry watchers is often misdirected and unwarranted. While Atul opines that in comparison with other folk forms Punjabi music is far more decent, Aziz can’t understand what the fuss is all about. “Shayars have always spoken of jaam, maikhaana and sharaab and listeners have always applauded. Now, if the lyricists are using the word daaru, why so much of hoopla. It’s not just the vocabulary that has changed from jashn to party but even the times are changing.” It is exactly this ability to be in step with the changing tastes and mores that is keeping these singers in business and circulation. 

Many of them like Jasmine Sandlas come from foreign lands and have knowledge of different genres of music. Thus they bring in music from hip-hop to rap, which makes them  click with GenNext. 

Make no mistake, the urban young are the latest and loyal entrants into Punjabi singers’ fan base. No wonder more than 1,000 songs are downloaded on Gaana app each month. If regional content is witnessing an upward graph on this music platform, Punjabi music undoubtedly is the biggest gainer. Indeed, slick and qualitatively produced videos shot in exotic locations (Jassi has just done one in Dubai) trigger interest and viewership. But as Singh says, “Ultimately, a song has to be heard and soon audio will overtake videos.” 

Currently pegged above Rs 500 crore, the booming Punjabi music industry is expected to grow further. Tej Gobind Singh insists, “This is not a bubble that will burst.” Jassi reminds us of international pastures and possible forays with foreign artistes. Guru Randhawa featuring on Billboard top 25 songs on YouTube created history with his collaboration with Grammy award winner Pitbull. The Pitbull-Guru song shot in Miami might be titled “Slowly Slowly”, but Punjabi music is in top gear and in cruise mode. Aziz sums up with one word: Unstoppable.

Hitting the right notes
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