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For so long now popular Punjabi music has been reduced to being a bhangra-ised club track with a replaceable turbaned frontman and his band of scantily clad back-up dancers. So when the end of 2004 saw 29-year-old Rabbi Shergill release his brand of Punjabi Sufi-folk-rock-pop, it was no surprise that he went straight to the top of every chart around. The Record brings you an exclusive conversation with the singer/songwriter/guitarist who has became the poster child for a new wave of Punjabi music.

The Record: Your music has been described as a mix of Punjabi, folk, rock, pop, and Sufi. How would you describe it?
Rabbi: Description of my own music is beyond me but I can only talk about my influences and as a listener what I hear in my music. I hear rock, I hear urban folk music… I read these lines about my music, where the writer said ‘He’s writing songs about the urban situation, for the urban situation from the memory of a village’. So I think I’d leave this describing business to someone more apt.
I just feel that there is a rupture happening, India is not one anymore, there are two Indias. I feel we are sitting in India right now and then when I go back to my village somehow there is not enough balance between the two. I think somewhere I feel myself rooted peacefully in both these milieus.

TR: The album took a long time to release.
Rabbi: Yes it did take some time. We started recording sometime in November 2000. We finished pretty much everything by May 2002. That was the actual making of it. It took some time because my previous producers ran into some problems, and then we just waited and waited and then met Phat Phish Foundation and that was stage two. So the musical work on the album took less than two years, to finish the songs technically, master it and other things took some time.

TR: The reaction to it has been great.
Rabbi: You tell me…

TR: It has. How do you feel?
Rabbi: I feel vindicated, validated, satisfied.
TR: There were lots of music offers that you turned down in the past. Why is that?
Rabbi: I am deeply sceptical about Bombay and film music and… it seems to assume for itself the role of the supreme arbiter of art and music and I beg to differ. So I felt a little uncomfortable hitching a piggy back ride on film music and it was a very personal thing. Now I did not think that a few lakhs here and there would make a drastic difference to my lifestyle. I just did not see any sense in giving my music up, we would have just become another small fine print on a film music record. I wasn’t ready for that.

TR: Would you sing playback for Bollywood?
Rabbi: No I don’t think so. I hate the word playback.

TR: Amitabh Bachchan is reportedly a great fan of your music…
Rabbi: I don’t know what to say, he liked it, yeah. It’s nice of him to like it. I’ve always craved for respect of peers. I wanted always to make a cultural, civilisational mark, not just a compliment here or there. It’s not to say that I’m so egg-headed that I do not understand Amitabh Bachchan liking your music, what does it mean. But with all due respect I feel that a compliment is a compliment is a compliment… Whichever way you look at it, it is one person liking another person’s work. I can only say personally, thank you to him. I feel very uncomfortable standing on the roof top saying ‘Hey, Amitabh Bachchan likes me’.

TR: How did it all start for you musically?
Rabbi: It all started off with a Bruce Springsteen concert after which I started singing his songs and then started teaching myself the guitar. I slept with the guitar, woke up with the guitar, ate the guitar, drank the guitar… and I loved it so much, it gave me a welt on my chest. So I taught myself all the songs I wanted to play. I listened to U2, Dire Straits, a great deal of rock music. Sometimes I used a book, sometimes a guitar instructional, just plain old perseverance.

You can read the rest of our exclusive with Rabbi in the January 2005 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.

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