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Pioneer in bhangra pop

Known for his feel-good compositions and hi-energy music videos, the prince of bhangra was in the twin cities with his lively Bhangra-techno fusion.


HANDS ON: Sukhbir gave a new sound to old melodies.

APART FROM the universal appeal that his music has -- a blend of Punjabi base with western influences of rap and techno, his larger than life image with the distinct mystic element brings out a positive energy on the stage. "I had heard that my latest album `Prince of Bhangra' was doing well here but the people in Hyderabad just proved it - they sang along and knew every word of my song. I was not sure since it has been my first visit here, but Hyderabad is no more an unknown territory and I feel like am home. This has been a memorable trip, my first and definitely not the last," says Sukhbir. He was in the city recently to perform at the Dhola-ri-Dhani.

One of first movers in the Indi-pop scene with contemporaries Suchitra, Daler Mehndi, Baba Sehgal and Shweta Shetty, Sukhbir recollects, "I am proud to be the pioneering artiste to have started the Bhangra pop industry."

Born in Punjab, Sukhbir grew up in Nairobi, Kenya where his family had migrated. His family has been a great support all along. ``My father has been a priest in the Sikh community. I was trained in the classical tradition of music and used to accompany my father at the Shabad-Keertan in the Gurdwara on harmonium and tabla. I grew up in a Gurdwara and that's where my music took a start," he says. At 16, a bandleader looking out for a keyboard player spotted Sukhbir and roped him in. "I realised then that all I wanted was music," he observes. What followed was the one-man-show that started gaining immense popularity when Kenyan businessman Ketan Somayya took him to London and opened a recording studio, when he was looking for a career in IT. "Computer programming fascinates me," he says. But destiny had it otherwise.

His first album of 1992 featured a blend of Punjabi, Spanish, Portuguese, Gujarati and Swahili. He then decided to follow one genre of basic music and Bhangra - the music he grew up with - was the inevitable choice. His music, evolved through the traditional Punjabi score, has been a vital part of it all. "You cannot take the Punjabi rhythm away. Initially there was heavy western influence in my earlier albums such as Punjabi munde. But when I did the concerts I realised that the people did not respond intensely to Punjabi music with greater western beats. Then I decided to use profound Punjabi sound while mixing in African music that I was familiar with, raga and reggae genre respectively," he says.


SITTING PRETTY: Reigning supreme in bhangra land.

Sukhbir broke on the music scene worldwide with his debut album New Stylee released simultaneously in India, South Africa and Middle East. The immense popularity of the album got it nominated for the 1996 Channel V Awards under several categories - Best Debut Album, Best Vocalist and Best Music Video for Punjabi munde. His next album Gal ban gayi released in 1997 went on to make Platinum Disc for its outstanding sales. Again the video for the title track was a hit with the music channels.

But the number which became an anthem with the music lovers was Ishq from his 1999 album Hai-Energy, with a feel-good hi voltage video accompanying the intense song. "The video was shot in London by an English Director Simon Fellowes. The dance was not choreographed, the artistes were let loose and there was no dress code. We asked them to wear what they generally dressed in. The raw feel was kept in the video with plenty of energy," he recollects.

In the year 2000, BMG Crescendo brought out his all time hits in the album aptly titled `Prince of Bhangra'. As for him he went on to bring forth the single Girls Girls Girls in 2001 to commemorate the three consecutive titles for the Indian girls at the international beauty pageants.With several albums to his credit, the 31-year old Scorpio is firmly grounded. "My father taught us very strong Indian values since we were brought up away from the country, for instance addressing an elderly person with `tussi' and `Sat Sriakal'. We were brought up in a simple way and am not a material person," he says.

Based in Dubai, Sukhbir is currently doing his MBA with a distant learning course to be in touch with his academics and also working towards the Private Pilots License owing to his fascination for aeroplanes apart from his new album that is scheduled for release towards the year-end. "The album is going to have a club feel. Style once again is distinct Punjabi with harmonising and vocal effect one can look out for," he says.

Nicotine and liquor are an absolute no-no with Sukhbir who derives a high from music. "I keep good people around me and that gives me positive energy," he says. One can visit his URL www.sukhbir.net. As for his fans he conveys, "Write to me on my music and more. Feedback from friends and followers has helped me evolve."

SYEDA FARIDA

Photos: Mohd Yousuf

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