Call him a musician, collaborator, re-mixer, rapper or music producer — Ravinder Singh Rai, popular as Panjabi MC, says he relishes all his profiles.
At Blue Blazer in Sector 26 on Saturday, he talked of his city visit, the origin of his popular name and his favourite music instruments.
Panjabi MC has given Punjabi music lovers a long list of classic bhangra hits, such as Dhol Jageero Da, Mundian To Bach Ke Rahi, Jatt Ho Gya Sharabi and Akh Da Ishara, in numerous albums.
Rai’s parents are from Punjab but he was born and brought up in the UK. “I was twelve years old when I started developing love for music; as I was initially attracted to drums and keyboard.
But I never wanted to learn music from anyone; instead I wanted to have my own unique style. At 16, my love for music took a professional turn and I started my career by writing lyrics and doing raps at gigs. People who saw me perform started calling me an ‘Indian MC’,” says he.
Rai says he explained to them that the non-English words in his raps were in fact Punjabi. About being referred to as MC, he clarifies, “It stands for ‘master of ceremony’, a church-related terminology. This is how my name Panjabi MC came about.”
Rai defines music as the language of harmony and unity. “When I DJ, I have different people of different cultures and religions dancing together without thought of politics and boundaries. My music even has Israelites and Palestinians dancing together,” asserts the musician.
Interestingly, Rai’s DJing plays an important role in his selection of songs that go public. Reveals the 33-year-old, “I sit for hours on my computer and for every song, I take out 20 versions. But I don’t release 99% of my mixes; only 1% are released. I let the people on the dance floor choose which ones go public when I play them all as I DJ, and then decide to release the number that makes the crowd respond the most. I love it when people go crazy on bhangra tunes.”
Awarded the World’s Best Indian Music Artist in 2003 by World Music Awards, Rai says it’s an honour to represent one’s country on a global scale, adding, “Music must have come from the Himalayas, as it has a spiritual balance. Punjab especially, has the best, strongest and the most powerful music in the world. So, I feel blessed to have my roots here.”
In the late ’90s when Panjabi MC came on the music scene, there were very few Asian rappers. He took to traditional Punjabi music and merged it with hip-hop and R&B to create his own mix. And that’s how a new sound, ‘bhangra hip-hop’ was born and the brand of Panjabi MC began to spread all over the world.
When people credit him contributing to Punjabi music’s popularity in a colossal way, he says his achievements actually came as a surprise. “I hadn’t dreamt that I would be able to churn so many hits. I only focussed on my compositions when I started out and enjoyed doing so. In the meanwhile, the hits happened,” he laughs.
The musician, who says he can’t do without tumbi, dhol and tabla, isn’t worried whether the Punjabi youth will take to their roots. “There is nothing to worry about. Even I was born in the UK, but I stayed close to my roots. The farther you go from your culture, the more you start valuing it.”
On plans to enter Bollywood, Rai offers, “Music is not business for me; it’s a hobby. In fact, it’s my baby and I indulge in it for a reason. If I make a song for a film, I would stop enjoying it because I believe I would be dictated.” In the meanwhile, listeners get to enjoy Panjabi MC’s latest single, Bari Barsi, while awaiting his next album, 56 Districts, that releases in 2013.