India’s best-known DJ and producer is back on the scene with three fresh tracks in Gurinder Chaddha’s film It’s A Wonderful Afterlife.
Stayin alive is an iconic number. Did that make it difficult to recreate it in It’s A Wonderful Afterlife?
Not really, because I’ve dabbled with Stayin alive even when I was DJing in school. The number has influenced me a lot and it’s a dream come true to mix it. The hardest part was getting the right singers for the song.I travelled around the UK, and finally found a Bee Gees tribute band, which performs Bee Gees songs for a living.And they were perfect!
I then got a tumbi player from Punjab, put some dholaks into the mix, (chuckles) and added the Bally Sagoo basslines. It took me a couple of months to put the song together, but I’m really happy with it.You’ve composed two fresh tracks too.Yeah, one of them is a Hindi-Punjabi song called Disco bhangra, sung by Neeraj Sridhar. It’s an upbeat, disco track, with bhangra and bounce. It’ll play in the dance sequences in the movie. There’s also a romantic track called It’s love, sung by Mica Paris.
When you started out, remixes were a fad. But now, they aren’t as popular. Why do you think that’s happened?
Remixing has got a bad name now. I’ve always made sure I keep a gap in between my albums; I’ve never clustered the market. But when DJs in India jumped on the bandwagon with Kaanta laga, they just didn’t get it right.I take my time in remixing, recreating, or doing a cover version of a song.
But everyone’s just tried to copy the style, without actually knowing how to go about it. Another big problem is that most DJs in India remix those tracks that already have been remixed. It’s not just about taking any popular old song and remixing it.You need to carefully choose one, and then recreate it. Remixing is an art, but not many people understand that.
Like a painter, I take the paints and colours, and start putting them on the computer. And I try to keep things authentic. If I need a dholak, instead of getting it from next door, I get it straight from Punjab.Initially, did it frustrate you that people thought of you as a ‘remix artiste’, than as an original music producer?It did frustrate me.I had original tracks on the Billboard charts, and yet they were being called remixes in India!
That’s because the concept of a DJ/producer has been alien to India. They call it ‘music director’, when, as a DJ/producer, I do the same thing. Somehow, people identify the word ‘remix’ with me. Yes, Chura liya was a remix, but Aaja nachle was an original. Even Stayin alive is not a remix, it’s a cover version.
You are coming up with an album after a huge gap. What’s it got in store?
I’m almost finished with the album. It’s got a fresh, new sound, where I’ve used house and electronic music with Hindi and Punjabi beats. I’ve already worked with the best of Bollywood, so this album’s got a lot of new soldiers. It’ll be out in August.
It’s going to be a bombastic album! I didn’t come out with anything in a while because rather than burning yourself out every few years, it’s better to make fans wait. The secret is to not overkill. That’s why my songs like Gur nalon or Aaja nachle have stood the test of time.
You’ve also been trying to set up a DJ school
Yeah, I’m trying to set up my own school in Delhi, and hopefully in Bangalore. I want to teach people on how to create music on computers. I don’t DJ much these days because I’ve been setting up my own music label, but I wanted to teach people how to do it right. I want India to have ‘music producers’.
On working with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
The best thing about working with Nusrat saab was that he came to me and said he wanted to collaborate with me, since he liked my music. I wasn’t remixing his music, but we actually sat together to create a new sound. It was unbelievable having him sing to my music, the way I wanted!
On working with Amitabh Bachchan
With Amitabh, he was one of the first people who put his hand up and said he wanted to experiment. I was cheeky enough to ask him to come to UK to my studio. And he actually spent six months here making music. It was a big honour… Kabhi kabhi is my favourite track of all time!
On Bollywood soundtracks today
I’ve noticed that the composers keep getting younger and younger, which is a great thing. I find it funny that there are so many remix tracks on the albums now. 20 years ago, I’d keep telling these same producers that it’s a great idea to have remixes on the album, and they’d think I was stupid. And now, when they want me to do the remixes, they can’t afford me.
Non desi music in the UK
The desi scene has come a long way. And I’m proud to be one of the reasons behind this. My songs were the first ones to be played on Radio One, UK’s biggest radio station. And today, there are separate radio stations for Asian music. Today, clubs and music venues aren’t for goras only. Asian music is doing as well as English music.
In fact, when I started out, I had to deal with a lot of racism. In clubs I’d play, sardars in turbans weren’t allowed in. Some kids still face these problems, but I’m proud that today, you can play loud ‘desi’ music in your car, without fear.