Friday, July 8, 2011

No Bhangra Please, We're Punjabi: Rabbi Shergill

Rabbi Shergill

There are two things to say right up front about tonight’s artist, Rabbi Shergill.  He is not a Jewish priest. And. He is does not play bhangra.  He is a Sikh from Delhi, which clears up the first point but makes the second point more intriguing. 

Bhangra, the Punjabi harvest dance, whose beat, rhythms and energy have made a rapid and seemingly effortless insinuation into Western pop and rap formats, has become synonymous with Punjabi music. To find a Punjabi, especially a Sikh and especially from Delhi, who is not a bhangra wala is indeed, enough to make one stand up and take note.

Rabbi (Gurpreet Singh) Shergill had a hellish road to success in the music world. He played in a band (Kaffir) in Delhi but his bandmates were more committed to corporate careers and the thing petered out. Record companies came sniffing but left without offering him a contract. Even Sony pulled out after making positive noises. He worked his networks for finance and patronage which he eventually got, only to find the rupees run out and the record labels collapse.  Finally, in 2004, in what at the time, might have seemed like an act of desperation for both parties, Phat Phish Records and the earnest guitarist agreed to terms and a record was recorded and released.

In a twist usually found only in fairytales, the record, Bulla Ki Jaana, went gangbusters with the title track, whose lyrics were composed by the 18th century Sufi from Sindh, Bulleh Shah, outselling all other non-film based songs in 2005.

Shergill’s music is inspired by the mysticism of South Asian Sufis but also the folk music of Punjab. His voice is a thing of beauty: as clear and as natural and as high as a mountain stream.  His guitar playing is commendable though he does call on the chops of some international friends when fiery solos are required.  In addition to the understated mega hit Bulla Ki Jaana, other tracks like Tere Bin, Ishtihar and Ek Geet Hijar Da reveal just how talented a musician and songwriter Rabbi Shergill is.

This record is a delight on so many levels not least because as wonderful as bhangra is, it is fantastically fresh to hear smart, folksy Punjabi pop that engages the mind more than the legs and arms. 

         Track Listing:
         01 Bulla Ki Jana
02 Tere Bin
03 Heer
04 Ishtihar
05 Totia Manmotia
06 Ajj Nachna
07 Gill Te Guitar
08 Ek Geet Hijar Da
09 Jugni
Listen here.

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