Last evening, at DLF Cyberhub, Gurugram, on the occasion of its sixth-anniversary celebrations, Rabbi Shergill performed his famous songs Bulla ki Jaana, Tere Bin, Challa, Bulleya… Called Punjabi music’s ‘urban balladeer’, this legendary singer-songwriter-guitarist is back after a brief hiatus. This 46-year-old, who claims he “bums around a lot”, says there’s plenty of stuff on the anvil including a few songs for Hindi movies. Excerpts:
When did Gurpreet Singh Shergill become Rabbi Shergill?
Both have been my names, albeit formal and nickname respectively. When it was time to use one as an artiste, I preferred the latter.
Why did you dropout of Fore School of Management after a year?
I couldn’t imagine selling carbonated water or fans or soaps.
When did your interest in music start?
I could always hold a tune right from childhood like my other siblings. I trained under Ananth Vaidyanathan for a few months which has been of immense use to me.
Bulla Ki Jaana released 14 years ago and is still immensely popular. Why did none of your other songs match its popularity?
It feels good to have created a song for the ages. Other songs came in an era when airplay became commercialised.
Maybe I got complacent.
If you were to rate the music lovers of cities in terms of understanding music during a show, which will be the top three cities in the world and why?
Atlanta, Kolkata, Mumbai. I’ve seen a genuine passion for art and artistes in these cities.
How do you rate the acceptability of Indian music abroad?
I’m somewhat perplexed by the lack of truly crossover artistes as in the Spanish diaspora. It’s mostly an iteration of the ‘exotic India’ music that I see being accepted.
I don’t see any new song out there that can remotely claim to convey to the world what it means to be an Indian in the world. And all our music exports are guilty of lapsing into regressive, banal imagery.
You once said ‘pure art is fading away and getting replaced by entertainment’
By art if we imply, processing the sum total of human proclivities and suggestions in our time and conveying them in a manner that uplifts us, to bolster the best part of ourselves, which it should according to me, then we have been failing for a long time.
Most of Punjabi music is a sad mimicry of US’ black music where the perversion, misogyny and violence can at least be explained away as the result of psychological wringing of the oppressed.
But when in Punjab, the singers, its elites, spout the same drivel, it’s just bullying in rhyme.
Your opinion on digitisation in the music industry?
It’s the vessel that shapes us, there’s no getting around it. You got to keep your eye on being authentic. It’s a paradox – it democratises and monopolises at the same time.
Has it become easy for independent artistes to create their space in the era of social media and OTT platforms?
Yes. The environment is very newbie-friendly. But it’s also capital-friendly. So it’s easier to get a break but very expensive to keep churning out material.
Singing for albums, Hindi movies or performing live. Your pick and why?
Studio is perhaps the most enjoyable as you experience first love as you embark on a new production. But performing before a receptive audience that you don’t have to spoon-feed is very fulfilling too.