Guilty pleasures are best kept secret. This then is the moment I come out of the listening booth. My musical tastes, I’d like to think, are eclectic. I like my Beatles. I love my electronica. I even admire Hindustani Classical musicians. But what I really have a soft spot for are tunes that come from Punjab. I find myself helplessly seduced by their charm. My heart instinctively goes ‘hadippa’. It’s been 15 years and I still follow the genre like a hound. This A-Z guide is my confession, my love fest.
A is for Ainvayi Ainvayi
When asked to explain my love for all music Punjabi, the only words I can muster are ‘ainvayi ainvayi’ (just like that). For instance, I don’t know why I still listen to ‘Ainvayi Ainvayi’ on loop, six years after Band Baaja Baraat released. The hybrid Hindi-Punjabi lyrics must have done the trick. “Chai main dooba biskut ho gaya” – this is poetry of the highest rank. I don’t say that ainvayi ainvayi.
B is for Badshah
If I could ever request DJ Waley Babu to play a song, it’d probably have to be a tune Badshah had produced. Once part of Mafia Mundeer, Honey Singh’s crew, Badshah is now taking off from where Yo Yo left off. A film wrapping means him rapping. He kinda said that. There was ‘Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai’, then ‘Aaj Raat Ka Scene’ and now ‘Chull’. Bollywood and I have again found a fixture.
C is for Chandigarh
For followers of Punjabi pop, Chandigarh is a veritable Mecca, and its Sector 17 must surely be some holy shrine. Almost all rappers glorify it as some kind of idyllic paradise. Their dream is simple – whizzing down the city’s streets in convertibles. If lyrics are anything to go by, every corner has a booze shop, and a scantily clad arm candy is waiting at every bend. Essentially, Viva Las Chandigarh!
D is for Diljit
Diljit Dosanjh has sung a song about the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. He is that cool. The star of films such as Punjab 1984 and Jatt and Juliet, Diljit had told us that he will always continue to identify himself as a singer. You could of course listen to his ‘Patiala Peg’ or ‘Bodyguards’ (that Gaddafi song), but I suggest you start with ‘Proper Patola’. The song features Badshah, and strangely, Nicki Minaj.
E is for Extravagant
Punjab and Punjabis, in my imagination, are defined by a certain excess. Their clothes are flamboyant, their music is all bling and their weddings are ever so extravagant. In 2001, Monsoon Wedding had given our baraats ‘Kawa Kawa’, and then in 2010, Aisha’s ‘Gal Mitthi Mitthi Bol’ proved one thing – you might be wearing South Indian finery, but all you wanna do is the balle balle.
F is for Forbidden Fun
Punjabi music, I must guiltily admit, is my mistress. I have been reprimanded by friends for playing ‘Aahun Aahun’ a little too often when given charge of the iPod. They look at me funny when I say that Shamur’s ‘Let the Music Play’ redefined my listening habits. In more than a few erudite circles, I am considered a philistine. So I stick to my headphones. The upside – there’s always a party in there.
G is for Gur Nalon Ishq Mitha
Much before Yo Yo, there was Malkit Singh. The first Punjabi song I heard was Malkit’s ‘Gur Nalon Ishq Mitha’. The words made little sense. I may have even been put off if someone told me that the chorus translates to ‘Love is Sweeter than Jaggery’. All I had were the beats. Bally Sagoo’s remix came later. Memorably, its video gave me Malaika Arora. The tune, for me, was a real golden goose.
H is for Ho Jayegi Balle Balle
Music videos were still nascent when Daler Mehndi came to hog our television sets. That perhaps explains why the singer seemed to be changing invisible light bulbs all the way through ‘Ho Jayegi Balle Balle’. It didn’t help that parodies of ‘Dardi rub rub kardi’ were already circulating at the time. But the ‘Tunak Tunak Tun’ legend remained unaffected. All paaji said was this – ‘Na Na Na Na Re’.
I is for Imran Khan
There are two things you’re sure to find in The Hague – justice and Imran Khan. A Dutch-Pakistani artiste, Khan sang a tune seven years ago which still remains a club favourite. He was an ‘Amplifier’ to your woofer. (That one!) Though there are other songs Khan has to his credit, ‘Amplifier’ remains etched in my mind. ‘Come sit in my car with tinted windows.’ That was the point. But still. Respect!
J is for Jugni
One Hindi film which captured Punjabi better than others was Oye Lucky Lucky Oye (2008). The soundtrack featured two great tracks, both titled ‘Jugni’. One was happy-go-Lucky. The other was all angst. ‘Jugni’, the word itself, has two meanings – ‘female firefly’ and ‘spirit of life’ – and in a Coke Studio session, Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi sang a ‘Jugni’ that was both incandescent and ethereal.
K is for Kala Chasma
When Aman Arshi dropped Kala Chasma, it was, much like its lyrics said, ‘Something like a phenomenon’. Each time the song played on the radio, cars picked up speed, windows were rolled down and some susceptible women reached for their dark glasses. It was an improvement on Suhaag’s ‘Gore Gore Mukhde Pe Kala Chashma’, yes, but the song didn’t seem to add much else.
L is for London Thumakda
Few musicians have more Punjabi punch than Amit Trivedi. As Queen made clear, his ‘London Thumakda’ had the kind of appeal which could get your 78-year-old Dadi and your 14-year-old kid brother both grooving on the dance floor. Trivedi also has an enviable repertoire – ‘Mahi Menu’, ‘Gal Mitthi’ and the Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana OST. This Gujarati munda has a lot of Patiala swag.
M is for Mika
Mika’s debut oddly came with a Hindi tune. He sang ‘Saawan Main Lag Gayi Aag’ with an earnestness that had lovers across the country imitating his nasal twang. Bollywood soon discovered that there was a ‘Something Something’ to this lad, and then came a string of hits – ‘Mauja hi Mauja’, ‘Pungi’ ‘Subah Hone Na Da’, the list goes on. Even Yo Yo was forced to once admit that ‘Mika Singh is King’.
N is for Nach Le
Nightclub DJs will all confess that from the moment they start turning those tables, they’re inundated with requests for something Punjabi. In those dark, neon spaces, Nucleya’s ‘Mera Laung Gawacha’ and RDB’s ‘Tamanche Pe Disco’ get your legs jiving more than a sixth pint of beer. I must make a confession. When no one’s looking, I take Bally Sagoo’s advice and do some ‘Nach Le’ myself.
O is for O Kudiye Teri Jawaani
Keats wrote an ode to nightingale. Punjabis usually write their odes to ‘kudis’ and ‘jawaani’. The most memorable such ditty came from Bombay Rockers. In the early 2000s, the Danish/Indian band released ‘Rock the Party’. You’d think you had heard them say ‘frack’ the party, but this was really a love song. The ‘kudi’ and her ‘jawaani’ were both objects of terrible torment. Who would’ve thunk!
P is for Punjabi Pride
Bengalis or Tamilians would never get away with it, but Punjabis make it a point to periodically remind us of their supremacy. Akshay Kumar, for instance, wears his pride on his sleeve. There was Singh is Kinng in 2008 and then we saw Singh is Bliing (2015). The message, though, came with Speedy Singhs. Akshay sang ‘Shera Di Kaum Punjabi’ with gusto. (No, you don’t mess with lions.)
Q is for Qawwali
It would not be an act of appropriation to call Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan the greatest Punjabi musician to have ever lived. His family, after all, hailed from Jalandhar. His songs such as ‘Sanu Ek Pal Chain Na Aave’, ‘Akhiyan Udeek Diyan’ and ‘Kinna Sohna Tenu’ are representative of the sublime verse the language affords. Rahat, his nephew, only carries on the tradition with ‘Main Tenu Samjhaawan Ki.’
R is for Rabbi
Rabbi performs a Punjabi music that is chicken soup for the soul. With ‘Bulla Ki Jaana’, he had us each asking that one existential question – ‘Who am I?’ Then came ‘Tere Bin’, a dedication still made by lovers in long-distance relationships. Finally, there was ‘Challa’ in Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Rahman’s music, Gulzar’s lyrics and Shah Rukh Khan’s hands in the air – there really was little else we needed.
S is for Sukhbir
You just need to sample a few of their tunes to know that hip-hop stars love their dollars. Sukhbir is essentially our Snoop Dogg. Last year, he was detained at the Lahore airport because he was carrying all of $27,000 in cash. But I can forgive him this transgression. Along with Daler Mehndi, he had made Punjabi so delectably pop. ‘Gal Ban Gayee’ and ‘Ishq Tera Tarpave’ … my debt is immense.
T is for Tung Tung
Diljit Dosanjh and the Nooran Sisters recreated ‘Tung Tung’ for Singh is Bliing, but it lacked the raw appeal of Sneha Khanwalkar’s original. The music director found herself at Punjab’s Qila Raipur Rural Olympics for her show Sound Trippin’. She sampled the sounds of boys jumping on husk, of Sardars commentating, and her folk-electronic song still has me yelling, ‘Tung Tung Da Sound Karda.’
U is for Underground
Speaking to Caravan in 2013, Punjabi DJ Nazran had said, “The gap between popular music and underground is that producers want people to dance to rap. And rappers want people to listen to their rap.” He articulated the distinction carefully. There’s evidence that in corners of Chandigarh, Amritsar and Ludhiana, there live musicians, rappers and DJs, who’re still trying to keep things ‘real’.
V is for Vroom Vroom Videos
I watch Punjabi videos more often than I should, but each time I do, I feel bewildered. Where do these innumerable Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches come from? (That’s a garage I’d really like to raid.) Rappers also obsess about the word ‘geri’. While there is no direct translation, you must imagine a bunch of Patiala pals driving their fast cars real slow. Basically, ‘geri’ makes ogling simpler.
W is for Wakhra Swag
I first heard Wakhra Swag three months back, and my iTunes counter tells me that I have since heard the song 194 times. So, an average, I’ve heard the number more than twice a day. There are a few reasons that explain my fascination. The song’s lyrics seamlessly weave in brands like Gucci, Armani and Aldo. Badshah even mentions Obama. The tune has a swag that is truly Wakhra (one of a kind).
X is for X-rated
There are times when Punjabi songs and their videos can be a tad NSFW (Not Suitable For Work). I should know. I’ve gotten some very strange looks from colleagues. Some rappers cross the line from appreciation to lechery and their videos come to border on sleaze. Yo Yo, for instance, was even charged with obscenity. No Keith Richards, he couldn’t escape the sex, drugs, rum ‘n’ rolled mindset.
Y is for Yo Yo Honey Singh
For Punjabi pop, this decade has had one seminal moment – the release of Yo Yo Honey Singh’s International Villager in 2011. Let’s just go over the roster. ‘Brown Rang’. ‘Angreji Beat.’ ‘Dope Shope’. ‘Get Up Jawani’. I could go on. For four uninterrupted years, Yo Yo was churning out hits like a modern day Kishore Kumar. He spread himself thin, though, and now the silence is just deafening.
Z is for Zeus
If you were to take a map of the United Kingdom and join the dots from Southall to Birmingham to Manchester, you’d discover for yourself a mini Punjab. The British sent us back Jazzy B, Stereo Nation and Apache Indian. But the one man who had more Punjabi spunk was Dr Zeus. In the early 2000s, Zeus produced ‘Kangna’ and ‘Don’t Be Shy’. You just can’t take Punjab out of its firangi sons.