Maxim gets up close and personal with RDB that started a new age Punjabi hip-hop wave in Bollywood.
You guys transited out of your local Gurudwara on to the big stage. How exactly did you map out your journey?
Surj—We didn’t really map out our journey. At the early stages we never really thought we would be performing in front of large audiences across the globe. But as time went by, what started out as a hobby grew into our daily lifestyle, and now has become a full running business. Still to this day it’s hard to comprehend some of our achievements in music.
Manj—It just happened. Being from a religious family background, we were always into music. We used to sit for the kirtan with Dad and me and Kulypaji learned how to play the tabla and baja. We didn’t really know that we would be making albums and have our own record label at that point nor was it a dream. But from the first DJ set we did at Surj’s 18th birthday, we had a taste of making music and mixing beats. From then on we decided to buy DJ equipment and progress as Djs for weddings, from weddings it went to clubs and then me and Kulypaji (who unfortunately expired last year) started making music on our pc and got some keyboards and drum machines, etc. From then on, it was non stop, from my first song I produced—Sonia ni Sonia by Sahara—to then making our debut album RDB launching in 2001. Then created our own label slowly and after 30 independent albums, 13 years of touring the world and shows, we then moved into Bollywood and gained even more success.
Would you say that landing Singh is King was your big break, and more specifically into Bollywood?
Surj—Singh is King mostly definitely had a large part to play in our Bollywood take-over, mostly because it was the first international collaboration of its kind, bringing Snoop Lion to the Indian audience. But I would say it wasn’t the only reason. We believe that in order to become recognised in this industry, you have to maintain your awareness by continuously making good music. “Oh Mangalam,” “Aloo Chaat,” “Paisa Paisa,” “Sadi Gali” are some of our other hits.
Manj—I would say Singh Is King was our firm establishment to say we are here with a bang. It was the biggest collaboration in Bollywood history and we were the first to do it! We had already done “Rafta Rafta” in Namaste London for Akshay Kumar, but this was the firm print in Bollywood to say back up cause we’re here!
Ever since the demise of Kuly, would you say your band and its tune has evolved or changed in any way?
Surj—Kulypaji’s passing had hit us hard and has been very difficult to continue without him. But since he was the pioneer to this game and he taught us all that we know, it only made sense for us to continue what he started and to live his legacy through music. He will always be in our hearts and in music.
Manj—We have definitely become more focused, I would say. Kulipaji was a machine and always thinking of new ways of making music and progressing the band into more avenues. Now Kulipaji has given this strength to us and we have to follow it up. After Kulipaji expired, I handle the music production now and with the help of Nindy, who is a great inspired artiste herself, we create some cracking ideas. Then there is Raftaar, who is a bullet in writing and with ideas and Surj is going hard on the label side pushing for more independent releases and signing more new artists.
Which is one song, Bollywood or otherwise, that you would like to put a Punjabi twist on?
Surj—As we make so many different styles of music, Punjabi, house, hip-hop or straight up Bollywood, it’s hard to pick a track to add a unique RDB twist to. However, it would be great to see what could come from a studio if we were to ever collaborate with an artiste, such as, AR Rahman or someone like Justin Timberlake.
Manj—I would love to put a Punjabi twist on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” like we made Sadi Gali! That would be awesome!
RDB has played a huge role in modernizing Punjabi music. How did you guys make that possible? Do you feel that growing up in the UK had a role to play?
Surj—Having an upbringing in the West and listening to various international artistes definitely had a role to play in forming our RDB sound. But hailing from a traditional Indian Sikh family, we kept to our Punjabi roots as close as possible, which in turn made our music connect with the Indian culture. Music is ever changing, we would like to think that RDB brings freshness by almost being a genre on its own in today’s sounds.
Manj—Growing up in a western country did play a huge role in that sense. Also, moving to Toronto after marrying Nindy helped a lot because now I am influenced by the music from Canada, The USA and The UK. I’m always learning more and more and Nindy has a different taste in music so she brings a different element and with Raftaar being in Delhi adds an Indian twist. It’s a lethal combination.