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General Musicians Live in Their Skins: Rabbi Shergill

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Admin Singh, Dec 27, 2010.

  1. Admin Singh

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    Rabbi Shergill burst on to the music scene with "Bulla", the song that was sung in Punjabi, and that caught on like wildfire, but wasn't the Bhangra kind of Punjabi.

    He's continued to make that kind of music since, including a song called "Dilli" for a movie called "Delhii Heights", which sings evocatively about the city. And that's no surprise, since Rabbi is Delhi to the marrow - he grew up in West Mukherjee Nagar, studied in Guru Harkrishan Public School, India Gate, and then went to Khalsa College. Here's what he says about the song and about Delhi.

    His Delhi

    I grew up in a Delhi in a time when, if you hung around in certain types of places, you acquired very Western tastes. It's as true today as it was for me back then. I've since come to understand that as a flaw. You can't necessarily think that everything Western is fantastic. I grew up listening to lots of rock music, and had almost zero Bollywood music exposure, other than the one on occasions. My basic influences were Western rock and pop.

    But we were a very academic family - my mother and sister are poets. There were lots of books in the house, and I ended up reading some of them; I'm simply a product of my upbringing. My mom, my father, my sister - all of them helped me frame my artistic and literary references.

    But all I really wanted to do was something cool - I have a guitar, I'll get all the women - teenage fantasies, like everyone has. But I grew up in Delhi with a very proud farmer grandmother. She was a nambardarni (an official who collects tax on behalf of the government), and she instilled in me a kind of cultural grounding. I became a purveyor of Western music, but there was a part of me that just couldn't ever make peace with giving my entire identity up. There's a part of my Indian, Punjabi identity which I could never give up. For a while, I flirted with cutting my hair, wearing them long and being the cool guy on campus. But the momentum and force of my familial references was just too great to overcome.

    On The Song 'Dilli'

    Now, I think Delhi is just a memory, a time, it's not a physical thing anymore. The Delhi I loved is no longer there. It just got overcrowded. There are three times the people that there were when I roamed the streets. It was once a city of single family houses. They had a courtyard, a Fiat, one scooter - there was no crazy valuation of your property. I'd grown up in a city that used to be a little innocent. You could leave your car outside a friend's house and no one would touch it, where you could play cricket on the streets. Post the 1990s, it just got wiped out. It was my Delhi till '98, '99, and after that, it just started going downhill.

    When I was commissioned the song "Dilli" for "Delhii Heights", I was basically referencing that Delhi, when the streets looked like they were the lines on my face. I couldn't really distinguish between myself and this city - you live long enough in a place, you become that place. All the things I talk about - they reference the people I knew, they reference my time in this city - riding a bike, going to J.N.University at night, sipping tea, hoping for a beautiful girl to come out of the hostel - and they would eventually come down!

    Delhi had lots of things to indulge you with. It wasn't all sound and fury, which it is right now. There were things that made you reflect - it was a city of festivals, seminars, endless cultural activity at IIC. You could just be. Now you have to become something. Now you have to have this car or that car and so much money in your wallet. Back then, you could ride a bike and sip some tea or have drinks at a friend's house and go out to the balcony ... It gave you both mental and physical space, and both are related. That was my Delhi.

    Being the Urban Balladeer

    'Urban balladeer' is just a handle some people paste on you because they want to grasp you that way. We think we understand this person more when we can label them. I wasn't trying to be that. That phrase was coined by an academician and a friend - Madan Gopal Singh. I was simply trying to figure out how I could be relevant and not resort to the same stereotypes, be true to the music I've listened to and express myself. Good art is eventually about expressing yourself as precisely and accurately as possible. Perhaps it won't make for comfortable or good viewing, but that's the ingredient that goes into good art. I'm just trying to be the best artiste I can be.

    On Moving Out of Delhi

    I have now houses outside of Delhi where I spend my time. I quite like Goa, I've increasingly spent more time there over the last few years. I divide my time between Delhi, Mumbai and Goa now. But musicians don't live anywhere - they live in their skins. This line was given to me by a very beautiful model I met once. I asked her where she lived, and she said, 'I live in my skin'. I'm just poaching that.

    [Courtesy: Times of India]

    December 26, 2010
     

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