We put the Highflyers’ 2nd album release under the lens…
Highflyers’ sophomore album Born Desi sees Gurj and Indie making the transition from The Sound Pipe Records to the more influential VIP label. Their debut, released in June of 2011, was a quality folk effort backed by the singles “Daru Naal Yaari,” “The Shinda Duet” and “Baa Farke,” but it was overshadowed by Tru-Skool and JK’s folk juggernaut Gabru Panjab Dha, which was released just two weeks later. Since then, Highflyers contributed tracks to the Gadar Di Goonj compilation and released the singles “Aaja Hun” and “Shera Varge” to create a buzz for their second album.
While continuing to draw upon the folk aesthetic, consisting of raw vocalists and elemental Bhangra, laid down on their debut effort, Gurj and Indie expand their sound on Born Desi by finally utilizing a female vocalist (Jyoti Gill), devoting time to meaningful themes like patriotism and delving into the debaucherous world of lascivious duets, giving rise to a solid sophomore album.
Following the current trend of paying homage to the late Kuldeep Manak, Highflyers join forces with Pargat Khan, the legend’s nephew, for a brief run-through of Manak standards, including four tracks which already appeared on the epic 2012 tribute produced by Aman Hayer. Not only were the tracks already used on Hayer’s tribute, but they were performed by legends, which amplified the impact. So while “The Folk King” currently stands as the definitive tribute to Kuldeep Manak, Highflyers’ “The Manak Tribute” isn’t an absolute failure because of two things: Pargat Khan’s impassioned delivery and the inclusion of the 1981 classic “Banouti Yaar.”
One of the major highlights on Born Desi is the uber patriotic “Udham Singh in London,” which tells the heroic story of the legendary freedom fighter over a dhadi soundscape. Major Chaniawala’s vocals are powerful over a dhad/sarangi amalgamate, but the song’s impact is hurt by a glaring factual error: Udham Singh assassinated Michael O’Dwyer, not Reginald Dyer. The track clearly references the assassination of the latter, which never occurred. In fact, Reginald Dyer died over a decade before Udham Singh avenged the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Historical mistakes aside, the track is an outstanding moment on the album. Unfortunately, it’s sandwiched awkwardly between a rustic throwback to the era of libertine duets, entitled “Galwakri,” and the materialism of “Full Speed.” Devoting artistry to youthful debauchery, patriotism and materialism might suggest range, but obliterates any chances of cadence.
And while “Galwakri,” which features Jyoti Gill and Kaka Bhaniawala, is another highlight in the post-Miss Pooja duet renaissance, the same can’t be said about “Full Speed.” Using sounds reminiscent of the primordial electronica in the arcade game Arkanoid, Highflyers layer the beat with a theremin-esque effect and a mournful sarangi. The sarangi, which should evoke folk inspired lyricism, conflicts with the materialistic words that encourage listeners to ignore red lights while speeding their lives away in expensive cars. It’s a peculiar moment on a desi record, but the anomalous beat saves the track.
The ballads, including “Ki Lehna” and “Pyar Tere Naal” are passable, but completely overshadowed by the authentic folk that penetrates the album on tracks like the celebratory “Aaja Hun” and “Din Kushiyan Da” and the unbridled rawness of “Shera Varge,” which features another dominant posthumous vocal performance from Kaka Bhaniawala over unrelenting percussion.
The majority of alternate mixes tacked onto the album are a bit muffled, resulting in a sound usually reserved for unmixed demos. But “Yaar Himesha” is now a far superior product. Stripping the instrumentation to the elements, Highflyers accentuate Bakshi Billa’s voice which cuts through for an impactful statement.
Although Born Desi doesn’t have a guaranteed dance floor favorite on the level of the original “Gulabi Suit,” the album is packed with solid tracks and impeccable vocals. Refusing to succumb to the sophomore slump, Highflyers have upped their game by delivering a more versatile product that – excluding “Full Speed” – stays grounded in a folk foundation.
We give the album 4 out of 5
Born Desi is out now on VIP Records. Find out where to buy it here