Chakdey.com presents the Bhangra Power List 2014, a list of the 12 most influential people in bhangra music today
Dismissed as a ‘has been’ by some only three years ago, Zeus came back and silenced every last one of his critics with colossal hits in the shape of Amrinder Gill’s Judaa album, a powerful but highly respectful remix of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sukhi Sivia’s omnipresent smash “Sarkara”, the outstanding “Rendeh” with Saini Surinder, Jaz Dhami’s recent “Zulfa”, a soundtrack for Speed Records released comedy film Daddy Cool Munde Fool, and probably the biggest free download of recent times, Kanika Kapoor’s radio dominating version of “Jugni Ji”, to name just a few. Dr. Zeus has proved he is as relevant today as he was 10 years ago when “Kangna” re-wrote the musical landscape. Much respect to a producer who openly and actively supports new emerging talent who want to work with him, citing his own early experiences when starting out. Zeus’s position as one of our power 12 is undisputed.
An unsung bhangra legend whose masterful studio wizardry has featured on countless singles and albums over the years. His Birmingham based Frantic Studios now outputs at least a handful of chart hits for other acts every year. Many of today’s top producers started out using him before honing their own skills later on. Production highlights include Pardesi’s seminal Pump up the Bhangra (where he was one of a team of sound engineers on the recording), Partners in Rhyme’s Timeless, Dr. Zeus’ Unda Da Influence, early Vix releases, Jaz Dhami’s eponymous debut album and the first ever Garry Sandhu single. More recently his production skills have been behind Jags Klimax’s “Nach Sadhe Naal” and “Hanji” and is currently destroying dancefloors up and down the country with “Sardara” by Sona Walia. Kam is also now mentoring newcomer Paul Nagra, who’s just released his debut single “Sada Yaar”. Take just half of these releases out of the equation and bhangra music would surely be a much poorer place without him.
Owner and head of Moviebox— arguably the biggest Asian music label in the UK with a who’s who of bhangra artists and controlling a vast back catalogue including legendary recordings from the Multitone and Roma labels, amongst others. Live events have included the Legends Tour, in conjunction with BritAsia, and the current B21 & Surj Sahota gigs. In addition to heavyweight signings such as Sukshinder Shinda, Aman Hayer, Tru-Skool, Ravi Bal Productions, DJ Sanj and GV; Kamraan Ahmed has also been responsible for nurturing new talent directly from the subcontinent, including Amar Sajaalpuri from India and Sarmad Qadeer from Pakistan. Only a few years ago he orchestrated the dynamite pairing of Sanj with then little known vocalist Jay Status, turning around his, until then, lacklustre singing career almost overnight. Moviebox was also responsible for both conceptualising and organising the Aman Hayer produced Kuldeep Manak tribute “The Folk King”. In late 2012, Diljit Dosanjh’s Back to Basics practically obliterated every other release in sight well into mid-2013, while only last month saw the release of another giant, the long-promised B21 comeback album, 12B. With new album releases from DJ Vix and Baljit Malwa still to come, Kamraan & Moviebox continue to be at the forefront of bhangra music not just in the UK but on a global level too.
He sings, he acts, he dances; he looks like a pop star but still manages to come across as your down-to-earth best mate. With critically acclaimed albums like The Next Level and Back to Basics under his belt, he also holds the honour of starring in the highest grossing Punjabi film (and franchise) of all time, Jatt & Juliet 2– bettering the previous record set by the first Jatt & Juliet only a year before. In June of this year, he added another record to his string of firsts, recording the highest ever first day opening figures with the just released socio-political drama Punjab 1984;winning unanimous praise for his powerful performance in the film. His major hits are fast becoming too numerous to list, with the Sachin Ahuja produced “Soorma” being his most recent chart topper in the UK. It’s a testament to his mass popularity that even non-descript tracks such as “Mr Singh” and “Sweetoo” achieve Top 10 status and receive heavy rotation for months on end. In a seemingly unstoppable trajectory, Diljit Dosanjh is today nothing short of a bonafide superstar.
A&R supremo and label manager rolled into one, Bunty Bains has taken Punjab’s Number 1 music label to even bigger and better heights than it had previously reached. With a new found consistency in releases plus powerhouse signings including Amrinder Gill, Honey Singh, Diljit Dosanjh, Roshan Prince, Kaur B, and Desi Crew; in addition to snapping up the Muzical Doctorz-signed and produced A-Kay continue to solidify Speed Records‘ position as India’s biggest Punjabi music player. Speed has also led the way in fully exploiting the latest crazy for ‘singles’ in India, with many of these based around ideas conceived by Bunty Bains himself. This alongside the label’s hugely successful entry into the lucrative film market, guaranteeing massive soundtrack albums for the label in the process, make Speed a veritable colossus in the music industry. Undoubtedly all this is still not enough for Bunty Bains, because he also found time to pen lyrics for the likes of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Jassi Gill. Only recently, his “Mr. Pendu”, written for and performed by Roshan Prince, won Best bhangra song of the year at this year’s PTC Punjabi Music Awards.
Outspoken and media averse in equal measure, Tru-Skool is a modern day champion of Punjabi folk and quality bhangra and has had an immaculate string of releases since storming back with Kulvinder Johal feat. Raman Aujla‘s “Johal Boliyan” some four years ago. With his early albums with Specialist revered to the point of fanaticism by many music fans, Tru-Skool has proved his ability to deliver # 1 hits without shedding an ounce of credibility in the process. He has nurtured and championed then unknown talent such as JK and turned out acclaimed tracks for previous collaborators such as Gurbhej Brar. Last year’s “Puth Jattan De” caused nothing less than an online frenzy on release and ended up being one of the biggest releases of last year, if not recent years. He personally handpicked the musicians in the band for Diljit Dosanjh’s recent sold out concerts in the UK, also playing vaja himself alongside them during the performances. These concerts marked a culmination of an incredible few years for this Derby producer whose clear love of real music outweighs any notion of him aspiring to be a vacuous celebrity parading in flashy music videos. Next up from Tru-Skool is the highly awaited album for the inimitable Baljit Malwa; a logical and musically exciting pairing that might even see this vocalist better his excellent debut from a few years back.
Vipen Kumar aka DJ Vips is head honcho at VIP Records, home of big name artist such as JK, Bups Saggu, Jags Klimax, MoneySpinner and Nirmal Sidhu, in addition to a number of new and emerging acts. VIP Records’ back catalogue includes many notable albums such as Specialist ‘n’ Tru-Skool’s much revered Repazent, MoneySpinner’s Poetry, JK’s now classic Gabru Panjab Dha, Twin Beats’ Sounds of Punjab and Bups Saggu’s recent hit-filled Global. Rising singers and producers such as AV, Ali Abbas and Canadian Deep Jandu have also found a home on its roster of artists. What started out as just another Asian label, with DJ Vips’ own Party Time album, quickly grew into one of the most respected and successful labels in its genre. In almost any given month of the last 12 months (and long before that too), VIP releases continue to grace the official Asian Download Chart, a testament to Vips’ continued understanding of music trends 9 years after the label’s inception.
Loved by thousands and even loathed by some; PBN has continued to deliver monster hit after monster hit. While others only boast of the sales, PBN’s is arguably one of the biggest selling bhangra act in the UK today, if not the biggest; his “Fitteh Moo” track scaled new heights and is still a permanent fixture on dancefloors three years on from its release. Now some 10 years into his career, he is signing and nurturing his own acts (under the TeamPBN banner) such as Bambi and Raj Bains, with Raj’s debut single “Superstar” one of the highlights of 2013 that even PBN’s non-fans couldn’t argue with. With two # 1 singles under his belt already just this year (“Phatte Chuk Di” and “Nath Dig Pey”) and an almost guaranteed hit in the new collaboration with Jassi Sidhu just released, PBN’s shining star looks like it has no intention of dimming anytime soon.
Year in and year out, the Crown Prince of Bhangra continues to reign supreme with his vocals again featuring on some of the biggest tunes in recent months. His vocal on DJ roadshow Diamond Cut‘s debut single “Feem” not only took Jazzy B back to the top of the charts but also heralded the return of production duo Partners in Rhyme whose tight production on the track earned both Jazzy and them a clutch of award nominations in India. “Singhan Diyan Gadiyan” alongside Popsy the Music Machine continued a string of high profile collaborations in recent years, including Honey Singh and legendary Bollywood music director Bappi Lahiri on the unfortunate “Holi War”. This summer, the release of comedy Romeo Ranjha, alongside Garry Sandhu, gave Jazzy B his second starring film role, further cementing him as one of the biggest bhangra artists in the world.
An artist who needs no introduction, everything that needs to be said about Honey Singh has already been written countless times. While his takeover of Bollywood, Hindi and even Hinglish releases continues, his Punjabi output has significantly reduced in recent times. Early albums produced for Diljit, Raja Baath and Gary Hothi generated initial attention from bhangra fans but it wasn’t until “Lak 28 Kudi Da” that his profile exploded. Last year’s “Bebo” with regular collaborator and personal friend Alfaaz found major success in India but was relatively ignored in the UK. More recently, his work on Money Aujla’s “London” and featuring Welsh vocalist Nesdi Jones whom Honey Singh reportedly discovered singing covers of his songs on YouTube, gave him another # 1 on the Asian Download Chart. While his film appearances have yet to garner notable appreciation, his position as a constantly evolving producer/singer/rapper who almost single-handedly redefined contemporary youth-oriented popular culture for the pan India masses is unmatched. With rumours of marriages, non-marriages, court cases, celebrity feuds and even hoax death reports– all these and the amount of media attention they generate can only attest to the monumental career heights Honey Singh has so far achieved.
The undisputed current sound of young Punjab, Amrinder Singh alongside his producer mates Muzical Doctorz (Sukh-e and ex-member Preet Hundal) have taken the so-called youth market by storm. He’s achieved over 1.3 Million Facebook fans after only 6 tracks and no album. Last year’s urban “Munda iPhone Warga”, featuring rapper Bling Singh, is nearing 3 million views on YouTube and with the amount of hype being generated by his name, it was only logical that Speed Records would come knocking. His recent and current singles “Brown Boi” and “Lanka” respectively, again with Muzical Doctorz on production, have been causing major waves, even without music videos having been released for either yet. With a recent public endorsement from Honey Singh via social media and more importantly a voice to send pretenders scurrying into hiding, A-Kay must surely be on the cusp of that all important UK breakthrough hit.
Dubbed the Captain of Bhangra and nothing short of a walking encyclopaedia of bhangra music. From his early years playing with Apna Sangeet to his current weekly specialist BBC Asian Network radio show and occasional foray into production (his recent refix of “Aj Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai” with Jati Cheed may yet prove to be one of the summer’s sleeper hits). It’s still hard to contemplate what possessed the BBC to axe their flagship Bhangra Breakdown show where Dipps’ on air blessing got new acts noticed by industry tastemakers, all of whom happily confessed to tuning in every week to listen to his pivotal show. Helping give valuable exposure to emerging artists as well as an education in old skool bhangra for newbies; Dipps’ show, even it its current diluted state, remains a highlight of the weekly bhangra calendar.
The list is no specific order and is based on achievements and contributions to the industry over the last 12 months only. First published on 2nd July 2014.