how Bhangra music is declining and failing and it hurts to hear and say that when it comes to a genre of music that you believe so passionately about. But the sad truth is that while sitting here typing this in Punjab, India, im watching how the music world works here and it seems to have taken a serious turn for the worst.
I wasn't even born to see the rise of such legends as Kuldip Manak, Surinder Kaur, Chamkila and Lal Chand Yamla Jatt, but we know what era they came from and what they represent even today. Super quality, class and talent is what they gave to fans of Punjabi music on platform of three entities; Radio, stage shows and word of mouth. If you were an amazing performer and artists you were elevated to the status of superstar by the people because they recognised that you were something special and someone who should be embraced. It obviously was right because even now we still marvel at the sounds and works of the legends above and their counterparts from that era. Fast forward to today and it's a very different story all together. Punjabi music is not driven purely by talent and art anymore, its all down to money and money alone. The misuse of money is watering down and destroying the art of music and the pride of Punjabi music.
Everyone's a singer here in Punjab. I've seen it myself first hand on my travels. Just turn on the TV, sit and watch for an hour and or so and you'll be able to capture the scene at the moment. I've been surveying the talent out here to maybe find the next big thing in Punjabi music and all I've heard is mediocrity. I have bought over half of ever Punjabi album released in India alone in the last couple of months and hitting the 80 albums mark. Work that out and it means there has been almost an album released every day over the last 2 months of 80 different singers and that's excluding the ones that were just that bad that I rather spend that money on risking falling ill and buying a round of ghol ghuppe! How many from the 10 track album are quality? Personally, I'm struggling to find a handful. Which leads me to ask the question? Why has the Punjabi music industry gone down this route of quantity over quality? It's all about the money!
Anyone with money can become a singer. The ratio of talent and funds is firmly tilting towards the more money you have the more chances you have of becoming a singer. The might of the money is flooding the market with guys are making their pop star dreams come true, feed their egos and become a star in their own pind and there doesn't seem to be a way around it. But how does the money overrule the talented individuals who can't get that same break or exposure? Mass exposure on every single platform imaginable.
Unlike in the days of Ramta and Narinder Biba, it's about selling the product rather than the talent. Adverts for albums and as many music videos as possible are now a must. If your album doesn't have an advert then you don't have a hope of making an impression. The costing of both depends on who you are, which company your with and how much money you have surplus to requirements. A big star on a big label will have the clout and financial muscle of their record label to fund the adverts and videos. That makes sense as then the label and artist will reap the rewards of a good album. Then, however, come's a new wave of record labels and singers. Theses are the ones that seem to have more money and ego then sense. The power of their bank balance rather than their talents is what makes them a part of the music industry and this is where business takes over from the art of music.
Now let me make one thing clear, I don't have an issues or problem with people spending money on their product. In fact if you have the funds to produce and deliver a superior product then you have every right to do so. If the king of pop Michael Jackson can put a staggering million dollars of his own money on top of what his label Epic Records gave him to produce his 1991 album Dangerous because he wasn't happy with what he produced so far, then there's nothing wrong with the Bhangra world doing the same. There is a difference however, in using money to make a better a good product better and using money to make a singer sing; the second instance being the current state of play in Punjab.
No talent + money = An artist. Someone who doesn't have the talent but has the funs will spend time and money on production, videos, pay for their own adverts and on anything else they feel that will make them a Bhangra star. The labels endorse this practice and want the artists to spend ridiculous amounts of money. From a business perspective, they only spend on duplication, art work and minimal admin costs. This means that if the album sells, great, they get the financial benefits. If the album bombs then no problem, it's not as if their money that got wasted on their project. That's how it works. Which leaves the genuine vocal talents of Punjab, almost lost forever just because they can't afford to showcase their talents? Iv seen it myself where iv been to a recording studio and found out that the guy who served me tea is the voice behind one of the biggest tracks in the UK of 2006, iv heard from singers who are having to catch the bus to go meetings with record companies because they just cant afford the petrol costs of a car. Has our industry really come down to this?
I will always have time for those companies who spend money on their products as it shows they believe in the album and believe in the artist. You wouldn't put money on a product that you didn't believe in and it wouldn't make business sense either which is why you know that one of their products is likely to have a touch of quality to it and worth the money you pay. And I'll have respect for those artists who constantly develop their talents and musical knowledge rather than time and effort on working out how to make an off key vocalist voice can sound less wobbly through the auto tuner!
So it's down to the label owners to take a moral or business stance on their music policy. Are you really doing the music world any favours by putting out a product from a singer who has more money than sense? Is it really all about making a quick buck with quantity rather than the long haul with quality? We all know who the leading labels are so why not take a leaf from their book because the only way you'll be making the massive pot of money you dream of every morning, is by believing enough in a product yourself to put your own money behind it. Yes there is a massive piracy issue, yes the internet has made things that bad and more than ever there is a thought of is this financially viable for our company.
But the bottom line is if a fan of Punjabi music knows that there is an album of class and quality coming out, they there is more of a chance of making that sale and the more quality that's put out from both label and artist, the more money there is to be made from sales, live events and royalties. Just imagine how much Kuldip Manak's ever green hits are racking in the royalties even today.