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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

You cringe, but move on: Rabbi Shergill on sexist songs

Rabbi Shergill, known for his chart-topping debut song Bullah Ki Jaana, was in Gurugram recently for a performance.

Written by Jayashree Narayanan | New Delhi |
November 15, 2019 6:10:30 pm
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His music has been described as an eclectic mix of contemporary, Sufi and rock, but Rabbi Shergill believes it is Sufi that forms a large part of Punjabi folk. The 46-year-old musician, who is best known for his chart-topping debut song Bullah Ki Jaana, recently performed at the ‘Musix’ festival at DLF Cyberhub. In an email interaction with, he shares his thoughts on Sufi music, what keeps him going, and why ‘Bullah 2’ isn’t anywhere in the making.

From the time you started to now, how has the Punjabi Sufi Folk music scene evolved?

Back then, artistes who were truly steeped in the Sufi life were singing it — Abida Parveen, NFAK (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) among others. These days, I don’t see anyone who is dyed in Sufi colours at a molecular level like those guys. It’s mostly folks cashing in on the scene.

How would you define Punjabi Sufi Folk?

Technically, perhaps, it’s Sufi only if you are singing the poets in the Sufi cannon — Farid, Shah Hussain, Sultan Bahu, Bulle Shah, Hashim et al. The rest is ‘sufiyana’ or Sufi-like.

While Punjabi and Bollywood music have a lot of connect with the audience, they are perceived as loud, and, sometimes, even sexist. Does that bother you as an artiste?

We’ve always had bizarre songs in Hindi films; as an artiste you cringe but move on and focus on the good ones out there.

As an independent musician, what is your greatest challenge?

To find a support team that is totally in sync with the artiste.

Is there a possibility of Bullah Ki Jaana Part 2?

Bullah 2 would be insincere. By the way, there are plenty of other gems out there.

The Sufi must sing

How do you prepare for your performances?

Artistes are only one half of the equation; it takes a patient, loving and attuned audience and a great setting to make it a special occasion.

Three things that have helped in your music journey?

Authenticity, primarily. On top of that commitment to maintaining poetic, musical skills and staying up-to-date with the smart people.

Considering the growing number of independent artistes in Punjabi Sufi folk, do you ever feel threatened?

Fear is a primal survival instinct. I have it in bucketfuls.

A lot has been said on untrained singers entering the mainstream. What’s your take?

I have only heard of Ranu Mondal and not really listened to the material. But it isn’t the first time that untrained singers have penetrated mass consciousness. Kishore Kumar, Reshma, Gurdas Mann … the list goes on and on.

What’s keeping you busy?

Travel, studio work, shows and reading. I’ve three videos lined up for release and a book and a volume of poetry in the works.

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