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Rough and tough music
The latest Punjabi hit song, Gaddi moudan ge, by Mika, poster boy of Punjabi cool, celebrates hooliganism, while the explicit titles of some of the latest chartbusters - Gippy Grewal's Gangster and Hathiyaar, KS Makhan's Badmashi, Preet Brar's Desi gun - point to a trend that packages violence as a fast moving consumer good.
In a radical departure from a tradition rooted in folk, Punjabi songs that earlier extolled golden mustard fields, pretty girls and brave men, are today littered with words like 'bandookan' 'dunali' (guns), 'daru' 'bootlan' (liquor), and gangsta rap phrases such as 'signal todah ge' (we'll break all rules) and 'chak laan ge' (we'll kidnap the girl).
High on testosterone and low on taste, such songs revel in being youth anthems and are meant for those who think it's cool to break rules and cuss crudely. Sociologists attribute this trend to the love of notoriety and risk-taking that is so deeply embedded in the Punjabi psyche. "This region of North India faced the maximum onslaught, whether of foreign invaders or the Partition, " says Dr Archana Sachdeva, a retired sociology professor from Chandigarh. "Land and women became a prized possession. Hence, just like all music reflects the state of its people, Punjabi music too acquired characters of violence that eventually came to embody heroism. "
Critics have been quick to blame the source of this brash new sound of Punjabi pop: Afro-American rap.
"Punjabis were always greatly influenced by the West, in this case the influence comes from American rappers, " says Satinder Satti, the popular, brown-eyed Punjabi singer. "Black rappers were aggressive because of the repression they suffered and vented their pain through their rap songs. Since our Punjabi youth, who are now singers, grew up with rap and hip-hop, they've imbibed the rapping style into their own songs, thus making up such aggressive lyrics. "
If America has Busta Rhymes, we have Baba Sehgal. The first-ever rap star that India saw, Sehgal sees these lyrics as just another marketing gimmick. "Everyone here is trying to outdo the other since there is so much competition, " he says. "And what is the best way to grab attention? Go abusive. Isn't that what Bollywood is also doing these days with numbers like 'Bhaag DK Bose' ?" Sehgal, whose hits include Thanda Thanda Pani and Main Bhi Madonna, says that swearing makes you cool. "In Punjab, the only thing that is considered cool is a Jatt, unfortunately. Hence, if the Jatt calls himself a rule breaker, he becomes the trendsetter. So you have a whole breed of singers who emulate this and glorify this in an effort to be 'cool'. " It wasn't long before the song, Banda Maarna by Balli Riar featuring Honey Singh, was blaring out of car stereos on the streets of Chandigarh and Ludhiana. The young and charming Riar sees the lyrics as a reflection of Punjabi society. "Any Punjabi would know that the expression Aaj banda marne nu jee karda hai (Today I feel like killing someone) is popular in colloquial Punjabi. We just picked it up and converted it into a song. " Though Riar agrees that the aggressive lyrics are a money-making trend, the music video tends to tone down things. "Aggressive lyrics are attracting younger audiences, " says Balli, whose fans include eightyear-olds.
"My track has been accepted all over the world wherever there are young Punjabis. While most Punjabi songs show alcohol, guns and violence, our video only shows a guy fighting for his girlfriend who has been teased. The underlying message is, the guy says if you tease my girlfriend, I can even kill you. "
"I think as time progresses, people's choices also evolve, and arts and music are the first industry to be influenced by this change. The crudeness of the lyrics makes them relatable, " says Navsangeet Singh, a 17-year-old student at St Xavier's, Chandigarh, who loves the new music.
"Songs like, Lakh 27 kuri da and Vich pajero de rakh le desi gun are a symbol of defiance against Western culture, and amusingly, make more entertaining music than the classical, or even soft-pop Punjabi numbers by the likes of Gurdas Mann or Harbhajan Mann. "
The dashing Canadian Punjabi singer, Mann, who performed at the 2010 Winter Olympics, is heavily critical of this trend. "What kind of lyrics are these? They all portray the Jatt (upper caste, landed Sikh) in a negative light since all of them are extolling the vices of this community. Young minds feed on these violent lyrics and are thus corrupted, " he complains. Songs in the past have praised the bravery of folk heroes like Jagga dakku and Dulla Bhatti, but this new genre of Punjabi music, says Hans, "only talks about themselves and their aggression".
Mann is joined by singer Hans Raj Hans, who rues, "Such lyrics talk of a world where love is fading away, dying away in life and poetry... the light is going, giving way to darkness. It is the misfortune of this generation that it has to listen to such music. "
Manu Rishi Chadha, who wrote the dialogue both for Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye and the gritty and realistic Yeh Saali Zindagi, grew up in Old Delhi on a lush diet of Punjabi swear words but can't come to terms with the songs that are storming the charts.
"Waahiyat lagta hai (sounds vulgar), " he says. "It lends unnecessary toughness to what is a sweet language. Gaaliyan do par becho mat (Abuse by all means but don't use the words to sell yourself). Sadly, the more shocking the songs, the more they sell. These singers look as if they are from the mafia so it isn't surprising that their songs also talk about killing people. Songs which are meant to calm you are now provoking you to fight. There's this image that people have of Punjabi music, alcohol and dancing, and these singers and their songs just feed on that stereotype. "
Singer Jasbir Jassi hopes that like any other fad, this too will fade. "It's like forcing pizzas and burgers down our throats everyday, " he points out. "You will grow tired of the foreign diet after a while. "
NEW JATT ANTHEMS
Gaddi moudan de
Saade apne rule, saade apne asool Saanu jehda rokey tokey, rakhdange ohnu dho ke Assi jithe jaavan ge gaddi moudan ge, Phir saare de saare signal todan ge (We will make and follow our own rules/ Whoever stops us will be thrashed/ We will do as we please and break all the rules)
Gehri maarde nu lehna ajj chak ni Velleyan di akh ajj laal aye Koi banda bunda maarna taan das ni Mitran di akh ajj laal aye (I have blood in my eyes today/ I have to kill someone)
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