You can take Jazzy B out of Surrey, but you can never take Surrey out of Jazzy B. The Crown Prince of Bhangra, who recently became the first South Asian to be among this year’s StarWalk inductees chosen by BC Entertainment Hall of Fame, feels he owes a lot to Surrey’s unique Punjabi and Canadian culture that played a big role in making him who he is. It is this dichotomy between his funky pop star looks and his core Punjabi accent that makes his fans around the world go crazy for him.
Desi Today had one-on-one with him recently to discuss his most recent and past achievements, but the dominant sentiment of the interview was his love and concern for the city and its youth. He feels due to certain bad people, the entire city is bearing the brunt of media. “It is not the city that is bad, it is the people who make it bad,” he says during the interview. His message to the youth is to work hard and value their roots.
Jazzy’s life is one such example. If there was no Punjabi language in his life, who knows, “I would have been a lost youth,” says the very humble Jazzy. He worked towards his passion for music and made a name for himself. He asks youth to engage their energy in constructive activities like sports or music to save themselves from bad company and violence.
Born on April 1, 1975, in Punjab, India, Jaswinder Singh Bains aka Jazzy B moved to Canada with his family when he was just 5. He attended Princess Margret High School in Surrey. With no formal training in music, he made his way up the music industry and became transatlantic star with his Bhangra grooves. Jazzy B who moved to England to explore passion for music in mid 90’s now juggles between Canada, UK and India.
Since his debut album Gugian da Jorra in 1993, he has become one of the most important names in the Punjabi music world of modern times. He got titles of the Original Folkster, the Canadian Sensation and the Crown Prince of Bhangra as he continues revival of Bhangra in a big way. The New York Times dubbed him as, “Michael Jackson of India.”
Now a real feather in his cap comes after he was named as a StarWalk honoree along with four others including Burnaby-raised Hollywood star Michael J. Fox, singer Marcus Mosely, music producer Hal Beckett, and D.O.A. frontman Joe Keithley. In addition to earning Hollywood-style sidewalk stars, the StarWalk honorees—all recognized for “enhancing the province’s cultural profile”—will have their photo displayed in the StarWall gallery in the historic Orpheum Theatre upper lobby.
Recently you have been selected by the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame. Congratulations. What was your reaction?
I felt really wonderful. I grew up in Surrey just as a normal kid who went to school and sang songs. I never expected this. I wasn’t even aware that two dear friends of mine Bobby Nagra and R Paul Dhillon have nominated me for this honour. Even when they got the confirmation that I have been selected they didn’t tell me on phone. They called me personally and broke the news. I couldn’t believe it.
How did your family react?
Everyone including my family and friends were thrilled with the news. Even my fans around the world have been tweeting about this. I am happy that I could make my community proud of my achievement to become the first South Asian to be inducted in StarWalk.
My mom and dad up there must be really proud and thinking, “Sadda munda kuch ban gaya (Our son has achieved something in life.) Like all parents they had their doubts about my choice of career when I started since I do not come from a family of musicians or singers. But when I told them I was serious about my singing, they supported me through out and even my decision to move to England. It was hard for both of us. A 20 year old kid, who had never lifted a plate or cup after eating, had to do everything on his own plus struggle for career too. But staying away from family teaches you its importance. You should never take them for granted.
I would say this to the kids now. Always take your parents advice seriously. Your parents will never guide you wrong. And when you think 10 years down the line, you would realise that your parents always said what’s best for you.
Please take us down the memory lane. How did you develop your interest in music and singing?
It all started in India when I was just 4-year-old. Ustad Kuldeep Manak came to our Pind (village) Durgapur in Punjab. I saw him perform there. I was on my uncle’s shoulder watching his performance. At that time the little Jaswinder dreamt of becoming a singer. I came to Canada when I was five-year old and continued my life as a normal kid. But I had a passion for singing. I would sing in shower, with friends, after school but no one took me seriously until I was in high school.
I used to work as a part time construction worker with Tarlok Singh Kooner. He was the first one to notice that there was something attractive about my voice. He told me to do my own album even though I wasn’t trained. I would always be thankful to him. He was the one who spent 5000 dollars on my first album. If he wasn’t there I would not be who I am today.
He took me to Manmohan Waris’s brother. Then in 1993 my first album was released. Sukshinder Shinda played the rhythm on that album. He reproduced Gugiyan da Jorra track. We took it to different companies. But nobody wanted to release it. Then I met Inderjit Bains who released my album with the help of Bobby Nagra. The album hit the market and then it was great to listen to my song in parties and weddings. Slowly people started following my music in England.
How difficult was it to for you to crack the competitive England’s Bhangra industry and the music industry in India since you had no family background or formal training in music?
I moved to England in 1994. Sukhshinder Shinda told me if I was serious about music I need to move to England. One day I just went upto my parents and told them my decision to discontinue with college since my heart was with music and go to England. I stayed with six guys in one small room. All day it was just about music. We would cook, eat, do daily chores and the music was always there in the background. Those were the struggling days.
There was contrast between what I sang and how I looked. I think that’s what attracted the world towards my singing. I was raised here so my looks were very funky but from inside I was very much Punjabi. When I would go on stage people would be guessing whether I would sing in English or in broken Punjabi. But when I sang they liked my raw Punjabi accent. I remember when I went to England I got a chance to perform on stage. Stars like Apache Indian and Bally Sagoo were present there. After my performance Bally Sagoo came on stage and told me that I would be a star one day. That’s how it started.
Then slowly I started getting calls. It was when I released Londono Patola that hit the chartbuster. I guess in those days they sold 20,000 copies.
You were born in India, brought up in Surrey — a city which is now always in news for bad reasons. How do you feel about it?
Surrey is the place that kept Punjabi and music alive in me. If it was’nt my Punjabi language, who knows I could have been an all together different guy. I always tell kids don’t be ashamed of your own language be it Hindi, Urdu or Punjabi. It is due to Punjabi language, I am getting into the StarWalk honor. I am a proud Punjabi Canadian. I sing about Surrey in my songs. A lot of people say bad things about the city due to gun violence. Every city and every country has its own set of problems. It is not the culture, it’s the people who create trouble.
I agree there is a lot of crime here. There was a lot of crime back then when I was growing up. But at that time there were no guns. Times have changed now. We didn’t have much money at our disposal. Youngsters want easy money now and they get into gangs.
I always tell kids that slow and steady wins the race. You can never earn name and fame overnight. It’s a shame that a lot of kids are taking the easy way out. But kids, making your parents feel proud is more important than making money. This is what I tell the youth when I attend any event.
Tell us more about the community work you are doing?
I love sports and I am a great hockey fan. I still pick up a hockey stick and play on streets. I love getting involved in anything to do with sports. I feel sports is one way to channelize youth energy in a constructive way. It keeps kids away from hanging around, getting into bad company. I am invited to a lot of soccer tournaments many charity gigs to promote the sport side of our generation.
What are your plans for Bollywood?
I go to Mumbai. But to be more involved in Bollywood you have to live there. I am busy with my concerts around the world. Bollywood music industry is very much commercialised. When we do a song we do it from heart and it takes time to release one album. But in Bollywood they want to release a song in one day. I tell them that I will produce the song and give it to them. It took me 20 years to create Jazzy B style … just don’t want to ruin it by doing couple of tacky tracks. To me Jazzy B is more important.
Where do you enjoy performing most?
Where ever the crowd enjoys. I get my energy from the crowd. England’s crowd is great. I love performing there. But my biggest show was in 2006 for Wonderland Toronto. There was a crowd of 80,000 people. And I was told we broke Michal Jackson’s record. That concert went for hours.
What is the major difference between Canadian and England’s Bhangra industry?
England is the hub of Bhangra. Now Canada too is gaining important place since lot of Canadian artists are moving to India. But England is musically a hub. Every kid knows how to play a musical instrument. Over there when a kid is born they give him a dhol. I think we need to generate more musicians here.
What is your message to your fans?
Just want to say thanks to all my fans around the world especially Surrey and Canada. To them I have always been their guy (Sadda Munda).
It is a wonderful feeling when grandparents come to me and say their grandkids love my music. I feel proud even if I am able to make a little difference in their lives. I am a proud Surrey boy and will always be a Surrey boy.
What’s your next project?
The next project will be Folk and Funky 2 by the end of the year. Sukhshinder Shinda is doing the music. We are trying to get the old sounds. Now the sounds have changed. There used to be more keyboard and live sounds. Shinda is searching his old key boards. Even the vocabulary has changed. In every song there are Englsih words. But back in the days it was Theth Punjabi. I am getting the feedback that my fans want the old Jazzy B. This album is for my fans who grew up on my music. The new generation might not like it but I am hoping they will like it since they have never heard that kind of music.
Who is your favourite Bollywood singer both male and female?
Sunidhi chauhan is brilliant and Sukhwinder Singh.
Your favourite actors Bollywood and Hollywood.
Male it is Ranvir Singh he reminds me of old Akshay Kumar when he came to the scene and female t is Deepika Padukone. In Hollywood it is my all time favourite Denzel Washington.