The remix king is back!
The remix king is back. When his version of “Chura Liya” was played on BBC Radio 1, Bally Sagoo became the first Indian artiste to be listed on UK’s...
When his version of “Chura Liya” was played on BBC Radio 1, Bally Sagoo became the first Indian artiste to be listed on UK’s mainstream radio, and the forerunner in the genre. The remix king continues to make news, currently with his ‘Cafe Punjab’, an album of his original compositions
Bally Sagoo is the man with the Midas touch - his remixes of Bollywood songs that he made a decade ago are still a hit and he enjoys a cult following.
He is the mastermind behind numerous platinum selling albums and one of the originals from the Asian underground scene that exploded in the early 90s. He carved a niche for himself by fusing traditional flavours from the Indian subcontinent with elements of R&B, reggae and dance music.
Sagoo’s first breakthrough came with remix track “Hey Jamalo” (sung by Malkit Singh), a super hit followed by his first album in 1990, ‘Wham Bam’, which became a monumental success and paved way for remix scene in India. Bally Sagoo captured the imagination of the younger audience with his Indian flavoured dance and hip-hop fusions.
His track ‘Chura Liya’ is often credited as being a ground-breaking track with a lasting influence on many artistes in the Indian music scene. He also produced music for commercial films like ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, ‘Mistress Of Spice’, ‘Monsoon Wedding’ and ‘It’s A Wonderful Afterlife’. Recently, he launched his 17th studio album titled ‘Café Punjab’, a tribute to his homeland; Punjab and its ethnic charm.
You were raised in England and at an early age developed taste for reggae, soul and disco. When did your focus shift towards Bollywood music?
My shift towards Bollywood happened when I took on the big album ‘Bollywood Flashback’ in 1994. By then, I decided that I was big enough in the Punjabi global market and I needed to tackle Bollywood. Hence, I decided to reinvent some old classics in my style!
What was the idea behind mixing Western Dance, Hip Hop with Indian music?
During the early 80s, I became popular within my friends’ circle for making mix tapes and mashups. Eventually, my parents took note and asked me to try experimenting with Indian songs and maybe make them more in tune with my beats.
So I did a little remix of a local Bhangra song in the UK, and sent it to local radio to play it. That mix got many people excited, which then gave me more ideas to try delving deeper into Indian songs. The first proper official remix I made was in 1989 - a song called “Hey Jamalo, Tutak Tutak Tutian” by singer Malkit singh. That became a hit and then the musical doors opened for me.
How do you choose the songs?
When I made Bollywood remixes or cover versions, I sat and listened to suggestions from friends and family who were fans of super hit old tracks. I compiled lists that I may like to take on and would be able to give a new lease of life. I came to India to record vocals for the ones I liked...after making all the music in my UK studios...these then went onto my ‘Bollywood Flashback’ 1 and 2 projects.
All the videos of your singles had a unique shooting style. What was the idea behind them?
Some were my ideas and some were the record company’s ideas. My favourite video is still “Dil Cheez” as it was the one that won all the awards and the first to use the ground breaking ‘Time Slice Technology’ (which went onto be used in the Hollywood Matrix Movies)! Also it took me into the national billboard charts.
How was it to collaborate with the legend, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan?
I knew Nusrat was a traditional qawali singer and I was a little nervous on taking on such collaboration. But after meeting the legend and getting into the studio with him, we had fun and ‘Magic Touch’ was created between us in 1991.
You have introduced many new artistes. How do you choose them?
I have always been into promoting new vocalists through my albums and spend a lot of time auditioning singers. I enjoy it very much and travel to faraway places to find the right sounding singer...to suit my music. I normally get most of my singers from India and Pakistan.
From ‘Wham Bam’ to ‘Bollywood Flashback’, and now to ‘Café Punjab’, can you share the changes in your music?
As the years have gone by, I have become more mature and so I feel my music too has moved on to different styles. With ‘Cafe Punjab’, I was more interested in making a more relaxed album. It also pays homage to traditional legendary Punjabi singers like Surinder Kaur, Amar Chamkila and Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Why do you think the remix trend tanked suddenly and now there are hardly any takers for this kind of music?
Remixes got a bad name in India, quite simply because a lot of stuff was churned out by bad remixers and producers. People were fed up with weak repetitive songs being churned out over and over again. Labels were just jumping onto the bandwagon. When I make cover versions or remixes we spend weeks sometimes months, which is why I have been so much in tune with what’s happening on the scene and the direction that the song has to take.
Which is your favourite song from the tracks you have mixed?
I have made so many albums; it’s difficult to pick one. I still love the sounds of ‘Chura liya' as it really did seal the remix crown for me and I don’t think there was any single person that didn’t appreciate it! You have not produced music for movies in a long time!
I have always said that I would be into making music for Bollywood films if it suits my style and a story that I can do justice to. I get a lot of offers constantly to do remixes, which I turn down as it’s not really my cup of tea so much, nowadays...as I rather do fresh songs for film projects.
How different is ‘Café Punjab’?
‘Cafe Punjab’ is a Punjabi album and has a real fresh sound. It is more mellow, sufi and chilled out. It’s been a deep production in that I have gone very big with the sounds I used as well as the quality of the production. Most artistes don’t spend as much time on their albums.
But, I have no problem in spending over a year if need be, until I’m satisfied! It’s taken over two years to put ‘Cafe Punjab’ together and it’s a very costly album as I spared no expenses with mixing and mastering. I’m very excited with the feedback coming in from the audiences, globally.
Your future projects?
I’m working on some more new songs for Bollywood projects and also some hard desi bhangra songs too... there is also some dance remixes I will release soon of ‘Cafe Punjab’. Stay Tuned!
By Navin Pivhal