The past decade saw British brothers RDB make an incredible global impact,but after key band member Kuly died suddenly two years ago, it was never going to be the same.
That is why despite being the lead singer, Manj musik made the difficult decision of closing the RDB chapter and going solo. The music producer, singer and business brain has set up new record label Muzik ONE records and is currently traveling all over the world creating hit songs and doing everything from working in Bollywood and deliver-ing big western mainstream collaborations to discovering new talent and cut-ting deals.
Eastern Eye caught up with Manj in Toronto, Canada, where he lives with his singer wife Nindy Kaur and young son. He took time out from his busy schedule to talk in depth about the new chapter in his life, why RDB couldn’t continue, big future plans, inspirations, key advice he would give new music producers and more.
Have you had a chance to look back on your amazing musical journey? Yes. The journey has been a roller coaster ride, but it’s been amazing. I started off messing about making remixes on a Amiga 500 computer with Kuly paji to full-blown producing on studio equipment; it has been a huge learning curve. But it is fair to say that RDB got firmly established once Kuly paji and I started making the distinct RDB sound.
How tough was it to break up RDB? It actually broke when we lost Kuly paji and that’s when I really started thinking that it should now be laid to rest as a legacy. But I guess you get emotional and with everyone around saying, ‘let’s carry on with RDB’, I thought maybe we can, but I was so wrong.
Losing Kuly paji, who was the other half of my creative brain, was a huge blow. We made a few songs after he passed in his memory, but now I feel it’s definitely the respectful thing to do to say we have to let him rest in peace and the name should be closed as a legacy.
The T-Pain – RDB collaboration (Daddy Da Cash) was the last song we released and it was definitely a peak. Surj was never really creative in the studio nor sang – he did the contract and publishing work in the office, so it only made sense to have this as our last song and lay RDB to rest as a legacy in respect for Kuly paji.
RDB was famous because of the sound paji and I made, not because of anything else. Without Kuly paji making music with me, there will never be true RDB music.
Do you have any regrets about the decision? No. It’s a decision that has been building for a while since Kuly paji passed away. I never want the name RDB to be abused or disrespected in any way. It’s a brand that has been built with a respectful name and it only takes a second to lose that. It will now be laid to rest in a respectful way where it will remain a legacy. Now it’s time to move on.
Do you feel like you are starting all over again? Creating a new brand is definitely starting all over again. It is more challenging. It is a new brand and new style of music – I am not only singing myself but also producing for others. Bollywood relationships have helped me carry on for sure, as well as my mainstream connections. My moving to Canada has opened doors to US mainstream artists, which is something I’m very proud of. Bringing Snoop, Ludacris and recently T-Pain in have been massive accomplishments for me. I now have to get the loyal fans to accept me as Manj musik, which is the hardest thing, but in time I’m sure they will see me and my music as my own genre/brand.
So what can we expect from you as a solo artist? (Smiles) You will definitely hear some extreme styles. I’m a very experimental guy and don’t like sticking to one style. Vocally, I’m doing extreme Punjabi vocals to some low-tone Bollywood stuff and even some really low-end rap-style singing. As well as this, I’m doing huge collaborations as I have a great relationship with some of the biggest artists and I guess they see some creative talent in me too. Then we have the mainstream talent and collaborating in the US, merging desi music with big film scorings and mainstream singles.
Will you be producing all your songs or collaborating with other music producers too? I will be producing all my own songs for sure, but in collaborations, we will creatively make compositions together. I was a music producer before a vocalist, so it opens up many doors for me to collaborate as a singer on my own music or musically with someone else’s vocals. I was always known as Manj the man with so many voices, from Singh MC back in the day to Hype MC on Aloo Chaat to singing We Doin It Big and all our Bollywood hits. Musically, making the Bollywood hits with paji kept me on top of the game, I guess.
Which of your unreleased songs are you most excited about? I have some huge collaborations coming with Diljit (Dosanjh) Paji, Gippy (Grewal) paji, Jazzy B, Bilal Saeed, Salim Sulaiman, Vishal Shekhar, LMFAO, Sean Paul, Flo Rider and am now in talks with AR Rahman too. (Laughs) So to answer your question, all of them.
Tell us about your new record label and artists? I signed Raftaar, Mitch Hyare, DJ NaV music, Sarb Smooth and Nindy Kaur on Muzik ONE Records. The new guys I have signed are O2 & SRK, Big Dhillon and Tejas. Dhillon is a young, good-looking guy who is an amazing vocalist. Tejas is a killer DJ/producer – some of his new EDM tracks will blow your mind. The same goes for O2 & SRK – those two are on a different level when it comes to music. There is no introduction needed for Mitch Hyare, everyone knows him. He is the most electrifying dhol player the world has ever seen. Then we have Nindy, of course; she has her new album ready for release this summer and will shoot five new music videos soon. Sarb Smooth and Raftaar are my hip hop desi rap kings. An official single by Smooth featuring Big Dhillon is done and ready for release. Raftaar’s official first single, featuring myself, will be shot soon and launched by MTV next month. My manager Ankit Khanna leads the label in India and his contacts and relationships are helping build this label to another level.
You are also working with 50 Cent to promote his new headphones? Yeah, the headphones are a great way for me to help promote his brand SMS Audio in India and across the globe. In return, we are in talks about a great deal and I’m going to be brand ambassador for SMS audio in India for 50. Me, 50 and his management are in constant talks to take his brand to the next level across the globe through desis.
What are some of your greatest unfulfilled musical ambitions? Well, I always wanted to work with Michael Jackson. That was my dream, but I guess now Kuly paji is having a party up there with God and Michael Jackson. (Laughs) Love you paaj. Besides Michael, I really want to work with AR Rahman, and recently I had a one-on-one conversation with the main man, so who knows, fingers crossed, maybe my dream will come true.
Do you have any ambitions away from music? To be the best father and husband I can be. I have learned in life that as a father, I will always support my son, no matter what. He is my life and I will be real with him – if he is lazy, I will say he’s lazy and needs to pull his socks up, not falsely say he’s a gem to people to fool them. I believe in being truthful and straightforward. Live your life for yourself, understand what’s right and wrong, not living my life for duniyadari (people). Be true and do everything to build a good character and respect. Both my wife and I feel these things are key to being a true, real and honest down-to-earth person. This is what we will teach our son.
What about following other big-name artists and acting in Punjabi films? (Laughs) Acting will happen when I have spare time. Right now I’m so busy with music and family life with my wife and son that I don’t have time. I’ve been offered a few roles, but this is just not the right time for me. Later, sure, I would consider it.
Who is the most interesting person you have met on your musical travels? (Thinks) It has to be T-Pain. Being the massive superstar he is, he never forgets his wife and kids. His motto in life is to do the best you can musically and in your career, but always have time for your wife and kids. He’s a party animal to a family man to an insane per-former. A true character who knows how to stay grounded with family values.
What is the best piece of advice that anyone has ever given you? The best advice has to be by an older woman who is like a grandmother to me called Bhiji. She made me see things in a very different light. She taught me to stay focused on things which are the most important in my life, to keep negativity away and to help people who re-spect you and do things that will help build respect for myself. She owns a multi-million-dollar business and is one of the most respected persons in the community here in Toronto. She’s amazing and always has so much positive advice to give.
What advice would you give up coming music producers? Make music on an international level, guys. Don’t get stuck making only one style just because it’s work-ing for you. Expand your creativity and make music from all genres. Spreading your wings in different styles will help establish you and push your limits.
What is your opinion of the British-Asian music industry as it is? It’s changed a lot since I left in 2003. There is so much talent coming from the UK and everyone seems to be a producer and singer now. Back in the day, there was only a handful of people, but now with stations like BritAsia TV and BBC Asian Network, it really helps new talent. Kudos to them for that. But I feel the UK bhangra scene is stuck in a vibe of only making typical desi bhangra music and because it’s working for the wedding market, they feel that’s the only way forward. Yes, I agree it’s the bread and butter for some producers, but making more international style music will only help build a global brand outside the folk desi scene. That is my personal feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I love folk desi music and I’m a big fan of artists like JK, Tru Skool and Jazzy B.
Tell us something that not many people know about you? I love being at home with my son and wife. People think traveling the world is so much fun and the best thing, but I’m the opposite. I actually don’t care about fame and traveling. I do this for the fans and to build a future for my son. It’s about earning a living to set a good foundation for him. Meanwhile, I make music and do shows to keep the fans happy and not let them down. I’m a very grounded guy. Anyone who knows me will know I’ve helped many and have zero ego. My wife is my backbone to stay grounded as an artist.
What is the Manj musik master plan? To create a Manj musik brand that showcases all the nutty music I wanna make. I have an exclusive clothing line called Swagged Out Sardars (SOS) coming soon, where my creative fashion is mass-produced and sold to the world. I’m getting more involved with Hollywood movie scores. I’m build-ing a record label where all the artists get each other’s help to promote one other and money is actually spent on each artist to build their brand.
What inspires you? My biggest inspiration was Kuly paji as we were both on the same page creatively. Since his pass-ing, I’m now inspired by seeing my son grow and fans showing me love. If it wasn’t for them and their support, I wouldn’t have the energy I do.
Why do you love music? Music brings all cultures together. This world is full of hate and segregation based on religion, culture and colour, but music is one thing that brings the world together. If I can help make something that brings the world together and be happy and at peace, that’s one big reason to love music.
Do you have a final message for your fans? I love them for the love and support they have shown me as Manj musik. Massive respect goes out to the industry for believing in me as a solo artist and sup-porting me. I wanna say ‘I love you, Nindy Kaur, my wife, for being my backbone in life’. She left her whole life in Canada the day we heard Kuly paji had cancer and moved to the UK to support my parents and family. I don’t know any wife who would do that to support her husband’s family in a heartbeat. She’s a diamond. The final message is be good to people and help those who respect you.
Interview by Asjad Nazir (uberpunjabi)