SimplyBhangra.com is honoured to bring you an interview with Mukhtar Sahota! The incomparable producer is set to release his eagerly anticipated new album Khazana, with vocals by Harbhajan Shera.
Mukhtar Sahota is one of the most integral, innovative and influential figures in Punjabi music. At the tender age of 16, he’d already played the Royal Albert Hall with his four brothers. Together, they formed The Sahotas – the world’s biggest-selling Bhangra band. Backed by Mukhtar’s captivating fusion of Reggae, House and Desi, The Sahotas enjoyed two decades of success with their brilliant, boundary-breaking sound.
As a solo act since 2002, Mukhtar Sahota continues to push his musical creativity. His style is unpredictable, but whether beautiful, fierce or plain addictive, his music is always unique, loved and tailored to perfection. Soni Lagdi, Rang Kala and Jugni are just some of the songs that speak to his continued success and versatility.
Mukhtar Sahota joins us to discuss his upcoming album, Punjabi Rock, the long-awaited Sahotas reunion, ghost production, “record labels”, recruiting new talent and much more!
Thanks, it’s my pleasure.
Your new single Dukh Thor Dithe is out now. What was the thought process like for this track? Did you sense immediately that Harbhajan Shera’s voice would mesh seamlessly with a Rock-influenced track?
Harbhajan Shera’s vocal no doubt works great with Rock fusion.
Before I consider doing work with any vocalist, I look out for three things; versatility, energy and feel. The thought process behind the music production comes later on, after I have selected the songs for the album.
When I started producing the music for Dukh Thor Dithe, without thinking too deeply about it, it felt natural to take the Rock fusion route as I felt that this complemented the melody and Harbhajan Shera’s energetic vocal performance on this track.
Mukhtar Sahota – Dukh Thor Dithe (featuring Harbhajan Shera):
Is Rock a strong element of your upcoming album Khazana? No doubt, your name on the project alone guarantees it’ll certainly be eclectic!
It’s not just about one style or genre throughout the album for me, as you can hear from my previous albums. I like to experiment with different styles suited to the vocalist and the songs. There is definitely more than Rock on this album. Hoping it’s going to be ‘electric’!
“There is huge potential for Punjabi vocalists on Rock tracks... but most producers like to play it safe.”
Is it accurate to compare Arif Lohar’s vocals, on Jugni (a previous Rock production of yours), to old-school Metal vocalists? Is there a lot of untapped potential in terms of using Punjabi vocalists on Rock tracks?
It’s funny you should mention and compare Arif Lohar to old-school Metal vocalists, as I do call him “the Asian Meat Loaf”! There is huge potential for Punjabi vocalists on Rock tracks, but I’m not too sure whether this would appeal to the masses. I would love to hear other music producers use Rock, but I think the problem is most producers like to play it safe.
“The Asian Meat Loaf”: Arif Lohar’s soaring vocals on Mukhtar Sahota’s Jugni:
There are lots of political and social reasons underlying the more common Urban-Desi fusion. What attracted you to Rock instead? Were you greatly exposed to it, or did you simply like it?
I used to play with an English Rock band in the early nineties and listened to a lot of Rock /Heavy Metal music. But, at the same time, I am equally influenced by Reggae Music too. I have thought about combining the two genres in one of my future projects…
We look forward to something that fresh on our scene! I imagine your influences must be really diverse. Who has shaped your music, creatively?
My influence comes from many genres, like Rock, Reggae, Arabic, Classical and Folk Music, as I grew up listening to Folk, Ghazals and Qawalis, i.e. by Nustrat Fateh Ali Khan, Alam Lohar, Pankaj Udhas, Anup Jalota, and Ghulam Ali. As time went on, I was exposed to Bhangra and Reggae music and was influenced by the likes of Bob Marley and Sly & Robbie, especially their Dub recordings.
The one person that made me look at my music production in a different light has to be Prince.
“I need to be happy with my music; it’s not about pleasing the critics.”
Your music is very experimental, channelling all those wide-ranging influences. Are you therefore ever apprehensive over how critics might respond? What about Asian fans who tend to usually gravitate towards the more common Urban-Desi fusion?
My attitude towards my music production is that I need to be happy with my music; it’s not about pleasing the critics. I enjoy the creative process, and I’m not influenced by anyone’s perception. As long as my work is appreciated by audiences, I will continue to work in the same vein. The day I feel that I need to change my music production to please others, then it will be time for me to quit.
Deservedly, you’ve always enjoyed critical acclaim and fan support. While your sound might not have the widest appeal, do you feel that because it’s so unique and not over-saturated, your fans are especially loyal and appreciative?
I think any artist/musician/music producer that is creative and experimenting with his music instead of following the pack will have a certain amount of support and loyalty from fans. And if this is the case for me, then I am truly grateful.
“...there is no motivation or excitement for me in jumping on the band wagon.”
You were the first UK producer to feature Lehmber Hussainpuri. Ironically, albums without a Lehmber track are scarce nowadays. Are you always conscious not to follow the pack and not to follow trends?
I naturally keep away from trends and vocalists that are featured on most Bhangra tracks, as there is no motivation or excitement for me in jumping on the band wagon. I prefer to give opportunities to vocalists who need the exposure.
Undoubtedly, you take great care in crafting your material and producing something original. You’ve previously criticized sampling. Do you think sampling can be done well, as in Hip-Hop? Or are you simply against the laziness of that once-prevalent trend in Bhangra where producers would merely stick a dhol beat over a mainstream track?
There is nothing wrong with sampling or the use of legal samples. Many well-established producers around the world use sampled instruments. The issue I have is with the blatant lifting of samples and mixing them up to make a tune without any care for musical structure.
As far as sticking a dhol beat over a mainstream track goes, I wouldn’t class them as music producers.
Is sampling something you’d do at all?
I have many instrument sample libraries and plug-ins that I may use depending on the requirements of certain tracks, but I do tend to play majority of the instruments myself. I have never used or lifted samples off anyone’s tracks or works.
Creatively, what do you think of the contemporary Punjabi music industry? Which artists excite you and do you think are maintaining standards?
I take it we’re talking about the UK Punjabi music industry. Then, it gives me no pleasure to say that we have a lack of talented singers. Back in the days when all the Bhangra bands were around, there was no room for amateur singers as we are exposed to today. Looking at the vocal talent coming out of the UK over the last 8 years or so, nothing has excited me, to be honest.
Musically, I feel most tracks are being catered towards the party/weddings market. This is not a criticism, as there are quite a few good dancefloor tracks around, but, in my opinion, I would like to hear more creativity.
“I can’t get my head around the fact that someone can claim that they have produced an album/single that has been ghost produced.”
As a producer who really respects the diversity of music, plays numerous instruments and is so passionate about his art, the prevalence of ghost production must really irk you?
I can’t understand why there is a need for ghost production. If this service wasn’t available, then it would leave no choice to those people who seek music production to create it themselves or to go down the proper route. I can’t get my head around the fact that someone can claim that they have produced an album/single that has been ghost produced.
It seems to be very common with the DJs today who use this as an advertising tool for their roadshow. Why can’t they just give credit to the ghost producer, as these things have a habit of coming out anyway?
“The Sahotas will be doing a world tour...”
How heavily does it weigh on a Sahotas reunion that event promoters today generally won’t pay for live bands?
This is definitely a major issue for the band and is one of the reasons why it has taken us this long to decide to make a comeback. It’s disheartening when a band spends so much time and effort in rehearsing and then to find that promoters are not willing to pay, whether this is due to punters not willing to spend over a certain amount on tickets, or simply that the punters are not into live music and just prefer DJs spinning records.
It’s a cycle, really. If the punters don’t pay, then the promoters have a limited budget and therefore cannot afford to pay for a band. With The Sahotas, we will be doing a world tour, and the plan for the UK is to do exclusive shows in selected cities and not to saturate the market.
One of The Sahotas’ greatest hits and an all-out classic: Teri Meri Gal Bangaye:
Will there be a new Sahotas album to complement that reunion tour?
The Sahotas’ new album is currently at its early stage and I have started the music production for it. There is no set date for the release, but I will keep SimplyBhangra posted.
Would you consider, or have you ever been approached for, Bollywood or other film work? Your 2007 album Unpredictable (with Lakhwinder Wadali), especially, is dramatic, emotional and engaging – all the things that would complement a Bollywood film.
I have worked on a few Bollywood projects in the studio with A R Rahman; on the background score for the film Blue, and was involved in the recording of the song Tok De Killi from the film Raavan, which featured the vocals of my younger brother, Am’nico.
And I have currently licensed a couple of my tracks to a few upcoming films due for release later this year.
“I have been signed with many labels... they were all a bunch of jokers with no musical knowledge...”
You operate on your own label, Internalmusic. What direction do you have in mind for Internalmusic and how can hopeful acts apply?
I would like to take this opportunity to talk in specific terms about record labels, as I have been signed with many labels around the world over the years, and I have to say they were all a bunch of jokers with no musical knowledge and, most importantly, didn’t know how to actually operate a record label.
Internalmusic is not a commercial record label, but a platform for me to release and license my music for which I own all the musical rights. In the current state of the market, there’s no need in wasting time signing up to labels who expect everything delivered on a plate for them (videos and completed albums). With a bit of knowledge about the music business, you can do it yourself.
“Internalmusic is encouraging music that is creative, inspirational and high quality.”
Is Punjabi Rock something Internalmusic will particularly encourage? Do you want to see more Asian artists aspiring not only to see their videos on the likes of MTV Base, but on Kerrang TV as your video for Jogi was?
Internalmusic is encouraging all types of music (not just Punjabi Rock); music that is creative, inspirational and has a high standard of quality. This is the way forward for our Asian music to appear on major TV channels; MTV Base, Kerrang TV etc.
The few Asian music TV channels that we do have show no quality control. Instead, it’s about how much money you pay them to up the rotation of your video on their channel. With mainstream music TV channels, the artist gets paid a royalty for each time their video is played, but our Asian TV channels want the artist/label to pay them.
History-making: Mukhtar Sahota’s video for Jogi was played on Kerrang TV:
Your latest offering of Punjabi Rock, Dukh Thor Dithe, is out now, and we wish you even more success with it across all platforms. Where can we catch you performing the song, and what other singles can we expect soon?
Regarding the live performances, this will depend on how well the album is received in the UK. Only then can we bring Harbhajan Shera over for live shows. There will be no more singles off this album, but the album is now available for PRE-ORDER via iTunes (released 21st July 2011 worldwide), and you can buy the Single Dukh Thor Dithe, off the album, via iTunes, Amazon and all leading Digital Stores now.
Pre-Order available NOW - http://itunes.apple.com/gb/preorder/khazana/id448682562
Where can we keep up-to-date with you?
Mukhtar Sahota, thank you for the interview. Any final message you’d like to extend to the SimplyBhangra.com readers?
I’d like to thank SimplyBhangra for the interview and would like to thank everyone who has supported me over the years.
I know we as artists/labels keeping going on about illegal downloading and file sharing on the internet, but what people are failing to understand is that you are not in any way supporting the artist by doing this. Instead, you are supporting the illegal websites, as they are getting an income from major advertising companies and sponsors who are advertising on their sites. They are using us artists and our works to bring traffic to their web pages.
It is a very difficult task trying to shut down these websites. We can only do this with your support – by you purchasing the single/albums via the legal digital stores, i.e. iTunes, Amazon MP3 etc. Only then can the Industry improve on the quality of the products that are released. Thank you.
Interview by Govinda Lakha.
Pre-Order available NOW - http://itunes.apple.com/gb/preorder/khazana/id448682562