Bups Saggu is currently one of UK Bhangra’s MVPs, striking home runs with his mega-hit singles Photo Rakh Ke (featuring Miss Pooja), Matha Thekiya (featuring Lehmber Hussainpuri) and Come On (Bhangra Paiye) (featuring Master Rakesh). These songs are all from Bups Saggu’s acclaimed debut album Redefined. It’s out now and features a star-studded line-up of heavy hitters, including Jaswinder Daghamia, Shin and Nachhatar Gill.
But with 15 years’ experience in the industry, the multi-talented Bups Saggu is no rookie. He's toured the world as a dholi for legendary acts like Jassi Sidhu and The Safri Boys, as well as working with the renowned Rhythm Shakers Collective.
SimplyBhangra.com brings you a candid and in-depth interview with Bups Saggu. Find out how he went from learning the tabla to performing worldwide, how Photo Rakh Ke was almost a very different song, what Bups’ views are on the Bhangra industry and much more!
Bups, welcome! You’ve always been somehow musically-involved throughout your career. What was the spark that set that off?
I’ve always been musically inclined from a young age. I’ve always loved singing and beating tables and playing imaginary instruments! I sang along every week to Top of the Pops, Hindi movies and old-school Bhangra tunes that my dad used to play.
Becoming a musician started from table tapping at school (which I used to get into trouble for at the best of times) to learning the tabla at the local Gurdwara.
“Part of my pitch as dholi was, “I wear MC Hammer style trousers!””
How did you then make the transition to a professional performer? And what sort of struggles did you encounter?
Having learned tabla, I took a liking to the larger and louder sound of the dhol. There weren’t many dhol players in my era, so it was something exciting and new back then. Whilst teaching myself the dhol, I joined the Punjab Bhangra Group in Wolverhampton, with whom I travelled and performed and got a taste of touring the UK and the world.
After a few years of dedicated dance, I moved onto performing as solely a dhol player with Ranj from The Midland Boyz, who was a renowned DJ at that time. That was my first real struggle; ringing DJs, asking whether there were any vacancies going for a dholi. One part of my pitch was, “I wear MC Hammer style trousers and can lean all the way back whilst playing!” [Laughs]
During my time as a dhol player (and not too long after joining the roadshow), I fell in love with the art of DJing and with centre stage. My sister bought me my first set of turntables (which I still own). As with the dhol, I taught myself how to DJ, from House and Trance to Bhangra and RnB, the lot!
No stage of my musical career has been easy. But this was really difficult; making demos, posting them to promoters and night clubs, suffering hundreds of rejections. But I persisted and eventually got my break, being offered a gig at a Wolverhamption club. From then on, my popularity grew and I played clubs across the Midlands, developing my DJing ability and gaining experience in various types of music.
“I toured the world whilst attending university and DJing by night!”
How did you come to associate with some of the biggest names in the Bhangra industry?
I continued music and DJing, but stopped playing dhol for other DJs and instead joined The Safri Boys. I remember being a kid and meeting Balwinder Safri at a Gurdwara and saying to him, “I’ll play in your band one day.” To be headhunted and asked to join by the man himself was amazing. There was no better experience than being a professional musician for a famous band at such a young age. I was overwhelmed!
From there, I had the opportunity to play with other big names, including Malkit Singh, Hans Raj Hans, Sarbjit Cheema, DCS, Dalvinder Singh, AS Kang, Jassi Sidhu – the list goes on! I toured the world whilst attending university and DJing by night!
Being a DJ and a musician performing to worldwide audiences at that level, did that lead to the epiphany that made you want to focus on and dedicate yourself to producing music of your own?
It was after finishing University that I focused on my ever-growing passion of music production, which I started in my home years prior but never got a real chance to pursue. So, I studied music production and sound recording for two years at London’s IMW. And I still managed to come back to the Midlands for weekend gigs!
Having learned keyboards, drums and dabbling with guitars and whatnot, I got a thorough understanding of compositions, melodies and arrangements – vital to my production and recording.
But being a DJ and musician wasn’t enough in itself. I had developed my “taste” in music and wanted to translate that into my sound that I wanted people to hear and appreciate.
Was it around this time that you were signed to Realtone records, joining the Rhythm Shakers Collective? What was that experience like?
Yes, I joined the Rhythm Shakers Collective just after graduating from Music and Production School. That experience allowed me to contribute to a team that made, I feel, music ahead of its time in Bhangra. Maybe it wasn’t a safe choice at that time, but that didn’t stop us. We soon went our separate ways, but on good terms.
I believe the others are also in the process of putting an album together, so that’s something to look forward to!
“Ahead of its time”: Rhythm Shakers – Chumka (featuring Master Rakesh):
From that split, how did you arrive at this point, as we know you today?
I started my own roadshow, Groove Asia, entertaining crowds under a banner that was solely myself, which felt great. A few years on, I built my own recording studio, Loft Recordings, and began the album Redefined. A year and a half later, it was released!
Bups Saggu in his Loft Recordings studio
“Justice could only be done, fully, if Miss Pooja was to sing Photo Rakh Ke solo.”
I think people sense that genuineness and authenticity to your music, and that’s partly why the response to your material has been so tremendous. Photo Rakh Ke was seen as a major and welcomed comeback for Miss Pooja. Was that something you were both working towards? What was the process of making the track like?
It is a great welcome-back song for Miss Pooja. I can finally say that after this response! [Laughs]
It was originally a duet that I had written by Tari Banwalipuria. However, when composing the song, especially the melody that runs on the verse, I felt that justice could only be done, fully, if Pooja was to sing it solo. However, being the person I am, I produced both a duet and solo version, to have the choice. Then, it was clear; it had to be Pooja as a solo performance. And, looking at the response, it was the right choice!
When I was in India recording, I spoke to Pooja to arrange the recording, but didn’t get a chance to send her the pre-production to the track, but I sang the words to her over the phone. Instantly, she thought it was a good idea.
When recording Photo Rakh Ke, we set ourselves an extra half hour to rehearse the vocals before dubbing, and she managed to quickly and easily pick up the melody. That she said to me, “The melody is very nice,” gave me a little boost, and the recording went really smoothly. To meet her and for her to appreciate the track and sing it how I composed, it was an overwhelming experience.
Bupps Saggu with Miss Pooja in India
Did you know that the song would be so well-received? How pivotal do you feel Miss Pooja was to its success?
Initially, when got back to the UK and completed the production on Photo Rakh Ke, with Pooja’s solo vocal, we both felt something was missing; that “umph.” We then decided to re-vocal the track. And it was the right decision as it gave the track a new life; that nakhra that Pooja has in her voice really cut through in the vocals.
When filming the music video, in a matter of a few takes, the audience there were reciting the song word-for-word. At that point, Pooja said to me, “Dekh, chal piya gaana!” We both laughed and thought, “Wow, this is going to be big.”
So, in terms of the production of the track, it was all done by me. However, in delivering the final product, I couldn’t have done it without Pooja’s input and effort! I definitely look forward to working with her again. Out of the many artists I’ve had the chance to work with, she is one of the most professional, hard-working and gifted.
Miss Pooja’s big comeback and Bups Saggu’s breakthrough anthem: Photo Rakh Ke:
“That people actually and genuinely like the tracks, that’s more important to me than having any Number 1.”
How did it feel to have Photo Rakh Ke riding so high in the BBC’s charts for weeks, simultaneously with Matha Thekiya (featuring Lehmber Hussainpuri), the latter without even a video?!
It felt great and surreal. I never expected such a massive response to the album, let alone certain tracks individually, as with Photo Rakh Ke and Matha Tekhiya. When the album was released at midnight of May 13th, it didn’t feel any different. It was only in the morning, when I received a phone call from the record label to tell me that my album shot to Number 1 in the iTunes World Chart. My reaction was like, “What?!” I was overwhelmed! Only at that moment, I felt, “Okay, maybe this album would make some noise?”
By the end of that day, Photo Rakh Ke also went to Number 1 in the iTunes World Singles Chart, along with five other songs also in the Top 100. I was on cloud nine!
Maintaining those two tracks high in the BBC Download Charts, it feels amazing even now that people actually and genuinely like the tracks; that’s more important to me than having any Number 1, especially when one track doesn’t even have a video (yet).
That was a rather teasing “yet”! Can we expect a video for Matha Tekhiya soon?
The video is out this month. Keep it locked on SimplyBhangra for that!
Matha Thekiya really took on a life of its own, with barely any promotion. What do you feel makes that track stand out and makes it so attractive to listeners?
Matha Tekhiya stands out for so many reasons, from the skit at the beginning to the actual song. Along with a lot of the other tracks on my album, the best thing about this track is that everyone can somehow relate to it. Plus, it’s not your typical song about dancing, booze, love, etc. It’s a subject that is quite harsh, but yet playful and humorous (as portrayed in this song).
As the opening track of my album, I wanted it to both stand out and to be played for years to come. I think with all the elements in the track and it being a brand new subject, hopefully, it will.
“The cliché of “it all sounds the same” is actually happening.”
With the stand-out lyrics and distinctive production of Matha Thekiya, do you think this case illustrates that, especially now, listeners are seeking something fresh and original?
Yes, they are. Having been in the industry (essentially “backstage” and not so much in the lime light, mostly), I have noticed that the music has become “similar”, so to speak, over the last few years. Not to mention that the number of artists has risen massively in comparison to ten years ago. The cliché of “it all sounds the same” is actually happening.
I can honestly say, when working with the Rhythm Shakers Collective, we knew our music was a little out-there and possibly ahead of its time. However, we did what we did because there was a need then and it stood out, even if it wasn’t the “safest” choice.
Now, going solo, I kept that ethos of creating a sound that can be very Desi and, at the same time, very Urban/Pop, while of high end in all elements from lyrics, vocals, music and videos.
Feeling the need to stand out: Rhythm Shakers – Mela & Hare Hare Medley:
What happened with Matha Thekiya does demonstrate that consumers are seeking new sounds and subjects. For example, Diljit’s Lak 28 Kudi Da is another prime example of a track that is fresh in so many ways and flying high in the charts. I wanted to give the audience something to talk about.
Fresh sounds in Bhangra: Diljit – Lak 28 Kudi Da (featuring Honey Singh):
As you mention, there’s a range of sounds on the album; Desi, Urban, Dance and more. And a track that caught my ear is Vang Chan Ke (featuring Jati Cheed and Metronome), with that unexpected Chinese violin and those Rock-ish drums! Were such things conscious decisions in order to create something unique?
The whole album, including Vang Chan Ke, is meticulously arranged, composed and produced. From the very beginning, taking the lyrics into context, I knew what emotion I wanted to create within listeners and the type of sound I wanted to bring out that feeling.
Vang Chan Ke is chilled out, summery and romantic. So, it wasn’t a case of, “Oh, I have to do a Hip-Hop number or an RnB number.” It was honestly a case of, “This is the perfect sound I feel is appropriate for the track.” The uniqueness lies in the combination of all the elements in the song that give it that originality and quality.
“As Jay Sean said, Asian music should be taken up a notch, not only musically but visually too.”
How much does the quality of the industry overall and the quest to be original weigh on your mind as a producer? Do you feel Bhangra is stagnating at the moment?
As a music producer and entertainer, there is a sense of responsibility on me to deliver what I feel. I am not saying I am a revelation of any sort, but listening in and watching music over the last few years, the industry has taken a toll, which is unfortunate.
My ethos is good music, catchy songs and fun videos. Why? It’s because I want to play a role in lifting parts of this industry that I feel have taken a knock or been saturated.
When picking up an award, Jay Sean mentioned that Asian music should be taken up a notch, not only musically but visually too. I’m not trying to say I am singlehandedly and unequivocally doing so or that loads of money has been spent on this project, but I haven't been afraid to try something out of the box and original, not only to define myself and distinguish myself from everyone else, but also to give the listeners something fresh!
What influences have shaped what you bring to the table?
I've had a whirl of influences throughout my life. Some came and went, some stayed, but they all moulded my understanding of music, resulting in a sound I’d describe to be musical and dynamic.
I love Bhangra (pointing out the obvious!), Hindi (I’ve been watching Bollywood movies all my life), Pop (yes, even the cheesy stuff!), Trance, Progressive House and Bass Junkie flavours!
Loving a broad range of music from a young age has led to me producing music that has my own stamp on it and is clearly a new sound of Bhangra.
More directly, who do you admire as a producer?
Currently, and he has been for a long time, Timbaland is a huge influence on my production style. I've always enjoyed his arrangements and originality.
Known to dabble with Asian sounds, Hip-Hop giant Timbaland’s Bombay, featuring British-Asian songstress Amar:
Which songs on the album were the most fun for you to produce, creatively? I.e. which ones do you feel truly showcase something you’re proud of artistically?
All the tracks on this album have been memorable and exciting to produce, not to mention that they all have their own value. But, if I was to choose just one track, it would be Intezaar Nahin. I am very proud of this track. In my opinion, it’s very much out-there and totally independent of anything in the market.
Musically, Intezaar Nahin is something that completely relays emotion, passion, depth and creativity to its limits, all in one track. It’s mostly electronic and synthesized, therefore a bit risky, and also the only Hindi track on the album.
If I was to be objective and listen to all the elements of this track, I would positively comment that this production is original, catchy and the creator has effectively amplified the feeling they clearly wanted to portray in this track.
With a truly impressive line-up of vocalists, as a fledging producer, which songs were stand-out experiences to record?
All the singers had their own qualities and brought a whole different experience to the recording of the tracks. Recording Miss Pooja was a grand experience as she is very professional and very famous. Lehmber and Nachhatar Gill were the same. Loving the tracks, they really got into it and delivered even beyond my expectations.
Shin was fun as we have been very good friends for many years. For his track, Ik Gera, we had all kinds of daft humour with the backing vocals, which was priceless. That’s a separate interview there!
Overall, I had the best experience making this album and gathered a lot of respect from musicians, songwriters and vocalists.
“The best thing about our diaries and video logs is that we are all totally ourselves with no false pretences.”
There’s footage of some of your experiences thus far, like recording with Miss Pooja and shooting music videos, on your YouTube channel. Can we expect more of these clips?
There many more to come! Thanks to my team, in conjunction with 1 Nation Media Group, we have a great campaign behind us. Our video diaries, behind-the-scenes footage and blogs are endless, and we have forthcoming new material which I’m sure will be very entertaining!
The best thing about our diaries and video logs is that we are all totally ourselves with no false pretences. They are fun to make and, more importantly, fun to watch. It’s a great feeling when people viewing can enjoy our experiences with us.
Clearly, you’re having so much fun with everything. We can see that in the behind-the-scenes YouTube footage for Come On (Bhangra Paiye) and the video itself. Tell us about that.
Come On (Bhangra Paiye) is out now. There’s a character called in the video called “Indian Mr. Muscle,” who is hilarious to watch! This video depicts a change of career for someone who earns money doing what he has to do to provide, who then has enough of his life and is tired of how he is treated, and becomes someone he wants to be. Do watch it; it was a really fun video to make!
An ethos of fun: Bupps Saggu – Bhangra Paiye (Come On) (featuring Master Rakesh):
What else do you have in store for us? Any more videos beyond Matha Tekhiya, or even another album in sight?
There’s plenty more in store in right now and in coming years from myself. Currently, I’m enjoying making new videos for tracks off the album. I’m also working on new material which is very out-there and something new and exciting not only for me, but for listeners too!
In terms of another album, that is bound to happen very soon as I can’t keep away from the studio. Meanwhile, you can all enjoy a lump sum of videos headed your way! As always, they’ll be right here on SimplyBhangra.
Where else can we keep up-to-date with you?
There are many ways to keep up-to-date with my goings-on, and definitely do so as I’m here to ENTERTAIN YOU!
Bups, thank you very much for the insightful interview! What message would you like to close on?
I would like to thank, firstly, my family and friends that have been so supportive and actively on my case to make this happen. So, I’m very grateful to them. Thanks to my label, Moviebox, for giving me this massive opportunity and to 1 Nation Media Group, my PR team, who have been great, Thanks to the SimplyBhangra team for their support and promotion of the album Redefined and for this interview.
And, of course, thank you to all the fans and people that have followed me to now and who’ll hopefully continue to follow me and my music for years to come! I feed off peoples’ energy, so I am nothing without my fans. Cheers, guys!
Interview by Govinda Lakha.