The UK-based bhangra band Sahara has epitomised Punjabi-fusion music since late 90s with their popular mehndi and club songs like “Billo Ni Tera Laal Ghagra” and “Soniye Ni Soniye”. While visiting Lahore for a series of concerts hosted by local schools, the band members spoke about their universal vision, upcoming album and collaboration with Pakistani pop artist Abrarul Haq.
“People in Pakistan appreciate UK bhangra music; the crowds are highly energised and we always get a great response,” says Harvinder Sahara, the lead vocalist who is also known as Herbie Sahara. “We try to perform at a high tempo and the bounce from the music transcends into the crowd.”
The band is currently composed of Herbie, his brother Gurps (also a vocalist) and Dav(on the dhol). Herbie, Gurps and their other brother, Kully, started playing music at an early age, mostly singing at Sikh temples and later became part of the local band “Nachda Punjab”. Then in 1993, Herbie and Kully formed the band Sahara and released an album Intemptation which exceeded their expectations and shot them to national fame. Then came the albums Let Loose and Blue Print, but it wasn’t until 2001 when Sahara released Access All Areas that they were internationally recognised. The album sales were phenomenal and the song “Soniye Ni Soniye” became the best selling song of the year.
The brothers have played alongside great artists; Kuldeep Manak, Surinder Shinda, RDB, Surjit Bhindrakhia, Hans Raj Hans and Himesh Reshmmiya to name a few.
Fusion music gains popularity
When asked how this relatively new genre became popular, Herbie replies, “The UK has always had a lot of variety when it comes to music, however, it was in the 80s that the concept of fusing Punjabi music with western beats became popular.” He further adds, “This trend has now developed more, and there is now a global taste for this kind of music.”
The band claims that through fusion music, they are able to connect to people belonging to different cultures and regions. “I try to keep it as simple as possible so that people from diverse markets and cultures are able to relate to our songs - even people who don’t know Punjabi can sing along to our songs,” says Herbie, who is also the lyricist of Sahara’s songs.
Sahara is now working on an upcoming album - which is yet to be titled - through its own record company. The album, set to be released in April this year, will have several collaborations including a track with Pakistani bhangra maestro Abrarul Haq. The album’s sound, Herbie states, will stick to the heavy Punjabi melody but will be contemporised according to latest trends in music.
“In the latest album, we are thinking of doing something out-of-the-box, so it will include a lot of different scales and beats.” Meanwhile, Gurps explains that the album will have a variety of songs including Punjabi fusion, romantic songs and party music. “We won’t just cater to the youth, it will be appealing to the whole family,” says Gurps.
Meanwhile, when asked how much they had to alter their own musical style due to the changing global trends - a shift away from heavy rhythm and beat music to more dance-oriented music - Gurps feels that fusion music is flexible and can adapt to the changing culture. “That’s the beauty of fusion music; It relates to people with different tastes. So we can take traditional bhangra music and combine it with any genre.”
Concluding the tete-a-tete with the bhangra band, we asked if they would ever consider tackling socio-political issues in their songs and Herbie replies with a stern “no”. However, he adds that their aim is to contribute to promoting goodwill by collaborating with various artists around the world. “We have done concerts to raise funds for the tsunami in Japan and have collaborated with artists from all over the world, including Pakistan. We hope to continue doing that,” concludes Herbie.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2012.