April 22nd, 2024

Five Canadian songs to hear from the rising Punjabi music scene

By David Friend, The Canadian Press on March 21, 2024.

AP Dhillon performs during the Juno Awards in Edmonton on March 13, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Timothy Matwey

With Punjabi-Canadian musicians growing in popularity on a global scale, there’s already a storied history of how the genre went from a relative niche to a formidable streaming force.

Here are five Punjabi songs made by artists based in Canada that offer insight into where the genre came from and where it’s headed:

“Romeo” by Jazzy B

Many young Punjabi-Canadian singers credit Jazzy B as one of their major influences growing up, and the title track off his 2004 album makes a case for why he’s so appealing. The Surrey, B.C.-based performer blends Spanish guitars, an electronic hip-hop beat, and popular slang of the era – “shorty” is frequently dropped as a compliment – in what showcased how closely Punjabi and hip-hop could blend.

“So High” by Sidhu Moose Wala

An incredible bridge between traditional folk elements and modern hip-hop, this early Moose Wala track didn’t just suggest his arrival on the scene, he proclaimed it himself. Rapping in Punjabi, he foreshadowed his prolific musical output and boasted about his “gangsta” style, all while he was a 24-year-old international student in Brampton, Ont. Moose Wala was killed five years after its 2017 release, but “So High” remains a milestone that continues to prove popular. Its music video has racked up more than 700 million views on YouTube.

“Excuses” by AP Dhillon, Gurinder Gill and Intense

Building on their 2020 viral hit “Brown Mundae,” Dhillon and Gill brought in fellow British Columbia performer Intense to craft an even bigger smash. Led by its dreamy hook, “Excuses” swept through India’s music scene, making the Canada-based performers’ track the most-streamed song on Spotify in 2022.

“Admirin’ You (feat. Preston Pablo)” by Karan Aujla and Ikky

Punjabi music experts say the genre may need a few mainstream hits before it’s taken seriously on a global scale, and that will likely take involvement from established stars in the English music scene. While experiments have happened outside Canada – one of them involved Sia singing in Punjabi with Indian star Diljit Dosanjh – there’s one straight out of Toronto that works even better. Produced by Ikky, “Admirin’ You” features Juno-winning “Flower Need Rain” singer Preston Pablo giving his Top 40 touch to a concise English verse that allows rising star Aujla the room to shine, performing a catchy hook entirely in Punjabi.

“Drippy” by Sidhu Moose Wala, Mxrci and AR Paisley

While the late Moose Wala’s influence on the current wave of Punjabi music is incomparable, this posthumous release showcases just how far the genre has gone in a matter of years. With tight production by Mxrci and a pounding English verse from Paisley, the edgier example of Punjabi hip-hop soared up the Billboard Hot 100 Canada chart to a No. 9 debut last month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2024.

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