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Manj Musik on Punjabi Pop and Hip-Hop’s Global Rise and His New Song ‘Kangna’

The British-Indian bhangra and pop veteran also talks about his son Noopsta’s album ‘Altr Ego’ and his label Muzik ONE Global

Anurag Tagat Oct 20, 2021

Brit-Indian composer, producer and vocalist Manj Musik at a promotional event for his new single "Kangna."

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Even a pandemic couldn’t stop Manj Musik’s hustle, given that he was on the move (with all precautions in place, he assures us) despite global shutdowns. After all, the Indo-Brit composer, producer and singer was one-third of seminal bhangra group RDB and has used the momentum for more than two decades to find favor with the worlds of Punjabi music, Bollywood and global hip-hop.

Over the phone from Udaipur, Manj already has a ticket to Dubai the next day. “To be honest I really never stopped traveling even during COVID, into U.S., Canada, U.K. I’ve taken precautions so it’s been good, I’ve been blessed to still be traveling,” he says.

The activity comes on the back of releasing his new song “Kangna,” which also saw him in the director’s chair, working with actor Ushna Shah for a bittersweet love story. Manj says he had thought out visuals while he was composing “Kangna,” which now stands at over five million views on YouTube. He says, “When I was producing, I already had this kind of storyline, this love story and the video I wanted to do, in my head.” A self-described “tech freak” who would often handle cameras and spoke to DOPs on music video sets, Manj quickly decided to direct “Kangna” on his own, honing in on the story while also serving up a “commercial, typical love story but happy go lucky” theme for the song.  

In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Manj Musik opens up about the transformations he’s making at his label Muzik ONE Global (previously known as Muzik ONE), working with his 15-year-old son Anoop aka Noopsta on an album and the global direction of Punjabi and desi music. Excerpts:

What do you think of the global attention that Punjabi music is getting and do you think it’s making a dent in the mainstream music realm?

I see what we kind of paved in during that time is something that really is set in stone that Indian music can be fully mainstream to the level where… and I’ve always wanted to push Indian music and Punjabi music, desi music over to the mainstream in the U.S. where they establish it and they see us the same way as reggaeton.

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I think we’re gonna see a lot more [global attention] because now so many more people are doing collaborations and so many people are crossing over. One of my biggest goals now is to kind of bring a lot of the U.S. big labels out to India and to do a few things. I mean, I know Universal, Sony and everybody else is doing their thing, but I have a really good relationship with Roc Nation, DJ Khaled and these guys. I’m working on a few projects now with my son [Noopsta] who’s producing for Roc Nation for [American hip-hop production/songwriting duo] Cool & Dre and we’re gonna bring them to India, to Dubai.

You worked with your son on his 2020 album Altr Ego. What has your advice to him been about the music world?

To be honest, I didn’t even teach him much. He just kind of picked up and he was using the software that I don’t even use. He’s blown up in Canada, he’s a Canadian-born Punjabi kid who loves hip-hop, loves pop and mainstream music. At the same time, he loves Indian hip-hop, guys like Emiway and Ikka’s stuff. He’s a big fan of these genres of music, which he loves mixing and merging. I guess when you hear one of the songs that he’s done with Ikka, you’ll really get to feel how the Punjabi side of it comes out along with the hip-hop.

What has it been like running Muzik ONE at a time when record labels are popping up everywhere, especially ones run by artists?

We kind of switched it over and renamed it Muzik ONE Global. It’s because we are now helping independent artists to promote their music and good content. As a label, we’re not really looking to take people’s content and put it on our own channel and promote the label. Instead, we’re saying that we are going to invest into your content and promote it on your own platforms. Your subscriber base grows and we will pay for the video, we will pay for the promotion and for the marketing, we have a full team. That’s one of the biggest things independent artists miss. They don’t get to have a full marketing team, a full promotion, finance plan. And these are the things that Muzik ONE Global will basically provide individual artists so they can promote on their own platform.

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Yes, we’re gonna take a small percentage of the revenue, but we will help you create your own platform. Tomorrow, we help you create a song and that song goes on your platform. When that song becomes a 50 million subscribed song on your YouTube platform… well, that’s all yours, that’s got nothing to do with us. We’re not doing this only for India, remember, we’re doing this globally. So we’ve got some Filipino artists, we’ve got Arabic artists, African artists, we’re gonna be talking to everyone.

“Kangna” was your first solo release this year. Are you more paced out in making music now than before?

I’m a big believer in good content. When it comes to creating music, I don’t think you should just create anything, everything in an hour. I mean, one of the big things I don’t agree with is the fact that you know, some of these artists – I’m not mentioning too many names – can just release rubbish music. And just put, like, 50-60 lakhs behind getting numbers and brainwash people to make them believe that it’s a hit song. In reality, nobody would ever listen to that song ever again.

Instead of putting a crap ton of money behind it and trying to promote rubbish music, I’d rather put a decent budget in decent music and do it sparingly, slowly. Quality rather than quantity.

What else is coming up over 2021?

Lots of stuff coming up. I’m heavily pushing and getting my son into action now. We will be working very closely with mainstream U.S. artists and a very big artist that you’ll get to know soon.

I still have songs with the Bollywood scene happening regardless. But my main goal is setting up a huge studio in Dubai. It’s gonna be a professional studio where everybody, all the U.S. rappers will be coming and working in that studio as well as people from India, they have the option to go there also. Just more music coming soon, more collaborations. My goal is now to take Punjabi and Indian hip hop music and make it global.

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