It is too early for the evening crowd, and the club only has a couple of lonely tipplers sipping vodka in the shadows. Baljit Singh Sagoo, better known as Bally Sagoo, sits on a couch, tackling one journalist after the other. He hasn’t had much sleep for the last three nights, as he’s been busy promoting his first album in a decade— “Future Shock”. He says the album, that coincidentally shares its name with an Alvin Toffler bestseller, is Bally Sagoo 2.0.
Bally was the sound on the dance floor of the ‘90s. Known for his remixes, he was one of the early pioneers who got Indian music into dance clubs. His style, of mixing traditional bhangra and Punjabi songs with electronic dance music, has spawned scores of disc jockeys between the Ravi to the Gomati— who now play a critical role in the great Indian wedding.
In the last decade he’s composed songs for films and been on TV shows. He has long ceded his space to newer stars like Panjabi MC, Jazzy B and most recently Honey Singh— whose tracks are more desi compared to Bally’s. Sitting opposite a plate of chicken tikka, he holds up a CD of “Future Shock” and says, “This is hotter than this (the tikka), this is spicier than this, this (the tikka) aint nothing. It (the album) will blow you away.”
Having said that, Bally tells the lensman that he’ll hold up a tikka for the photo but he isn’t eating any of it. “Sure, I love Punjabi (food). I’m from Birmingham, the capital of Punjabi food in the West. For us a chef coming from Delhi is a big thing. But I won’t do stuff that sets my arse on fire,” he reveals. He finally settles for green tea, over which we talk at Hype at Shangri-La's Eros Hotel. He sips it quietly, peacefully, a rarity over the course of this conversation.
Born in Delhi and brought up in the UK, Bally’s family had spent years in Uganda before he was born. African music has always influenced him, even more so in this latest album.
“There’s a lot of reggae. There’s African rap on some of these tracks. I’m not looking only at the clubs in Delhi or London or Bombay. This is for global audiences. Yes, there’s some bhangra. But not everybody likes bhangra. So there’s also stuff for traditional clubheads, there’s stuff with a Bollywood touch, there’s some chillout moods stuff and yeah, there’s Punjabi House music,” he explains.
Africa has influenced his food too. His favourite dish is a Uganda style chicken he picked up from his dad. “Balti chicken, which Birmingham is known for, is my comfort food. I also like steaks, keema, lamb curry. I love seafood— Dover sole, lobsters, the crocodile tikka they make in Africa— good stuff. I can make a nasty anda burji with everything in it.”
For mixing the perfect tracks, Bally says he needs a glass of Merlot. “I’m not a beer person. A good red wine and I’m set.”
Though off the radar, he insists he’s been busy. “Apart from doing stuff for movies and TV, I’ve been auditioning. I get people all the time—in clubs, airports, hotels. If you think you can sing, I record it on my phone. If I think you can sing, I get back to you. I’ve had golgappa wallahs from Mumbai and kids from rural Punjab come up to me and sing, on the street,” he says.
Bally adds that though some of them are bad, it’s worth his while. “India doesn’t have enough non-film music. We dream to be filmstars, not popstars. I’m looking for unique voices and sounds. That’s why I started Fresh Dope Records, to find voices like Tamara Menon, who’s in this album. She’s my neighbour in Mumbai who thought she could sing.”
It’s impossible to listen to Bally and not miss the ‘90s. “It was a very important time for Indian music, globally. Goras only knew Ravi Shankar. We were listening to western music or Bollywood music. When you think of Aaja Nachle or Chura liya , it was this unique new sound you could relate to. It was hip and western, but it was desi . Indian music didn’t really have bass. My USP was that the bass jumped up and smacked you in face.”