Return of the king

Dr. Smile Daler Mehndi: ‘The aim of my music is always to give happiness to people.’

Dr. Smile Daler Mehndi: ‘The aim of my music is always to give happiness to people.’  

Daler Mehndi on his new collection, ‘Raula Pai Gaya’

Most musicians might consider it belittling to have their music described as “happy music”. After all, one would reason, the word “happy” makes the entire affair sound somehow trivial. Such minor considerations don’t seem to bother Daler Mehndi, the ‘king of bhangra’, who revels in spreading joy through his music.

“That was always the aim of my music,” he says. “The message is always to freak out and forget your sadness.” This is both his strength and his weakness.

Something for everyone

And so it is that more than a decade after he burst onto the scene, the latest instalment of Daler’s ever-familiar brand of bhangra hits the shelves. ‘Raula Pai Gaya’ or the fanfare that announces the arrival of the king, says Daler, is simply an attempt to satisfy as many tastes as possible within a single album. “Whatever your taste, there is something for you to enjoy in this album,” he says. Ranging from the spiritual opening with ‘Namoh Namoh’ to the naughtier shades of ‘Kudi Chahiye’ and ‘Gora Gora Badan’ down to the unique tabla styling on ‘Dholna’, the album encompasses a wide range of moods and compositional influences, he explains. The title track, in particular, was written because “since ‘Sha ra ra’ there hasn’t been a great dance song in the industry.”

The results, as Daler sees them, are rather heartening. This, despite the title track controversy surrounding ‘Jhoom Barabar Jhoom’ drawing attention away from the new album. Of course, controversy is nothing new for Daler, who seems to have been plagued by scandals through the years. First there were the objections raised by some groups to the lyrics of ‘Nabi Buba Nabi’. Then there was the immigration and human trafficking scandal, which threatened to destroy his career. Daler bounced back from both, retaining till date his place at the head of the bhangra canon. “It makes me proud that people think of me whenever they think of bhangra. I have worked very hard to reach here,” he says of his journey from the days of driving a cab in California to his successful present. His is a constant effort to create new music that retains an evergreen flavour, a point that he says is demonstrated by the success of songs such as ‘Tunak Tunak’. “I made ‘Tunak Tunak’ in 1999, but its video is still one of the most popular videos on Youtube,” he claims.

As sure as he is of his own abilities, Daler is also the first to acknowledge the work of others. Thus unlike most musicians who put a premium on their own albums looking at film music as mostly bread and butter, Daler rates film music too just as important.

“For a trained musician, Bollywood, Tollywood, it is all the same and should be treated the same,” he says, more than happy about successes such as the title track of ‘Rang de Basanti’.

“The composition and the lyrics were excellent. And the picturisation was also great. I am happy that by God’s grace my voice fitted well into that song,” he says modestly.

And for critics who make the inevitable comparison with newer Brit-Asian acts such as Rishi Rich, Daler says that his more traditional modes are more than happy to share space with newer innovations. After all, he reasons, “If these newer acts blend traditional music with other styles that means there is something great about traditional music.” That greatness, he implies, will always remain a familiar space, suited well for his own musical exploration.

R. M.
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