The thinking pop star

Having become an icon for many struggling artistes by refusing to `sell' his music, Rabbi Shergill gives Gen-Next a shot at seriousness while tapping their feet. Mandira Nayar finds out more... .His trademark guitar was missing. And unlike the usual entourage that follows a pop-singer, he came alone and surprisingly on time. An Indian pop-singer with a purpose, Rabbi Shergill's style of music -- a sort of Punjabi folk with a twist of rock -- that plays constantly on FM music stations seems to have touched a chord with the young as well as the old in some way.

In the Capital to inaugurate the Tri-Continental Film Festival by Breakthrough over the weekend, he enthralled the audience with his music. "When Breakthrough sent me an e-mail about inaugurating the festival, I thought do they have the wrong guy? I am a singer. I don't know why I keep getting asked for things like this. I also performed at the World Social Forum in Brazil. Fully clad, I had 10,000 semi-naked Brazilians dancing to my music. They didn't understand anything, but cheered me on," he says.

Far from fitting the conventional image of a pop star, Rabbi has defied all the odds of becoming a success in the glamorised music scene in India. He is probably the only Indian pop-singer who doesn't resort to a gimmicky music video. With no skimpily clad women or a story line with him as a hero, Rabbi's videos are usually just him, his guitar and his music. "May be it is a signal that I am sending out through my music. I want India to change. I want India to think. It is time for my generation to engage," he asserts.

Giving Generation Next a shot at a little seriousness while tapping their feet, it is music that `feels'. From his version of the popular "Jugni" song, a must at all Punjabi weddings, his music is political. "Art doesn't exist in a vacuum. It is in the fabric of society. It's the social fabric. It's the political fabric. If I was living in Scandinavia and there was no problem and the only issue was of plenty and I was bored, I could have thought of punk rock. Like in the United Kingdom there are the group "Sex-pistols". But when things are going well, it can be message of anarchy. But when chaos resides, then I think it is an artist's job to have a constructive role," he says.

And he is certainly taking his job seriously. With his story of success becoming an phenomenon of sorts with just one album "Bulla Ki Janan" and his refusal to sing for films part of folklore -- a stand that certainly adds to his appeal in certain quarters -- Rabbi has come up the hard way. Having struggled for four years before he got lucky with "Phat Phish", an independent new-age filmmaking company, Rabbi still seems to have his feet firmly on the ground.

"Everything changes you. If I had been confined to obscurity, its experience would have changed me. But whether this change has made a positive influence on me or negative can only be judged by history. As an artist I can hope that I keep producing good art, appreciating good art and evolving aesthetically. That is all that an artiste can hope for. It is for history and posterity to judge me," he says.

While he might have become an icon for many struggling artistes by refusing to "sell" his music, he doesn't see himself as one. "Icons are sterile. I just want to rock some more." His first real pop-star statement.

His political idealism might be too much for some people to digest and might even seem a little preachy, but Rabbi does also have a lighter side to him. A man with a guitar and the little dream to get his audience to walk away with something to think about -- for most it might seem insane for the rock-star to get involved with a cause -- but for Rabbi his music is his `domain'.

And the seriousness apart, he is not all about theorising or philosophising. "When I sang `Bulla Ki Janan' I was seriously into scriptures. My friends were dating and I was sitting at home pouring over the stuff. I told them, man this is not right. They would all go to hell. But then they opened a girls hostel in front of my room and I was torn apart," he says.

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