‘Nazareh‘, ‘Mitran De Shaonk‘, ‘Putt Sardaran De‘, ‘Patta Lagg Ju‘, and more recently, ‘Deep Obsession‘. It’s fair to say that Gurj Sidhu has firmly cemented his place in the UK Panjabi music scene. But were those singles enough? Of course they weren’t. He’s got an album for you to dig your teeth into… Or ears in this case! His debut album has been a long time coming, 10 years to be exact! You hardly ever hear of an album taking this long to make. Unless you count Dr. Dre’s Detox. But, there is one difference between Detox and Sentimental Value. Sentimental Value has been completed and is actually releasing – on Thursday 23rd February 2017!
Bhangra Tape Deck sat down with Gurj Sidhu to get an in depth insight into why this album has been in the making for so long and what the whole experience was like of making an album with such elite producers.
Why has it taken 10 years for this album to be made?
I was 15/16 at the time. At that age, everyone is wondering what they want to do when they leave school. For me, however, it was always going to be music. I studied Music at GCSE level and Music Tech at college. At that time, I was also working with Tigerstyle. We did make an album back then, but over the years, sounds changed and doors opened right in front of me. Meeting industry heavyweights like Tru-Skool and Kaos Productions, it made me think, after speaking with Sukh (Tru-Skool), that this album could be a lot more, and be a truer expression of who I am as an artist. Also, as time went on, my voice got better, and listening back to my older songs, I felt I could do them better.
I remember making a track called ‘Tere Vaadeh’, which was a love song, where I did all the music etc, and released it as a free download. Following that, I got into contact with Sukh (Tru-Skool) and he said to come down to his studio in Derby. It was a blessing. He suggested I do certain things and introduced me to Kaos Productions. Sukh suggested that we take some of the tracks from the album I had already made, and take them to another level, as well as make new tracks. This made me go back to the drawing board. I ended up re-vocalling some of the stronger songs, tweaking the compositions. Those songs, from what they were then, to what they are now – there is a massive difference. Even when I hear myself from when I made ‘Nazareh’ to what I sound now, I am a stronger vocalist. As a result of this, ‘Tere Vaadeh’ has been reproduced, and now features a female vocalist, who goes by the name of Miraya. This track is on the album.
How did the Atul Sharma collaboration come about?
Atul Sharma messaged me with regard to one of my videos I uploaded onto Facebook. I was sitting with Sukh at the time and thinking to myself, is this a joke? Is this some fake profile messaging me? After showing the message to Sukh, he was like, na that’s him. It’s no fake account. He suggested, why don’t I get Atul Sharma to do a track? At first, I was like, really? Then I bit the bullet and asked him. I sent him a vocal, and he messaged back saying he’s a big fan of my voice. This was such a surreal moment. How was this even happening? A legendary producer, responsible for launching artists like Surjit Bindrakhia and Harjit Harman, has just bigged up my voice. It was quite overwhelming for me. To top it off, he started making a guide to a song. Dhami Amarjit wrote the lyrics for the song, but I wasn’t feeling the vibe. I remember being on the phone to Dhami, and told him to change the lyrics there and then, and that is where he came up with the hook line for ‘Hounsla’. As soon as I heard it, I knew this was the one. I was really happy that, Dhami, being a UK Born lyricist, was able to pull it off. Massive thanks to him.
I went to India to shoot the video for ‘Putt Sardaran De’, and I also got the opportunity to meet Atul Sharma in Chandigarh. He recorded me in his studio. It was mad. I was actually vibing in the studio with Atul Sharma on keyboard, with me with a mic in my hand. The vocal for that song was literally bashed out in 20 minutes!
With this track, there was a lot of back and forward communication between Atul Sharma and myself, trying to get the track right. I recorded sarangi and dhad pieces and sent it to him, saying this is the Atul Sharma we want. After all, he was the guy that introduced these instruments into Panjabi music.
Double Speed songs?
I was sat with Amo (Kaos Productions), thinking what we’re going to do next. What I didn’t have was a double speed song, and I’ve always wanted to do one of those. I was sat there on Youtube, watching videos, and I was listening to Alam Lohar, and a Pakistani singer, known as Afzal Bhatti. I would recommend everyone to check this guy out. He’s deadly. I turned to Amo and said we need to a track on the album with a Mirza type melody vibe, and go pure folk on it, with no western influences at all. I wrote 4/5 lines there and then for the song, and gave them to my Thaiya (uncle), who then wrote the full song for me! We made a song with that traditional melody, but enhanced it with today’s lyrics. It was one of those songs, I had to put my all in to it.
The Romantic side of Gurj Sidhu…
Simon Berik (DJ Frenzy) was getting married and he wanted Bakshi Billa to sing ‘Ek Ek Saah’ as a first dance song. Due to visa reasons, he couldn’t make it, so Simon asked me. At the same time, it was the day of my cousin brother’s jago party too. I was thinking, what do I do? I’ve never sang this song before. But then I thought I’m going to do it. I drove down to Simon’s wedding, rehearsing the song in the car at the same time! What made it more nerve-racking was that I had never performed with the band before, and some members of the band were behind the music pieces played on the actual song! Luckily, the performance was solid. I got so many messages after, and I also was getting bookings from people asking if I could sing during their first dance song too! Light bulb moment. This was a market I thought we could hit if we made our own song. I started composing at home and showed it to Amo. He really liked it and we made that song too, and it is on the album, aptly titled ‘The Love Song’. This is definitely a different side to me.
How did ‘Backyard’ and ‘KK’ end up on the album?
Originally, the tracks I had released previously, were all going to be on the iTunes release of the album, meaning it was going to be 13 track album. With the 5 tracks already released, this meant that there were only going to be 8 new songs on the album. I thought, are people going to buy the album if this is the case? This is how both ‘Backyard’ and ‘KK’ ended up on the album.
‘Backyard’ was totally separate, and was going to be released in November. It had nothing to do with the album, or Moviebox for that matter. It was a track I did with Snappy, a producer based in India, and lyricist, Rav Hanjra. It’s got that West Coast vibe to it – I really like it. I’d like to give a special thanks to A-Kay for introducing me to his team. The video for this track has shot in the UK. The location we’ve used doesn’t even look like the UK. Again, like Deep Obsession, the video has been shot and edited by Sunny Dhinsey (Filmlore). This will be the track that launches the album. The video for ‘Backyard’ will drop the day after the album is released (24th Feb).
‘KK’, on the other hand, is completely on the other end of the spectrum. This song is PURE Desi, and was originally planned to be the track we come back with, a few months or maybe years down the line. It is, hands down, my favourite track on the album. This song is very special for me, because I’ve got my Dad and Thaiya on backing vocals. My Thaiya wrote the track. I remember composing the melody for the track, ringing up Amo and showing him, he told me to come down and record the track. He then composed the melodies for the bass and acoustic guitars, and we got a mate of mine to play these pieces for us. We then took the track to Sukh. He then improved the melody of the hook line, which made it sound even better. When people ask me why the album is called ‘Sentimental Value’, it’s because of things like this. Each song has its own special place in my heart.
Want to find out more about Deep Obsession? Check out the article on the single here:
We’ve even done a Jaggo track on the album. Usually Jaggo tracks are sang in a certain raag – a happy raag (Raag Sahrang). Think of the Malkit Singh type Jaggo tracks. We’ve gone and done something totally left field with this one. I’ve sang this track in the raag you usually hear in tracks from the likes of Manak and Surinder Shinda – the dark hardcore folk vibe. Those tracks are sang in Raag Pehrvee. This one is for the folk heads. The track is called ‘Village Madness’, with music by Kaos Productions, and lyrics by UK Born lyricist, Dhami Amarjit.
Have the producers on this album pushed you to become a better artist?
That is a very difficult question! I’ve learnt a lot along the way. The whole journey has been a learning curve. Starting off with Tigerstyle; going to perform in different countries. At first, I thought this was next level, but I quickly got used to it. I used to hate singing in the studio. I’m a live, open space singer. I used to get all claustrophobic, recording in the vocal booth. Slowly that changed, and I started loving it. I’d like to thank Tru-Skool for teaching me certain singing techniques whilst being with him over the past 3 years, and also encouraging me to work with other producers. If it wasn’t for him, half of the tracks on this album wouldn’t be made the way they have been. I think where I excelled and grown as an artist the most, is when working with Amo (Kaos Productions). We’re so similar, it’s unreal. Things just fall in place. When we’re in the studio, we try new things. We think out of the box. ‘Nazareh’ was on the Reggae vibe, ‘Patta Lagg Ju’ was on the New Skool Hip Hop vibe, then ‘Deep Obsession’ was on the Drum N Bass vibe. Working with Amo has pushed my creativity to another level, which in turn has definitely made me a better and stronger artist.
People will compare you to JK. You’re both on that folk vibe, and are both born and bred in the UK. Do you see him or anyone as competition?
I’ll be honest, I’ve never really seen anyone as competition. Hand on heart. One thing my Ustaad Ji (teacher) taught me was, it doesn’t matter who you’re performing in front of, or whoever is bigger or smaller than you etc, you just do what you are good at, and do it to the best of your ability. It is as simple as that. JK, for example, I see him as a brother. I hope to God he absolutely smashes it with his next album. That is something I am looking forward to. I’m also looking forward to what Jazzy B comes out with, with ‘Folk N Funky 2’. I grew up listening to his songs. I probably have every single song of his, even on my phone. As far as competition is concerned, I would really like to see more quality acts emerging from the UK, which will, in turn, re-elevate the UK’s rightful place as the hub of the industry.
I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all of the team for their tireless efforts, working on the album. From the producers, musicians and lyricists, to the video directors and models. Each person has played a vital part in the end product. Big up to Mike Marsh (Exchange) and Tee-L for the mastering of the album. Last, but definitely not least, I would like to give a special thanks to Kamraan from Moviebox, for believing in me and making this all happen.
The Listening Session
Bhangra Tape Deck was invited to an exclusive listening session for the album, in Birmingham. Here, Gurj showcased the complete album in all its glory. One word to describe the album? Incredible. And we’re not just saying that. It actually is. To hear such a variety of different styles, sounds and compositions throughout, it became evident that the Gurj has worked damn hard in creating a body of work which stands true to who he is as an artist. The rawness and pure power of his vocals shines through in every track. The music provided the UK’s elite has been meticulously created to suit Gurj’s vibe. There are surprises in the album. Sounds you wouldn’t normally expect these producer’s use. This is where Gurj’s input has definitely been key. What makes this album special, which isn’t usually the case these days, is that he has made an album that showcases what his musical tastes are and what he enjoys listening to. Very rare do you get artists who make music that is true to them.
I was introduced to Gurj Sidhu a few years back by my close friend and genius music producer, Tru-Skool. Gurj had some material recorded for his album and wanted further production doing. The way I usually work is I get vocals, take them away, lock myself in the studio and come up with something that is either great, or scrapped and started over.
Working with Gurj is the first time I have actually had someone who wanted to sit in on those long studio sessions and input ideas for vibes and sounds. It was unusual to start with because I wasn’t used to it. I found it strange to have someone looking over my shoulder, so to speak, but as time has progressed, myself and Gurj have developed a click and chemistry that has actually enabled us to make songs that are, without a doubt, the most diverse and varied songs on the album. Things have clicked so well between us, that one song turned became two, and eventually 7 of the 15 tracks on the album have been produced by us. We’ve already started working on 3 post album songs!
I have also developed a personal relationship with Gurj and count him as one of my close friends. We speak almost daily and it’s been a pleasure to provide guidance, advice and support throughout this project.
The highlight of the album has got to be the production of the song, ‘KK’. I remember vividly how the journey of this song began; from the very first phone call when Gurj was sat with his Ustaad (teacher) and track lyricist, Bhajan Singh Sidhu. Tru-Skool gave his invaluable input on the composition and played the Dhol on the track. Myself and Gurj composed and played all the music pieces. I also composed the live Guitar and Bass parts for the guitarist, Matt, to play. It was a pleasure and fantastic experience recording Gurj’s Father and Thaiya for the backing vocals, and seeing the chemistry between those two was also great. There was a buzz about this track from start to finish. Throughout production and arrangement, I knew that this would be one of my personal best pieces of work to date.
I hope that the album gets the response it deserves and people recognise the amount of hard work and effort that goes into making such a diverse album. Gurj Sidhu has an amazing talent as a singer, and not just as a UK born lad. I also believe he is better than many current singers in Panjab and has a very strong live performance. He can sing live, sounding exactly as he does on the tape, which is so rare nowadays – this should be supported. Hopefully gimmick-free music will once again rise to the top.
Gurj messaged me on Facebook, back in 2011, when JK’s album dropped. He mentioned that he would like to work with me. I eventually ended up meeting him when we went to do a Manak tribute programme on TV, and I was very impressed with his vocals. Ever since then, we have tried to do a number of things. At the moment, all you’ve heard is Putt Sardaran De, but we’ve spent a lot of time together in the studio.
Vocally, Gurj is an excellent vocalist; one of the best out there. Period. The fact that he is born and bred in the UK, makes it even more shocking. And he’s very young. It’s ridiculous for someone at his age to be this good at singing in PURE Folk; PURE Desi Panjabi style. He’s 100% authentic. Reason being, he is a Dhadi. He has spent many, many years doing Dhadi programmes, week in, week out, at the Gurdwareh. So, he’s got all the experience of a seasoned vocalist.
The UK should be very proud to have a vocalist at this standard. For the people that are not into Desi style singing – even they should still be aware that he is an amazing talent.
We were approached by Gurj to help him develop ideas for his debut album. He was very young when we first began working with him, and given that he was from a Dhadi background with a high pitched voice, we really enjoyed helping him develop his ideas and singing style. We felt that he had a very unique and powerful voice, and as such, began working with him. It was great working with him in the studio.
As well as developing songs for his album, we also involved him in live performances with the Tigerstyle Live Band on BBC 2’s Desi DNA TV show, a cultural heritage performance at The Tower of London and a World Music Festival in Stockholm, Sweden.
We look forward to everyone hearing the material we have worked on with Gurj, finally being released after so many years!
Aman Hayer (@AmanHayer1)
It was great working with Gurj. A very humble and lovely lad. Full of energy and enthusiasm. I know his Father and Thaiya very well, and they have always wanted me to do a song with him.
I think this album is the start of something big for Gurj, and I wish him all the best. Keep working hard!
Right now, he is one of the finest Panjabi Folk vocalists of his generation. Working with Gurj Sidhu on a track like ‘Backyard’ was quite challenging, as he had never done a track like this before. But, the coordination between the lyricist, Rav Hanjra, Gurj and I, we made this track possible. The whole project was a big learning experience for me too.
A massive big up to Sunny Dhinsey Paaji, from Filmlore, for making a wonderful video.
Gurj Sidhu has been dropping bombs since Day One. Keep all eyes on him. He’s the next big thing!
Dhami Amarjit (@DhamiAS)
The opportunity to work with Gurj Sidhu has been an amazing experience. Gurj and I were actually introduced to one another by Tru-Skool. Tru-Skool is the reason I am writing tracks as a lyricist, full stop. A number of years ago, I was given the opportunity to write for the track that is now ‘Putt Sardaran De’. A collective decision was made that the lyrical matter we had for that track, at the time, was outdated, which meant the song I wrote was shelved and replaced with ‘Putt Sardaran De’ you hear today. However, other tracks I wrote have made the final cut.
Gurj Sidhu has an exceptional Folk style with a raw, powerful and Desi vibe to his voice and I love the fact that tracks I have written have been sang by singers like him! I remember I would call Gurj up and show him tracks, and he would always be supportive and eager to take tracks off me, which was encouraging! Gurj INSTANTLY wanted the tracks I wrote for this album as soon as he heard them.
I feel very blessed that the tracks I wrote have become part of Sentimental Value, which have had music produced by the extremely talented Kaos Productions and the legendary Atul Sharma (the genius music director behind Surjit Bindrakhia & Harjit Harman) – this is a MASSIVE honour for me. The album also features some heavyweight lyricists, which makes the honour of being part of this project even more so.
Sentimental Value is a quality album featuring some of the best music directors in the Panjabi music scene with the unmistakeable vocals of Gurj Sidhu – please support and buy legally so that further projects of this calibre can be released!
Sunny Dhinsey (@Filmlore)
Gurj Sidhu is an artist unique in the sense that he is completely open to creative visual ideas – without boundaries or restrictions. Gurj understands and gives importance to visuals as much as he does to the music. It’s great for a director when the artist removes all limits as to what can be explored in terms of the video concept. I can safely say that we are only getting started in bringing unique and conceptually diverse videos to the fans and visuals that do justice to Gurj’s diverse style that is quickly becoming his trademark.
Album Launch and Pre-Order Links
Yes, this album is getting a CD release!
Gurj Sidhu will be at Punjabi Roots in Smethwick, Birmingham, on release day, between 6-8pm for the launch of his album.
‘Sentimental Value’ is releasing on Moviebox Records on Thursday 23rd February 2017 via all major digital outlets, and can be pre ordered now!
Physical CD copy
Bhangra Tape Deck would like to thank Gurj Sidhu and the whole team behind ‘Sentimental Value’, for taking the time out to talk about the album.