‘Difference in our voices made us gel together’

Great bhangra bands were the pioneers of British Asian music and gifted the world timeless classics.

Many of the bands, including Premi, are still performing decades after they helped change the face of music and inspired an entire generation. Despite the various changing line-ups over the years, Harmesh Singh Johal and Jaswinder Singh Matharu have been there since the beginning.

Eastern Eye caught up with Premi to talk about their amazing journey in music.

Tell us, how did your band form?
It was back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when we were all friends and lived in Southall. One day we got an offer to sing at a friends wedding and couldn’t let him down, so we formed a band just for laughs.

How did you feel when your first song released?
We were over the moon. Only famous people like Gurdas Maan and Kuldip Manak released songs, so it was then that we considered ourselves on the way to fame.

What has kept you both so connected over the years?
The difference in our voices has made us gel together rather than compete against each other. I like to compose catchy tunes, whereas Jassi likes more melodic compositions.

There were many great bands in the golden era of British bhangra; was there any rivalry?
Yes, there were lots of rivalries, but that was a good thing as it made us work even harder as singers and as a band. We tried staying one step ahead.

Why do you think so many songs from that era are still so popular?
Because of the original lyrics, compositions and music that was produced back then. We were known as a wedding band because of songs like Mein Teri Hogayee and Jago, which gave us our identity, but the songs were universal.

You’ve had many highlights; but what are your fondest memories from your career?
It would be doing a live session on Radio One for the John Peel Show. What an experience.

Which of your songs has been closest to your heart?
Songs such as O Tina O Tina and Nachlo Premian De Naal are very close to us. Because wherever we go we get request to sing them. In fact, we believe we became more famous and started touring the world because of these two songs.

What else can we expect from you?
Keep watching and listening. Maybe the UK bhangra will be back on the map after 20 years or so.

Does it sadden you that there are less bands today?
Not really. You have to go with the times and trends. Nowadays, there are Punjabi artists, but most of them perform solo, which is like in the mainstream market. In fact, solo artists earn more money than bands.

Tell us, what are your future hopes for British bhangra?
To keep on doing what we do best. Enjoy making music and performing on stage and don’t just do it for the money.

What message would you like to give the young generation?
Keep nice and clean lyrics, keep the culture alive and follow bhangra as others have done for decades.

What inspires you both?
We just take things as they come. To be honest, we have had over 30 good years in the industry and everything that comes along now is just a bonus.