by ASJAD NAZIR
CANADIAN SINGER-SONGWRITER IS ON A MISSION TO TAKE HIS SOUND GLOBAL
SINGER, songwriter and musician Master-D has helped take Bangla music global with hit songs that have had cross-cultural appeal and ones that have added a new dimension to the commercial pop industry.
The multi-talented artist has taken diverse influences from growing up in Canada and injected them into urban music hits that have become popular all over the world. He has balanced his solo work with delivering a range of hits as part of acclaimed music act The Bilz & Kashif.
Master-D is continuing to cross boundaries and has more big releases on the way. Eastern Eye caught up with the cool Canadian to talk about his amazing musical journey, new single, Bangla music, future hopes and more…
When did you first get connected to music?
My connection to music started as a toddler. My mother used to tell me that when I cried she would simply just place a pair of tablas in front of me and that made me stop. So I guess that’s when music and I became friends.
Who were your biggest musical influences in the beginning?
I came to Montreal, Canada at the age of nine and this is where I found an ocean of music. I discovered Michael Jackson and remember being glued to the TV when his music videos played. From Bollywood, RD Burman and AR Rahman influenced me. Later on when the urban/r’n’b scene came up, I liking Timbaland and R Kelly’s music.
What led you towards finding your style of music?
Honestly, I really didn’t think of creating a style. For me, it’s always been in the spur of the moment. Music just flowed automatically. I love to bridge cultures and things really started to shape up when I was part of The Bilz & Kashif.
Mixing music from different cultures has been my forte and it allowed me to take risks and challenge the desi scene. When my sound blew up with the song 2 Step Bhangra, I realised I’m able to seamlessly fuse two worlds together without distorting the essence of music.
How do you look back on your time in the music industry?
It’s been great. I didn’t think I would be where I am at today. All my wins and losses have created who Master-D is. The word ‘master’ is in my name because my team always says ‘throw any instrument at me and with time I’ll figure it out’. Also, the music industry has changed dramatically and if you’re not part of the change then you get left out.
When we started Bilz Music, YouTube was new, but we were pioneering the online presence with high-quality music videos where everything was on point. Today, we’re proud to see that we’ve opened up the doors for new artists in north America and helped elevate the urban desi scene.
What has been your biggest highlight?
There are many, but I would say the changes that my group The Bilz & Kashif have brought to the desi music scene. We were the first group to have our song played in major mainstream radio stations next to Beyonce and Justin Timberlake without any major label support, and from there it was a domino effect.
We opened up for Enrique Iglesias at the Summer Rush and Bollywood’s biggest stars The Bachchans at the Unforgettable tour.
What’s kept you so connected to your Bangla roots?
At home I’ve always spoken in Bangla with my parents, so that helped to keep the language going. Also, I received my initial vocal training and playing the harmonium from my mother. I’ve learnt the tabla for 10 years continuously under the guidance of my guru Dr Narendra Verma, who himself was the disciple of the late Ustad Alla Rakha Khan.
I have always accompanied artists who would come from Bangladesh on tabla, so I guess all these activities kept me connected to my roots.
Tell us about your most recent single?
Naamta Janalona is a fun-loving track for everyone to dance to. Once it was composed, my manager thought I should do a collaboration on this track so we’ve decided to contact Haji Springer, who was doing great things from Cali to Mumbai.
My manager contacted Haji and sent him the track. Haji loved it and the rest was history. We flew Haji down for the video shoot in the outskirts of Montreal in minus 11 degree celsius on top of the mountain at an abandoned army base. It was really cold, but had to be done.
What can we expect next from you?
I’m working on some other collaborations with artists from the UK and Bangladesh. The one with the UK artist is going to be massive. Meantime, I’ve also decided to work on a Hindi single since my fans from The Bilz & Kashif days are still by my side and have been pleading for me to release one. At the end of the day, I got to make my fans happy.
What is the masterplan?
I really want to change the Bangla music scene like I did with the urban desi scene. I want to be the beacon of light for future generations of Bengali artists. I’ve been working on this Bangla Urban movement for the last three years and it’s finally seeing some light. I’m happy to see artists using the #banglaurban hashtag and contributing to a genre I created.
I also want to open more doors. I’ve already intrigued other major Bangla singers with my music video quality. So one by one, I’m contributing to the change while also writing hits for other Bangladeshi artists like Gaan Friends that are sitting close to five million views. I’m very blessed to have artists collaborate with and that’s all because they believe in my movement, so I know I’m going in the right direction. Then I want to take on the Bangla movie industry where I’d like to lend my style of music for stars.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
Bruno Mars is an inspiration to me. I can relate his life story to mine, therefore I would love to do collaborate with him. I also would love to collaborate more with artists in Bangladesh and Kolkata so we can bring this new Bangla urban sound further. I’m all about working with hard-working and down-to-earth artists like me.
Tell us something about you that not many people know?
I love to cook and like to go fishing in the summertime. Also, not many people knew that I was Bengali when I was singing in Punjabi with The Bilz & Kashif. It shocked them to the bone and they were extremely impressed.
Which of your own unreleased songs are you most excited about?
I’m really excited about my next Bangla collaboration with an artist from the UK and also my first Hindi solo track, which brings back real r’n’b vibes. I’ve also produced a hit record for Protic from Bangladesh that’s going to be huge.
Why aren’t there more Bangla artists doing commercial music?
I’ve been in north America for many years and adapted to the urban culture. So I can get a first hand on the style and its evolution of music throughout the years. There are other artists from Bangladesh who tried, but it’s not organic for them.
Just slapping a hip-hop beat on a melody doesn’t make it urban. I don’t use any samples in my music and produce the whole beat from scratch. So I have the understanding and the experience of the true urban music since to know what gets people moving. Yes, I do want more to emerge, and in the last three years I’m seeing more artists work on their craft and some are now shining.
Who is your own biggest hero of Bangla music?
I would say Kishore Kumar. That feeling you get when you hear his voice is so comforting. He is so versatile and comedic at the same time.
How much does live performing mean to you?
Live performance has always been part of me since I immigrated to Canada. My sister and I performed with a harmonium on stage as kids. Since then, I’ve accompanied many international singers and musicians. I say true talent shows when you perform live.
Your fans want to see your true passion for what you do, so live performance is so important. I’ve learnt to play guitar, tabla and other percussion instruments. I say a true musician/artist is revealed when you don’t have electricity.
If you could master something new, what would it be?
Even though I’ve self-taught to play the keyboard,
I wish I did put in more time to master the piano. Let’s see if the future allows me to put some time aside.
What is your favourite musical instrument?
The tabla will always be my favourite. This is an instrument that needs lots of dedication and demands practice. The best thing about it is you can never stop learning. It has also taught me how to be open about music and allows you to grow. It lured me to write the song Balle Balle on The Bilz debut album, which I would say is the first blues bhangra single that came out in the urban desi scene.
What inspires you?
Good people with good musical talents touches my heart. Artists that know it will take many years and dedication. Also, educating the new generation about their culture in a positive way. Seeing fans who never listened to Bangla music before, but have now opened their mind to my music. All of this inspires me to create music!
Why do you love music?
Music completes my soul and defines who I am. It is my religion. I just cannot see myself not doing music. It provides emotions that no other feeling can and it unites people to have a good time, not matter what. I love to create music that’s universal and that’s what my next movement Bangla-urban is all about.