by ASJAD NAZIR
HARBHAJAN LOOKS BACK ON HIS CAREER AHEAD OF EAGERLY-AWAITED UK TOUR
ALTHOUGH he resurrected the Punjabi movie industry as an actor, Harbhajan Mann is at his very best when he is singing hit songs and performing live in front of his adoring fans.
The iconic singer has consistently entertained cross-generational audiences with a variety of songs and is today regarded as a Punjabi music icon.
That is why there is great excitement about his upcoming UK tour, where he will return after a long hiatus with a full live band. Eastern Eye caught up with Harbhajan to talk about his remarkable career, music, forthcoming shows, Punjabi culture, performing live, coping with pressure, inspirations and more…
Firstly, you don’t seem to age. What is your secret?
(Smiles) I can only guess myself! But what I’ve learned is having a healthy diet, regular exercise and carrying the bare minimum stress does wonders. Having a healthy balance between family and professional life is very important as well. Credit goes to my wife Harman for creating a perfect balance in those two spheres, where our kids and us spend a lot of quality time together. They are also very supportive in the creative and artistic aspect of my career.
How do you look back on your on your time in music?
When I look back, I feel very blessed. Over the past 25 years since I’ve been a professional artist, the music industry has changed and reshaped through several different phases. But I have always had the support of my fans and the almighty, and I’m able to still be here today and be true and passionate towards my art.
You have achieved an incredible amount, but what keeps the passion for music so strong?
Asjad, the love for music is what keeps the passion going. I love creating music and aspire to create a positive impact on the people who hear it. Striving to create and put out clean and meaningful music is just a part of who I am.
How have you been able to maintain such a high standard?
Keeping a high standard is a big challenge. With change being a constant in the music industry through several eras, such as from the time LPs were being made to now, the digital era and also the evolution of several different types of popular styles and content, there have been times when you question your place and whether you can adapt. But the hope and will to sustain a high standard through tough times is what keeps giving you the inner push and motivation to stay true to your identity.
What keeps you so connected to your Punjabi roots?
Being a Punjabi is my innermost and truest identity. The land, language and culture are where I was born and bred, so it is the most natural connection I can have. That is why I desire to serve the Punjabi language, and stay true to its roots and meanings.
How much does performing live still mean to you?
Performing live means the world to me and it is right up there with the song creation process in terms of artistic endeavours that fulfil me the most. I believe being face to face with a crowd of fans who enjoy your music is a euphoric feeling. Till date, I take great care in rehearsing what I will perform and what I will wear for each stage performance.
Can you remember the first time you performed live in UK and what was it like?
The first time I performed in the UK was for a cousin’s wedding. I travelled from Canada when I was still living there in the early 1990s. I remember I sang Babul Meriyaan Guddiyaan. I then played at a gig with the invitation from the Heera group and a few shows in Leicester and Glasgow in 1995.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first came to Britain to perform in those early years of my career because the music coming out of the UK back then was very bhangra heavy. I was coming off songs like Chitthiye Ni Chhithiye. I was very nervous, but at the end of the day the UK audience was very loving and supportive.
How much are you looking forward to another UK tour and what can we expect?
It’s hard to put into words how excited and blessed I feel to be performing in Britain again after a long hiatus. My team and I are designing a first-of-its-kind concert experience that will feature three different distinct segments. I am beyond thrilled and cannot wait to share this experience with the amazing audience of the UK.
The expectations around you are sky-high; does that put pressure on you?
The expectations certainly do put pressure on you, but it is pressure in a positive way. I am motivated to put on the best show possible for my fans, the pressure is on me to be creative and collaborate with the best people in the business to make it happen. This is an exciting challenge and a type of pressure that inspires me to work my hardest.
Is there any one song that you enjoy performing the most?
No, there isn’t any one particular song. I often say that till date I have not regretted recording any song because at one point or another I have enjoyed performing each one of mine on stage.
How do UK audiences compare to others around the world?
The UK audience is very mature. They have a good read and understanding on artists and content, and tend to support the highest quality of music that is being produced out there.
You generate a lot of emotion in your voice. Where does that come from?
I started singing at a very young age, and it was all kavishri, sung along dhadh and sarangi. In kavishri, you sing folklore and religious lore, and all these stories contained a lot of real and genuine emotion, with many of the stories ending in tragedy. Singing in this style really moulded my vocal style. It was also the experience of losing my mother at a young age that brought a certain tonal depth to my vocal.
You have achieved a lot, but what are your greatest unfulfilled musical ambitions?
My mindset at the moment, ironically relating to my last single, is Main Hor Bada Kuchh Karna. I have the desire to create a lot more quality music. Especially at this era in music, there is a want in the audience for meaningful and culturally rooted music with clean and positive content. There are a lot of exciting prospects to be explored.
As a strong role model, what advice would you give young artists?
My advice to the younger artists is to not overlook the importance of live performances and bettering themselves in that regard. In an age marked by social media prowess, it is also important to maintain a strong performing and stage standing and connecting face-to-face with your audience.
What is happening on the film front?
As soon as the UK tour is over, there is a big and exciting announcement coming in regard to the film front.
You helped lay the foundations for Punjabi cinema’s revival; you must be proud of the great heights it has reached?
It feels very surreal when you see the heights that Punjabi cinema has reached. It has helped Punjabi culture reach and influence a worldwide audience, I feel honoured and proud to have helped pave the foundation and be a part of that.
Do you have big ambitions away from music and cinema?
My biggest ambition away from work is my family. I strive to spend as much quality time with my wife and children as I can. To be there and watch them fulfilling their dreams and goals, and living life with them to the fullest.
What are your passions away from work?
Nowadays, my biggest passion away from work is a lot of Netflix! Being a big fan of art, it is hard sometimes as a public figure to go out to the cinema to catch films, but the advent of streaming has made me a serious binge watcher of movies and TV shows on my days off!
What inspires you today?
Life itself inspires me. I feel we all came into this world for a reason, a duty, and I feel god has given me this life and this work so I can perform it to the best of my ability. This is perhaps another reason why I am so inspired to keep creating and performing new music.
How much do your fans means to you?
My fans mean the world to me. I take such pride in saying that my fans are the best and most loyal that any artist can ask for. I feel lucky that in the social media age of today, I am able to more easily connect and communicate with my fans. It is always very inspirational to receive their feedback and blessings.
Can you give a message to your fans?
I love you all eternally and I wish you nothing but the best always. Love life, appreciate it and strive to be happy.
Why do you love music?
I feel music is life! It expresses what the soul wants to convey. I am very blessed to be able to be a part of it.
- Zee TV presents Harbhajan Mann Live In Concert at Scientology Community Centre in Dublin on March 23; Birmingham Arena on March 30; SSE Arena Wembley, London on April 1 and City Halls in Glasgow on April 3. Visit www.teamhmworldwide.com to find out more information.