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Interviews |  14 Feb 2009 13:40 |  By Ann

Panjabi MC - 'I don't want to make millions, I want to make good music'

Rajinder Singh Rai, better known as Panjabi MC, made his international breakthrough with "Mundian to Bach Ke" ("Beware of the Boys"). MC has been honing his skills as a freestyler by recording tracks that utilized both desi samples and well known international songs. His albums Souled Out, Another Sellout, Grass Roots and Legalised have made him one of the most prominent names in bhangra.'s Ann Abraham sat down with him to talk about the release of his new album Indian Timing....

What took so long for the Panjabi MC comeback?

People were waiting for me to come out with a new album for a long time but there was a lot of pressure in the sense that big record labels were telling me that I had to come out with an album now! I don't want to be in the music industry if things have to happen 'now'. That's like being in school, and so I decided that I wouldn't do it based on anyone's agenda.

At the same time, I was having a lot of problems with the record label Movie Box and even though every major label wanted to sign me then, I was locked into that deal. The situation at that point of time wasn't good. So I started doing a lot of shows around the world and promoting my music that way.

How was the experience of touring the world doing so many shows?

I found that a lot of people I was playing to around the world had never heard Bhangra before. I've gone all over the globe - East Wales, Brazil, Japan, Europe, Germany and Russia - everywhere where you know there are not too many Asians.

One time I had to play at this place where Indians weren't pretty much even allowed to enter, but I was playing for one of the biggest gangsters there – it was his son's birthday party. I got my own personal escort, but it's just not common in that place.

What's the reason behind Indian Timing... as an album title?

I put together some 40 duplex songs that were kept exclusive for the shows I was doing around the world. People had started requesting songs like Snake Charmer... on the dance floor so I felt that eventually I had to release an album.

People all over would ask me when the album was coming out and I would tell them that I would release it at the right time which eventually became Indian time!.... That's how the name of the album Indian Timing... came to be.

How did you enjoy the whole process of making the album?

I was doing the shows and then side by side I was busy putting together all 40 songs and then had to go to the recording studio for six months. In a way, it's not been like recording an album but learning about stuff and expressing what I've learned.

When did you start working on the album?

I recorded the Bappi Lahiri song Disco Dancer... in 2004. There are songs that were written in 2002 in the album but some songs come out straight away and some songs don't. You just wait to finish them. Some songs are old and some songs are new.

So you took your time to let things fall into place?

Yeah. Me being me I don't like to do things the normal way. I find that boring. That's why I did music. Everyone says that you are not allowed to do music and you're no good at it. So I decided to pursue my passion for music and let things come together on their own time.

How was working with Bappi Lahiri?

It was amazing. When I met Bappi Lahiri, Asha ji was with him as well. It was an incredible experience. They inspire me and I've learned a great deal as well.

Are you a fan of Bollywood music?

I was into Bollywood music for a long time ever since the time of Sholay though I was only about 10 then. I was really hooked to the Mithun Chakravarthy disco era and that was the time when I was really into Bollywood films but then I sort of fell out of it. There are some good Bollywood films out there now but some are not so good as well.

What are your expectations for the album considering that the industry is facing dwindling times?

I'm not sure. So many people are downloading and the industry is changing dramatically. Back in the days when you made an album you were talking about  thousands of pounds but now you get 10 per cent of what you would make as an industry and that is getting less and less as time goes on. But I'm happy with what I make as long as it's enough to get by on. People tell me that I'm not making millions and I tell them that I don't want to make millions. I want to make good music.

Are you planning to launch the album worldwide?

Yeah. Now it's being launched in territories. It's on iTunes worldwide which you don't get in India but a lot of people around the world have it. It's not selling in the mainstream shops in Europe and elsewhere but in smaller independent shops. I'm planning a worldwide release of the album in the near future.

Do you have any future collaborations coming up with people in the Indian as well as the International industry?

Definitely. I think I've only worked with a tiny fraction of the people that I would like to work with in the industry so far. I want to work with the legends of the industry as well as with younger and fresher talent. My goal is to make quality music. To name a few in the hip hop scene, I would like to work with Rakim, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg and in Mumbai maybe Amitabh Bachchan as he's such a big name and then work your way down from that. I would love to work with anybody actually. Just give me a call and I'm yours.

I do a lot of remixes. They are not on the album but I just finished wrapping up a remix for the Pussycat Dolls for Universal. That should be hitting the streets soon.

I also did a song for one of my heroes at the moment – The Great Khali. He called me up and said he wanted a theme. So, his WWE music producers and I sat down and came up with a song �Land of five rivers' that I'm really proud of.

What is your view on the Punjabi music scene in India?

I think Miss Pooja and Hard Kaur are doing a great job. There is some good stuff coming out right now. I believe that the music of Punjab is so strong and that it is the best music in the world by far. Punjabis are very passionate about their music and the music has such a massive following all over the world. In England, a bhangra show happens every other day of the year. So I think the Punjabi scene right now is doing really well.

Are you planning to release any more albums in the near future?

I'm doing a lot of house and electro mixes and an album that will hopefully be out at the end of the year. I'm working with a lot of new and fresh artists and I'm planning to sign more.

Are you looking to redefine the Punjabi music scene here?

I am! I want to be respected here in Mumbai and make my music popular. Punjab music is a huge influence on the world and it's going to take over the world - whether it's by me or someone else. So, I'm just lucky to be part of it. I call Punjabi music - the music of the highest mountains, the Himalayas.