Sukhbir Singh arrives at the dot at Tim Horton’s J3 Mall, Jumeirah and we settle down with a coffee. I ask him about his old song Ishq Tera Tadpave that has just got a fresh lease of life after 20 years. “I am thrilled. I wrote, composed and performed this song and it is very special to me. Only, they changed its refrain to its title and called it Oh ho ho ho,” he says. The number that has been used in the recent hit, Hindi Medium, has brought the spotlight once again on a singer who was one of the biggest musical stars of the 90s.
For Sukhbir, who, despite his vast fame and success, has struggled to release a new album in the last six years, this has come as a welcome change. But how does he see this trend of rehashing old songs? “Sadly in India, ‘copyright’ means ‘right to copy’. So many old songs are copied with just a paper agreement between the composer and the music company, the original composer has no say in the new way the song will be sung or picturized,” he says, matter-of-factly.
For over two decades now, Sukhbir has made Dubai his home. He had arrived from Nairobi to start a recording studio in Al Jaffiliya with his then mentor and investor. Fame, recognition and a few upheavals later, he decided to set base here though he performs around the world. Sukhbir’s father is a gyaaniji and composes shabads out of the Holy Gurbani. “He didn’t think highly of what I did because he felt my music lacked gravitas and depth,” he laughs. Sukhbir composes shabads himself but doesn’t want to make it a commercial proposition. “It is for myself. But frankly, any piece of music – whatever be the genre – that I create, puts me in a meditative, trance-like state,” he adds.
However, life was not as easy breezy as his songs. For instance, there was serious controversy surrounding his business partner who had conned people across the world. “When we started out in Nairobi, he was a hardware shop assistant who grew very close to the president of the country. He spotted me performing at a club and took me under his wings. I travelled with him on his private jet everywhere and I performed at all his private parties. I came with him to Dubai to set up base here to avoid taxes. I realized much later what he was actually about,” he says. “He swindled money out of me and many other people in Dubai. Thankfully I broke my ties with him and he has been brought to book”.
Bit by bit, the singer rebuilt himself and his career. The last decade has been good for Sukhbir with several requests to perform at weddings across the world. His eyes soften as he talks of his three-year-old twins Kiran and Kabir and his wife Dimpy (once his landlady in West Africa) “My son has a natural flair for music. He saw a drum kit in Nairobi when we were visiting and started playing the basic beat. I think heredity plays a role, subconsciously they are very aware of the music.”
Currently, he is working on a new album. “I need products to talk about. I am working on my album right now and it has a medley of songs. One of them is a cheeky song called Deepak,” he smiles. Apart from this, he has also collaborated with local UAE brand Rooh.
With popular music today being a tad inconsiderate, what is his take on lyrics? “I write my lyrics and they are very light. I know some lyrics today talk about women in a rather regressive manner. The same lyrics can be praising the woman but they are often drowned in music. So you might as well say something good through your songs,” he signs off.