By Ashanti OMkar
Bally Sagoo, a man who needs no introduction to our readers, a man who is accredited with many a trophy and a unique Guinness Award winner in his own right - Let's delve straight into this revealing interview and hear about him and his plans for the future.
Tell us about your heritage and roots.
I was born in Delhi India and my parents moved to Birmingham in the 60's...I was 6 months old. I come from a strict Sikh background and speak fluent Punjabi. I even wore a turban for 21 years throughout my school and college days.
What about the community you grew up in - how did you fit in?
I grew up in Balsall Heath in Birmingham, which had a major influence as I grew up with a lot of my black friends and so got into the black music scene fast and loved it ...more so than the Asian music that my parents played around the house. So I was finding it a little weird, as I was more Funk and Soul, my family, Bollywood...that really wasn't cool at all.
How did your family and community react to your choice of career being music?
At the start my parents were not impressed with my too liking of black music and neglecting the traditional Indian music. They also couldn't stand the fact that soon as I came home from school I'd be on my sound system in my room mixing up reggae, soul disco grooves with my mates from school. They were not too impressed with my dress sense either as I was very much into the two-tone clothing style of band such as 'specials, the beat and madness!
What's this we hear about your impending marriage?
My girlfriend Sita and I have decided to tie the not as we have been together now for 7 years. She works with me and runs my label. She is also starring in my latest video 'Aap ki Nazaron Ne Samja'...look out for her!
What are your plans in the near future?
My latest single is called 'Aap ki nazaro ne samja'. This is a beautiful song which Gunjan has vocalised. It's a very old classic song, which we have covered and I think will do well with all the listeners. I think the scene needs a bit of fresh air and this is the track to do it with. Most of this year is pretty full for my shows overseas. So soon after my wedding I will be on the road again...playing in OZ, SOUTH EAST ASIA and then USA and Europe.
Tell us about the creation and rise of Currywood Studios...
Whilst growing up in school I always dreamt of having my own studio, so made my bedroom look like a studio. I put a sign outside my room 'Currywood Studios'. All my early mix tapes feature 'recorded at CWS'..., which sounded very impressive! Today I have 2 recording studios.
How was Ishq Records formed and is it a success?
After being signed up with Sony music I decided it was time that I set up my own label, hence Ishq records came about in 1998. It's great, as one time I sent demos, now people all over the world send me demos. The best thing is about an independent like us is we find new talent and give them a break... hopefully stars of tomorrow. I not only release my own albums but have total control as this was one of the problems I found working with a Major. Nevertheless, I still became the first Asian to have 2 full Indian songs to hit the UK top 40! The artists we work with get the worldwide recognition they deserve. We try to put the albums across as my fans around the globe pick up most CD's with ISHQ banner. We are very proud that names such as Rishi Rich whose album Simply Rich, has become a huge success. I think he is a great producer. And I am glad Ishq Records has played a part in achieving that success for him.Kenz Desai & Gunjan from USA are doing a lot overseas and have become international names.
As someone who is said to have elevated the Asian culture into the mainstream, how do you feel the trend is going?
The trend in Asian music is great at the moment. I do think it's a phase and you won't get a lot of Indian songs in the mainstream. Everyone is rushing to make the charts and soon people will get bored. The thing to make it more positive is to see more Asian artists making English tunes. That will make more impact. Also Asian people better accept the language of Punjabi and Hindi, as the lyrics are more of a serious business to our culture. Bollywood sells more albums than mainstream acts but won't really make top 40. Desi music is getting wider appeal now. We have some great artists coming through. Bollywood isn't everything. What we need is more live acts desperately, like bands and singers. When are we gonna have a Britney or Timberlake of the Desi scene!
Tell us about the Bollywood/International Film work you have done - what was the experience like?
I am India every other week. I have worked on several Bollywood film songs and am working on some new tracks. Also working on mainstream films such as Bend it Like Beckham has opened more work in Hollywood as I am working on a Hollywood feature.
There are rumours of a Nightclub, which you will run - we are excited.
I am involved in opening my own club, as I have spent all my life playing in so many great clubs...that I have decided this is my next venture. We are still finalising some things and hopefully I will open not just one club but a few. The club I am working on will be on an international tip. It won't just be a Bhangra or Bollywood thing but more than that. We are looking at an INTERNATIONAL house of music playing so many various types of music. I am looking at Dubai first then hopefully also India. I will also be looking into London...but the scene overseas has always excited me more as here in UK we are choosier and NOT as open to world music... so look out for the 'Sagoo Bar'.
You also have some plans; to help out young aspiring DJ's in India, with the opening of a school....
The DJ school will open in India. It is not confirmed as yet as to when we will be ready. So many people ask me how they can get started and what to use. I have been in talks for some time in India with some people and we are in talks to set a few schools in various parts of India. But kids will be able to progress from basic lessons onto using computers and remixing too. The DJ scene in India is huge and not just guys but girls wanna be DJ's...so why not!
Everyone wants to be a producer nowadays - what are your views on that and how would you aspire young people into this field of work?
It's really not easy as so many weak tapes are out there. I always say to people really think what you put out and take care on your work. Too many labels are messing the scene up and that's also were they make the artists look worse than what they are. The biggest problem is too many copycats.
From a technical standpoint, how would a young person wanting to break into the business go about learning key skills?
Any young person wanting to get experience will not have an easy ride. But what you need to do is get into a proper studio and work with some good producers. The bedroom studio route doesn't always work for everyone. Make good demos that reflect your ideas. Spend time on your work, this will pay off eventually.
What sort of instruments do you play and use?
With today's technology as long as one can play keyboards then you can do a lot. Always get to know other musicians, as having ideas in your head is the most important thing. I watched other engineers growing up then soon found engineering my own self. Today I do it all my self, from programming to playing to mastering. Things happen over time not over night...
What about the use of Singers?
Finding new vocalists is the hardest thing in being a producer. I get so many demos but not from enough strong vocalists with control of there voice. I usually go to India to get my singers, as there are so many there. Singers who have a Teacher and are properly trained are those who show promise.
There are rumours of a Clothes Label - is this true?
I am in talks with some designers to make some cool stuff for me. Will let you know more soon.
What are your best collaborations and who would you like to work with?
Today I am very proud to have collaborated with people like Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Amitabh Bachchan... many Bollywood singers and many great Bhangra singers. I would love to work with AR Rahaman, Adnan Sami, anyone good really. My dream is to collaborate with Lata Mangeshkar...she would be the icing on the cake for me!
Who are your favourite artistes/role models?
Quincy Jones, Jam and Lewis, Timberland, Dre, RD Burman, and P Diddy, Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, Dr Dre, Michael Jackson, Missy Elliot, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohd Rafi, Alka Yagnik, Gurdass Mann...so many....
Remixes - will there be more from you? Tell us a bit about the market for remixes these days.
I am constantly approached for remix work not just here but India and other parts of the world. I only take on what I like and when I have time. Today's remix scene is in a real mess. Too many kids are knocking out weak material which I am amazed gets onto the market by labels that just have no clue...its crazy the stuff you hear on Asian radio and also the videos on music channels!If the media get a bit more strict on what they give airplay to then the viewers won't have to suffer in silence anymore!
You have been in the Guinness World Records book - a definite privilege. Tell us all about how you entered and how it feels.
I was the first to have made the top 40 with a full Indian language song. It has always been one of my dreams to have an all out Indian tune in the charts...I did it twice! I got invited to meet the president of India to congratulate me for achievements.
"Bollywood Star" on Channel 4 this is sounding very promising. What's it all about?
The idea of giving a British Asian a chance to go into a Bollywood movie is brilliant. The show was fun and we had so many people from all over UK who entered. It will be on Channel 4, so that is prime time baby!
On winning the AMA - this is a new thing for Asian musicians - how do you feel about it?
It was an honour winning an AMA and always a pleasure in being recognised for my work. I have a major wall of plaques and trophies and it just motivates me...I am always very much into the quality of my work, which is the reason for my success.
Do you have a message for your fans out there?
Thanks for all the wonderful support, look out for some great new projects unleashing soon...much respect to you all.
Since this interview, for Asian Post, Bally Sagoo has got married to the love of his life, Sita, in an understated, but beautiful ceremony, covered by AFM magazine and Bollywood Star has finished it's hugely successful 1st series run, on Channel 4.