Widely recognised as a pioneer of the modern UK Indian-Asian music scene, British-Indian music producer and artist Baljit Singh Sagoo—or “Bally Sagoo” as he is known—will get fans to groove to his bhangra and Bollywood beats as he tours Australia this April.
Active in the recording and entertainment industries since 1989, and known for his unique blend of western beats with traditional Indian music, Bally released his first album Wham Bam in 1990, which went on to become a huge success. It spawned a sequel, Wham Bam 2, after which Bally Sagoo released Magic Touch in 1991 with the (now late) Qawwali maestro Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
In 1994, he signed with Sony Records to produce Bollywood Flashback, with ‘Chura Liya’, a re-working of the Asha Bhosle song, being the biggest hit on the album.
His latest album—Future Shock—released in February 2013 and is a mix of Hindi and Punjabi compositions.
“I have always had an amazing response from my fans out there and love the response from the crowd. I have performed in Australia several times now and I know they love their bhangra as well as my mixes of Bollywood tunes,” says Bally. “I am working on several new projects now and look forward to unleashing a few singles this summer,” he adds.
HB gets Bally Sagoo to play back his growth in the music industry.
How and when did you enter the world of music?
I started in the 70s, when I was 12 years old. I used to make mix tapes in my bedroom and then started getting people aware of my music.
You have been in THE music industry for more than three decades, what have been the high points so far?
I have made so many tunes that have touched the world, including working with the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, working with Amitabh Bachchan, touring with Michael Jackson, recording with the best playback singers in Bollywood and Punjab. I produced the first-ever Indian song to make it to the mainstream billboards… there are so many more milestones in my career.
You introduced a new sound, which is a mix and match of British and Asian music. What is the process involved in music composition?
When I make my Brit-Asian sounds, I incorporate the music I have grown up with. Living in the UK all my life, I have been listening to so many styles of music that I still keep my ears to the ground to feel the pulse.
When did you know music was what you wanted to do?
I use to sell refrigerator freezers and electrical goods in a local store in Birmingham. In my spare time I would DJ and make money. I approached a music company in 1990 when I released a remix of Malkit Singh’s ‘Hey jamalo tutak tutak’ song. The company then employed me as an in-house music composer and I went on to make my first album Wham Bam.
How did the collaboration with Pakistani music legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan happen?
I would say that I am very fortunate that I got to meet and work with the late legend in 1991. Magic Touch was a project that I initiated and I got Nusrat to sing for me in various styles and moods. The vocals for the whole album were recorded in one day and one take… pure magic! I then spent six months crafting the music which then won many awards for best album and production. The album also connected Nusrat to a whole new audience globally…one of my masterpieces that will always stand out for me, forever!
What is it in Pakistani vocals that appeal you have worked with a number of Pakistani artistes?
I love going to Pakistan and working with so many singers. I was the first UK producer to go and find talent and take the sounds to mainstream level. I love the Punjabi/Sufi sound of the various singers. Also I feel there is a lot more work I can do with so much new talent coming through, especially female vocalists.
When it comes to singing for your labels, you prefer newcomers rather than established artistes. Why is that?
As I have always said, I love looking out for new talent. It gives me great satisfaction to discover the gems in the world that need to be showcased. Many top producers don’t give new talent a chance…I have been doing this for over 20 years…though I enjoy working with the giants too.
And where do you spot the new talent?
I travel the world for vocals and musical sounds…I look out for good sounding vocals and different. I recently went to Africa for rappers who featured on my latest album Future Shock.
You did an album with famous Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan back in 90s. Rumour has it there is another collaboration on the cards, and this time his son Abhishek will also be joining in.
I am not saying anything yet but we are in talks and it would be amazing to get back into the studio again with Mr B and remake more Aby Baby magic!
You launched Future Shock after a gap of 10 years. What were you doing in between?
I have been working on other projects like setting up new companies, working on mainstream movie sounds, travelling the world working on other people’s songs, as well as working on Future Shock. I did not want to rush into an album and so took my time with Future Shock.
How is this album different from the rest of your music albums?
Future Shock has a very different sound. For instance, I’ve made Punjabi songs that are not bhangra. I wanted to make chill out tracks with a Punjabi feel as well as a Bolly feel.
UK and Asian both have different music preferences, so what do you do to make your music a hit in both worlds?
Being a DJ playing all over the world for so many years now, I have a very good pulse on what people want to hear. I am always learning and evolving.
How do you think your music is different as compared to other UK-based bhangra artists such as Punjabi MC, Dr Zeus and Jazzy?
We all do our own thing. I have my own style of making music and what I like. I don’t just make Punjabi bhangra like most of the others. I love making a lot of slow jams and chill out vibes.
You started the trend of remixes. Have you faced any criticism for this?
‘You can’t please all the people all the time’…some people have criticised remixes generally because many DJs came out after I started and made some weak remixes, which got the scene a bad name. I‘ve made so many great remixes, popular due to a lot of hard work and time I put into them. The reason why my Bollywood Flashback 1 and 2 are still in play. I think it may be time for a Bollywood Flashback 3, since it’s over 13 years since BF2!
Your album Bollywood Flashback had amazing collection of evergreen Bollywood numbers. How did you decide to come up with something like this that turned you into a celebrity overnight?
Bollywood Flashback was a very difficult album I made in 1994. The idea came to me when I was sitting with family and friends. I made a list of super classic movie songs that I wanted to bring back to life in a new musical style. ‘Chura Liya’ was one of my favourite songs, so I had to do that. I never dreamed that it was going on to be one of the biggest albums and appeal to desi’s all over the world, young and old! The album still sells.
Do you have a favourite ‘Bally Sagoo’ song?
Probably ‘Chura Liya’, as its still makes me smile.
Which local and international musicians inspire you the most?
I like Justin Timberland, Dr Dre, Quincy Jones, and AR Rahman.
How do you feel performing live? Also, what was your first live performance like?
Performing live is always fun as you interact with your fans. I love the energy. I have always tested a lot of my music in clubs before releasing them.
Who do you think are the best desi artists in the business at the moment?
I like KK, Mohit Chauhan, Shreya Goshal, Kailash Kher, Arijit Singh.
Describe your music?
Published in The Indian Sun: Indian Magazine in Australia