It’s beats and banter with the legendary music producer.
By Mahmood Hossain
Bally Sagoo is a product of his creative environment, heavily influenced by his musician father and the traditional and Bollywood melodies that would ring throughout the house. However, growing up in the 1960s in Birmingham, England, there was less influence from Indian culture, and more exposure to reggae and ‘Top 40’ music. From the age of seven to eight, that is all Bally would listen to, as it gradually seeped into his musical DNA. And like any other music lover of the past, who had access to blank cassette tapes, he would eagerly wait and hover over the radio to record the latest trending song to add to his collection.
He kick-started his career in the 1970s, and throughout the 80s sold mixtapes in neighbouring towns and colleges; his first major hits started rolling out in 1989. To no one’s surprise, his music spoke for itself – a unique fusion of Bollywood, reggae, and disco vibes, with bass-bumping tunes that turned into a hypnotic parade for the eardrums. His music was, and still is, like no other. Elaborating on his musical journey, Bally Sagoo sat down with me to dissect his career further.
When asked to look back and reflect on his career, Bally broke down how much the industry has changed, and subsequently, how he has evolved over the past few decades. “It took a while for my music to be heard by a larger group of people,” he explains. “There was no overnight success; I had to be patient with my craft. Of course, it’s been a long journey up until now and it’s a whole different game. Back then, it was much more difficult to get people to listen to your music. Asian/South Asian people weren’t allowed in clubs and weren’t allowed to go to parties, as those types of gatherings were predominantly White.”
Another challenge in the modern world is access to streaming and how people consume media. “I grew up buying records, then tapes, and of course CDs,” he continues. “I’ve got a whole garage full of the early days; I’ve never stopped buying physical tapes and CDs. Was it better back then than now? Absolutely. It was nicer going out and getting excited to go to your local shop to purchase physical copies of albums, unwrap them, read the credits, and the journey of the artist. It’s good to see vinyl coming back because I still release my own albums on physical CDs; even my last album is available in the disc format. People actually laugh and wonder why I still do it. Well, it’s because people like me still collect and appreciate them.”
Aligning with the mutual respect and understanding of the ‘good ‘ol days’, Bally responds favourably to a nostalgic tale I share about listening to his Dance and Romance album in the early 2000s. It was an experience that was shared between friends, as we drove home in complete silence while transfixed by the entire album, from the first second to the last. “Thank you! It’s always great to hear about those times,” he assures me, to my delight. “It’s a shame that youngsters today won’t be able to experience what you and your friends did. We come from a whole different generation. We looked forward to spending our lunch money on a CD or the latest record for the entire experience. On our end, we used to have signing sessions and invest time into every little detail of the album, from the cover art to the credit line; we were curious to know who played which instrument or who was attached to the making of the album.”
Bally’s path to fame was never a smooth one, especially for an artist who dared to shatter the norms by taking Bollywood classics and remaking them in contemporary fashion. “I used to get a lot of flak from people criticising my music,” Bally says with contempt, “constantly telling me what I was creating was not South Asian music or Bhangra. My reply was always the same: who are you to tell me what my music should sound like? And even more difficult is trying to get my music played at the local clubs. Imagine walking in with Indian records or tapes at the club, and them not accepting that type of music.”
We found ourselves meeting at yet another agreement, settling the record on remakes versus remixes. One of his biggest hits, “Chura Liya,” is indeed a remake. “Thank you for emphasising that the song is not a remix,” he says to me. “It’s a covered version of the Bollywood classic. In 1994, I created that record completely from scratch. Everything was fresh on that track and replayed; there was no sampling. Took me three months to complete that song by recording every single instrument and the original vocals in the studio.”
Bally had successfully reconstructed the song, placing every moving piece of a larger puzzle into what would become, to him, a surprise hit. The sentiments of that track continue to take hold today as he is met with fans that have always adored “Chura Liya” and pay their respects to such a legend. He humbly replies, “I’m just glad I was able to light the fire for others. In a market that is flooded with Bollywood remixes and studios redoing old songs for the sake of the masses, it’s important to highlight the music that isn’t lacking heart and passion. As you said, the quality content will always stand out.”
“It’s overwhelming,” Bally takes a slight pause before revealing his final thoughts, “to travel around the world and hear about the memories people have of my songs. People who don’t even understand what is being said in the song, love the music because they can feel it. I put so much into my music; I go deep into it.” He says having had the opportunity to work with so much talent, like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, which was one of his highest honours, makes the music resonate with so many people – one of the main reasons why he is driven to create beautiful music. It’s a bigger reward when listeners hold his songs so close to their hearts.
While Bally Sagoo’s newest album is still a work in progress, he will be performing in Bangkok on Friday, 19 May 2023, at Flamenco Sky Bar, EmQuartier.
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