Kirat Raj Singh had an amazing time interviewing one of the Greatest Punjabi vocalists of our time, Manmohan Waris, read the interview here!
"There you go bhaji, after you," I said opening the door for a childhood idol and arguably one of the greatest Punjabi vocalists of our time. I had arrived at the restaurant where the lunch after the press conference was arranged and walked in with the entourage accompanying the Punjabi superstar, Manmohan Waris. Earlier in the day, during the press conference, Waris and Deepak Bali (MD Plasma Records) had announced the long awaited Punjabi Virsa UK Tour 2017. The tour would see Manmohan Waris, Kamal Heer and Sangtar perform their greatest hits live with their full live band in Leeds, Birmingham, Gravesend, London and Leicester in June 2017.
But now I found myself sitting opposite the main man himself about to have lunch. To say I was a little nervous, would be an understatement but the ever humble and soft spoken Waris allayed my fears by continuing with the conversation I had started earlier. "1993 was the year my first album was released in the market, but I have been singing from a young age. I must have been two or three years old when I started playing the 'algozeh'. It is widely said that everyone in Punjab sings, whether that is whilst doing Kirtan, reading the Jap Ji Sahib prayer or singing whilst in the shower. Singing and music is an important part of every Punjabi persons life.
My father was a simple farmer and he enjoyed singing whilst doing his farming. I remember him singing Waris Shah's 'Heer' when out in the fields but he did it as a hobby, he never did it professionally. He encouraged me to take my passion for singing seriously. He always insisted that learning music was the right way to take it forward. Even today I advise all those who want to become successful singers to take professional lessons, adopt an 'ustaad' and learn 'sangeet' properly before they start their journey."
And what a journey it has been for Waris since his launch in 1993. With superhits like Mittran Ne Bhangra Pauna, Kithe Kalli Beh Ke Sochi Ni, Punjabi Shera and Ni Ajja Bhabhi under his belt, he launched the first of his many 'Punjabi Virsa' concerts in 2004 in Toronto with his brothers Sangtar and Kamal Heer.
"The 2004 Punjabi Virsa was meant to be a one off. We had never imagined that it would be something that we would do every year around the world. However the response we received was amazing and we ended up doing the concerts in the UK, Austrailia, New Zealand and the USA."
So what does he think about the changes that Punjab has undergone in the last 12 years since he started the Punjabi Virsa Tours? How does he feel about the alleged drugs epidemic that is taking over the land and the culture he proudly sings about?"
"I believe Punjab is on a two track path," replies Waris. "There has been development and a lot has improved in the last decade. However the drugs epidemic has also risen and become a worrying trend for our youth. Even in my songs I have repeatedly enforced the importance of the right diet, the right lifestyle which is an integral part of Punjabi life. We even had Dara Singh ji, the famous Punjabi wrestler turned actor appear in our music video to help motivate the youth. Personally, it is also important that the message I or my brothers sing about on stage, we are able to enforce it in our own lives. And I am proud to say that neither I or my brothers Sangtar or Kamal Heer have ever done any kind of drugs."
But what about the current unfortunate circumstances in India & Pakistan? With the possibility of war on the horizon, Punjabi's on both sides of the border are bearing the brunt. "The aim of my songs is to bring people together, bring them back to their roots and not promote that what divides them. So caste, social status, religion bear no relevance when I sing for my fans. The culture I talk about when I sing "Punjabi Virsa" was no different in Lahore or Multan or Amritsar in the time of our elders. Its a shared culture on either side of the border and I pray for peace for all."
I can't help but be more impressed by the personality of the man I have long admired for his singing. There is no doubt that not only has his work in the last two decades helped second and third generation Punjabi's in the West reconnect with their culture, but furthermore led the way in showcasing how Punjabi bhangra artists can provide a social message through popular songs.
In the end, I get up and thank Manmohan Waris and his team for allowing me to spend some time in their company. As I'm about to leave, Waris smiles and reminds me, "the aim of our shows, the message we wish to share from our stage through our songs, our music is all fruitless if there isn't an audience to hear it." Atleast I could reassure the bhangra icon on this count. I know I speak on behalf of thousands of Punjabi's across the UK when I say we are all eagerly awaiting the Punjabi Virsa UK Tour next year!!
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