In one of my desultory channel browsing sessions (the only effective algorithm to watch television without ending up buying a .44-steel-cast Magnum and shooting up everything in sight), I was rivetted by a video on one of the Punjabi music channels. A Sardar in full regalia, strumming a six-string all over India. The artist: Rabbi Shergill, and the song was "Bulla ki Jaanaa", his rendition of the famous Kafi by 18th-century Sufi saint Bulla-Shah (also known as Bulle-Shah, I'm told, but that does not mitigate his name one bit ;)). Needless to say, since I have recently been impressed by many things Punjabi (pronounced Ohye, Punhjhaabbee!), I managed to get my hands on the album.
I was impressed with what seems to be a debut album. The lyrics are good (all in Punjabi), with a few classical selections like the Bull[ae]-Shah poem, and some by other famous Punjabi poets. Rabbi writes amazingly perceptive lyrics himself, but comes up a little short on composition. The result is this odd feeling you get on the B-sides of listening to Walt Whitman recited to the tune of Raghupati Raghav Rajaa Ram. Well, maybe it needs a bit of getting used to or maybe the engineering on these songs is a little overwrought. But this man's talent as a bard/balladeer is undeniable. In this age of mindless Britney-pop, he is a true visionary, a man with depth and true insight, and most important of all, great emotional sincerity. No wonder he was given the boot by all the recording labels before being signed on by the guys who founded Tehelka.
A good read is this article by Minty Tejpal of Tehelka, documenting Rabbi's journey.