Sidhu Moose Wala’s murder has turned everybody into an expert on Punjab’s pop music culture. There is a popular perception that Punjabi songs are all about gun glorification and violence. Data tells you otherwise. So, what are these songs all about? You’d be surprised if I tell you that they are about love.
There are 29 Punjabi songs on YouTube, with more than 50 crore views. Out of these 29, four have clocked more than a billion views. Only one of these songs used a gun to glorify murder. In Punjabi music, love conquers all.
About 18 of the 29 most popular Punjabi songs — almost 62 per cent — were all love songs.
Punjabi songs are hugely popular
To quantify the popularity of Punjabi songs, I am relying on my analysis of YouTube music videos. Though Spotify, Amazon Music, and Apple Music are specifically audio streaming platforms, each has a different entry point in India. YouTube’s free appeal makes it possible for anyone with an internet connection to watch, so I counted the views of song videos.
According to music data repository kworb.net, as of 7 June, about 101 Indian music videos have been viewed by more than half a billion people worldwide. However, since Bollywood makes the most popular beats in the country, about 61 music videos on YouTube were made in Hindi — leaving the rest of the space for regional languages.
Among the remaining 40 music videos—29 were sung in Punjabi, meaning that the state’s music is hugely popular in the non-Hindi section. With five songs carrying slightly more than 50 crore views, Haryanvi pop songs, too, rank high on the popularity index. This was followed by four Bhojpuri music videos and one each in Tamil and Telugu.
Where are the guns?
Like famous American activist Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Hatred paralyses life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonises it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it,” in Punjabi music also, love emerges as a dominant theme.
Mannat Noor’s Laung Lachi is easily the most popular, with over 1.4 billion views on YouTube. Loved by people across Punjab and the Hindi heartland, this song tells the tale of a young woman who uses laung (clove) and lachi (cardamom) as metaphors for love.
Guru Randhawa’s High Rated Gabru and Lahore follow suit, with over 1.13 billion and 1.02 billion views, respectively.
Punjabis love apparel, alcohol
Punjabis seem to harbour a deep love for designer clothing. Most songs often run apparel as their leitmotif—to the point where I had to put apparel-based tracks in a different category.
Under this genre, Jass Manak’s Lehenga has a whopping 1.48 billion views. The song is about a woman requesting her lover to buy her an expensive lehenga. Kala Chashma, Prada, Chittiyan Kalaiyan also fall under this list, with more than 650 million views each.
Alcohol also seems to be a recurring and much-loved theme. For example, Kamal Kahlon and Param Singh’s Daaru Badnaam Kardi has more than 950 million views, whereas Sharry Mann’s 3-Peg—which is played almost in every ‘daaru-party’—comes next with 692 million views.
The only song that spoke about violence was 8 Parche, sung by Bani Sandhu and Gur Sidhu. In this song, the woman sings about how 8 ‘parche‘ (police cases) against her lover created hurdles in their marriage. Despite these problems, her partner uses violent measures against men who eve tease his lady-love. Interestingly, by the end of the video, it’s the woman who shoots the man holding a gun against her lover. The video has 729 million views and is the only song from this sub-genre that made it big.
Let’s glorify non-violence
As you can see, Punjabi artistes singing about love have more chances of being recognised worldwide. However, some singers try to show Punjab as a gangland in their videos — like Mankirat Aulakh, Diljit Dosanjh, and even Sidhu Moose Wala, for that matter.
I feel that gun songs have a low shelf life because we have a significant share of Punjabis listening to quality music. In the glorious era of cassettes, releasing music was an arduous task. But unlike today, the best was served to us. From Gurdas Mann to Harbhajan Mann and from Amrinder Gill to Babbu Mann, all we listened to was music in its purest form. Rarely would one find songs glorifying guns. So, a vast majority of boomers, baby boomers, millennials and Gen-Y kids have grown up with a better taste in music–a section of people for whom such gun-glorifiers do not hold much artistic value.
We also have a generation which has heard the soul-stirring words of legendary poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi and grooved to the lyrics of Sahir Ludhianvi. This generation has also heard the melodious voice of Surinder Kaur and Pakistan’s Noor Jehan. Punjabi music was full of quality in the past, but gangsta rap is catching up as a genre today. To understand how ‘gangsta’ rappers are pacing up in Punjab, I spoke to a young singer, Hustinder, who has been in the music industry since 2014 and belongs to a generation that wants to keep guns and violence out of their songs.
Hustinder said that making gun-glorifying raps is easy, but making quality music is challenging. “All you need to do is buy some $25-30 beats and add lyrics that fit. These NRI singers are trying to bring the ‘gangsta’ rap genre of the West to India without assessing what kind of audience exists here,” he said. When one thinks of Punjabi music, it’s mostly some groovy beats, traditional musical instruments and ‘sur’ and ‘taal’ that come to mind. But none of these gun glorifiers actually care about making good music.
Now the million views question is—if I have to boycott a singer who glorifies guns, do I have a list? I do! Instead of Mankirat Aulakh and Sidhu Moose Wala, check out Harrdy Sandhu and Guru Randhawa for their moving songs on love and desire. Punjabi Sufi music itself is a different genre, pioneered by the likes of Satinder Sartaj and the Wadali brothers. Nooran sisters have also done great justice to traditional music by bringing Punjabi folklore to our generation. And after listening to Pasoori by Ali Sethi, I think we may have some more quality music coming from our neighbouring country.
Change is evident, and growing conversation around gun violence will hopefully allow young aspiring singers to keep guns out of their notes. As responsible listeners, we will give them due respect and likes and views, which will be reflected in data.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)