September 13, 2022October 11, 2022 8min readBy Arun S.
From working as a bartender to forming one of the most iconic bands Cornershop in the ’90s, Tjinder Singh is a pioneer in his own right. Tjinder Singh first formed a band at University under the name The General Havoc in 1988. In 1991 Tjinder Singh formed the band Cornershop after unmitigated racist attacks whilst he was working for the students union as an Entertainment Officer. Cornershop has spanned eight albums throughout the years. Cornershop and Tjinder Singh have received cosigns from Paul McCartney and Yoko-Ono for their cover of “Norwegian Wood” in Punjabi sung by Tjinder Singh. The band’s song “Brimful of Asha” was number 54 on the UK Singles Chart and the remixed version by Norman Cook went to number 1 on the U.K. chart and number 16 on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. The group can be described as an indie rock band that merges multiple genres. Cornershop’s Tjinder Singh has predominantly toured Europe and America and produces music on their own schedule. Continue reading to learn about the incredible individual Tjinder Singh’s creative journey!
We would love to learn more about the different times of the South Asian music scene happening in the U.K. during the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, and what types of music influenced you early on.
In the ’70s I mainly listened to Sikh devotional music and Punjabi folk music. My father became the stage secretary and general manager of the local Sikh temple and I played dholki there from time to time.
In the ’80s Temple procedures became stricter as more right wing elements of the community decided it was religious to bully temple goers to augment their bullying through their day jobs. CVs were vital and fil-o-faxes were very thick.
So for Wedding receptions musicians suddenly found themselves having to omit the Temple ceremony and go straight to the reception hall. This gave rise to better sound systems, and more professional PAs. Adding to this simple Punjabi folk music became bastardised with western instrumentation purely for the ideal of a bigger performance, but the sound was often forced, and that was what became Bhangra — only a few got it right like Alaap, in fact only Alaap. Indian’s took on Disco a decade later than its first inception, but Biddu with Nazia Hassan also got it very correct. Bhangra itself was a race to try and get Indian music into the charts, and there were all sorts of hell going down to move a dance floor.
The West Midlands area I was born was a once productive manufacturing centre — so industrial that the factory chimneys never stopped, hence it was and is called the Black Country due to the black chimney dust of furnaces. Immigrants were encouraged over to this corner of the world to do the most deplorable work under gruesome conditions, and still the Indian community was despised — this hatred was as in the air as the dust itself, as exemplified by the Conservative MP Enoch Powell whom create popularism through talk of repatriation — he was a precursor of Trump, and indeed I believe started the flames of Brexit way back then.
Slowly me and my brother got into western music and this opened up a real can of worms. We dressed differently and were targeted by the offspring’s of the right wing elements of the Indian community I talked about above, and the standard folk. It’s much easier to put into words nowadays. We had slowly also started to collect a record collection that was not handed down to us and eventually played records at venues. In 1989 I lived and worked in Manchester whilst the Manchester scene started to blow up.
As we picked up guitars, the Indian community resented the idea — to be in a band as an Indian was as rare as hen’s teeth, we found it extremely difficult to make anyone happy. However, at the start we simply enjoyed the abandon of making sound. I had been used to recording things since my time at the temple. Eventually we ventured out, a very risky ordeal but luckily for us we got signed at our first southern gig. We were on a political label with riot grrrl groups and things moved very fast from then on. Music used to be linked to politics, and we never saw politics as a dirty word, but something that could help shape your society — we were about reshaping it — but it was still a lonely world for most Indians that liked music, still only a puddle of them were into lovers soul and R&B.
Our label office at Rough Trade Shop, Portobello, in then a run down area called Notting Hill. Everyday was different, offers of gigs, interviews books, free equipment, lectures, talk panels, even acting requests. For me it was a case of either making it work, or being out of work so we stepped up where other groups held back. I started to produce, write and sing which wasn’t always the case.
From your first album, we hear influences of indie rock, alternative, electronic dance music, post-punk, and South Asian music. What were the first grueling years like for the band Cornershop in the early 1990s, did the group face adversity, and what was the process of creating your first album?
The first album was difficult but its variety was enough to let us know that the music would be anything we wanted it to be, not just noise and guitars: sitars, harmonium, percussion… We survived because we went to mainland Europe, and there they treated musicians with respect. In England we survived because we never stuck to one sound. We were the honorary all male group in the riot grrrl scene, then a song like “Born Disco Died Heavy Metal” got us on indie dancefloors, and songs like “Jullandar Shere” and “We’re In Yr Corner” put Asian music out there. ‘Butter The Soul’ was a big step forward in getting our last traducers on our side. Gone was the reticence of the Indian community towards us. By now we were taking 6 week trips at a time to America, and that is when we unexpectedly realised who our most open and avid audience was. One day you are reading the Bhuddha of Suburbia, the next month you are living it.
If you can remember what was the first lyric you ever wrote and what are your favorite lyrics you ever wrote?
I can’t remember the first lyric I wrote but I do remember going for a jog, again a much scorned pastime in those days, and writing “Tera Mera Pyar” in my head, and typing it up in one fell swoop when I got home. I don’t have a favourite lyric I wrote, but I like all of them — they all have a part of my life in them. “The Role Off Characteristics of History” In The Making, “St Marie Under Canon” and “Highly Amplified” are cherished to me at the moment.
A cover of “Norwegian Wood” can be found on the third album. What was it like to receive cosigns from Paul McCartney and Yoko-Ono and what was the significance of covering the song in another language?
“Norwegian Wood” was covered, like a lot of songs we have ventured to cover such as Waterloo Sunset because we like the song and feel we can bring something different to it.
Cornershop’s music appears on many TV shows and films such as Friends with “Brimful of Asha” in the ’90s Gilmore Girls with “Funky Days Are Back Again” in the early 2000s, the movie Dude Where’s the Party (Props to my sister for showing me this movie) featuring Kal Penn uses a couple of tracks such as “We’re In Your Corner,” and more. How does it feel seeing your music in iconic shows and movies?
We are always happy to see our songs used in as many places they find themselves. In fact it is an added plus that something is created and goes on to have a further reach than anyone would have expected, and obviously that also has parallels with the group itself.
With the ’90s coming to an end you released your fourth album in 2002. With the change in the millennium, how did the band’s sound change during this time?
Our 4th album “Handcream For A Generation” came after we too time to do a side project called “Clinton” which allowed us to concentrate more on technology. By this time in 2002 the music scene started to flip over again, the four piece male group was coming back in vogue. We still did OK as songs like “Lessons Learned From Rocky I To Rocky III” still went down well, we Noel Gallagher playing guitar on a 15 minute Punjabi song as we had just toured with Oasis, and the technology we had leaned on for our previous album brought dividends to our sound too — “People Power In the Disco Hour”…etc.
As the album “Cornershop and the Double ‘O’ Groove Of” was a collaboration with Bubbley Kaur were there different ways the group went about compositions as Bubbley Kaur predominantly sang in Punjabi?
The Bubbley Kaur direction i.e. Punjabi vocals with modern beats was again going back to my early years in mind. It was so shocking for Bubbley to hear some of the songs for the first time. “Topknot,” she was nearly in tears with the music, but thankfully she was persuaded by her children that it was OK, but even that took months, very stressful months. Last year we released “Double O Groove Of” album on vinyl, it has just kept going and growing.
In 2009 the band delivered their fifth studio album. As the music industry evolved over time what were some differences you were seeing?
The next album “Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast” again managed different styles that should not work but do. We had started our own label by this time, ample play records, and it was good to take things easy for once. Hence our next album “Urban Turban” was a whole heap of collaborations that we had done with nothing to targeted in mind. We did push this album with added art by our favoured artists, and creating the Singhles Club as a means to release tracks and keep people on our side.
We have seen many groups and artists from decades past incorporate South Asian elements into their music. Some include The Beatles with “Norwegian Wood,” Elvis Presley with “You’ll Think of Me,” Guns and Roses with “Pretty Tied Up,” Stevie Wonder with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS with “People Like Us,” The Rolling Stones with “Paint It, Black,” The Yardbirds with “Heart Full Of Soul,” and more. We would love to get your professional opinion on if these artists utilized South Asian instruments in the best possible way or should more research have been conducted around utilizing South Asian sounds.
Indian elements in music, as you state have been used by many. It is always interesting to see what people do with such an influence, and as a group that like to do whatever we like from the African vocals of “Camp Orange,” to the use of bird song and countryside of “England Is A Garden,” we can only applaud such ripples of new ground. I disliked some aspects of Indian music for the pomp that associated itself with such high art — hence I was always more at home with a basic Punjabi Folk duet than 50 accomplished musicians, so I suppose that politics was always there in the music I liked.
Who is your dream collaboration or dream collaboration as well as what is your most memorable performance?
I don’t have a dream collaboration, that would be too thought out a project and liable to failure from the get go. Likewise, I don’t have a memorable performance either — but we played in a junior school in ‘93 after which the pupils went away and wrote and drew their feelings — that was tip top. More than the meal itself we have always been happier with the after dinner light talk: That is to say since we started to establish ourselves, the ground was so new to us and those that heard us that it helped others, whether they were in fashion, films, cooks etc, and certainly those of different standing from the norm to be encouraged that things can change. That has been the best, to know that we always came with a government warning.
However, there is no sure shot way of helping anyone, this can only come about by doing things without any larger goals — from then on people are either inspired or they are not, encouraged or not, trees or not. You can either work hard or get good luck or both, or you could chuck a whole lot of money at it, and Bhangra the situation.
An exclusive standing-room-only crowd, dressed in dazzling colors and shimmer, packed SONA — an upscale South Asian restaurant in Manhattan — in February to celebrate queer love and allyship in the desi community.
The event, ‘Pyar is Pyar’ (which translates to “Love is Love”), recognized the landmark bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law in December: the Respect for Marriage Act. The event raised $168,000 to support Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, an international nonprofit that provides peer support and resources to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families.
Maneesh Goyal, founder and partner of SONA, organized the event with Shamina Singh, the founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. Both Goyal and Singh are openly queer South Asian leaders and thanked the crowd that evening for their support of other LGBTQ+ desis.
Opal Vadhan and Gautam Raghavan from the Biden/Harris Administration read a letter from President Biden to commemorate the event.
“Jill and I — and Kamala and Doug — hope you have a wonderful night celebrating our nation at our best,” Biden wrote. “May we all carry forth that American promise of freedom together. May we also know that love is love — and pyar is pyar.”
“The work that you do to become visible and powerful, to form narratives, to change minds, and to make people feel something about a cause for equality — that is incredibly important,” Raghavan added, before introducing Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, a same-sex Indian couple that got married in 2019 in Texas.
“They denied us because we are a same-sex couple,” said Jain, who grew up in New Delhi. “This is a violation of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; so we filed suit.”
“Parag and I are hopeful for a positive verdict. If our case wins, it would bring marriage equality to nearly 1.4 billion people across India,” he continued. “Just to put that in perspective, the total number of people today who live in a country with marriage equality is about 1.4 billion. That means our cases together could double the global population of places who live in a place with marriage equality.”
“We need a mechanism to help build allies in our community and to help provide the support that LGBTQ people need,” Mehta added, encouraging people to donate to Desi Rainbow.
Rayman Kaur Mathoda, Desi Rainbow’s board chair, challenged allies to put their dollars behind their vocal support. Her family announced a $50,000 donation to the organization’s ongoing work.
Founded and led by Aruna Rao, a straight cisgender mother of a transgender adult, the nonprofit has served more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families since 2020. The goal is to serve 10,000 in three years; a million in the next 10 years.
Mathoda, a wife and mother of four, recalled how painful the lack of family and community support can be.
“For most of us who come out in the desi community…coming out is still a negative experience,” she said. “It is not a moment of pride. It is a moment of shame.”
Mathoda thanked all allies in particular for making the road easier for queer South Asians. To find the love and acceptance they want and need.
“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.
Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.
I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.
A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.
It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.
Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.
I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.
I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.
She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.
I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.
I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.
Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.
January 18, 2023January 18, 2023 5min readBy Arun S.
From receiving his MBA from Harvard business school to being the CEO of Asia’s largest music festival brand Sunburn, Karan Singh combined his interests to push his passion for music! Singh received his bachelor’s degree in management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He worked as an investment banker for three years at Ambit Corporate Finance before working at Sunburn which is a part of his family’s business. Sunburn started providing the music festival experience starting in the year 2007. The first festival was in Candolim, Goa. The music festival brand has put on over 5,000 events over the past 15 years. In 2022 The Sunburn Festival will be in it’s 16th year. Continue reading to learn more about Karan Singh’s journey with the Sunburn music festival!
What does the Sunburn brand offer and what made you have the festival in Goa as opposed to other parts of India?
We believe that Sunburn offers a really unique experience and is a melting pot of diverse people & cultures from not only across India but around the world. Goa is the ideal setting for this as there is something magical about Goa in the winter-time and truly enables us to tap into that global audience.
Safety at live events has always been a concern among concert goers. Considering recent, events more individuals have asked brands and artists to do more to ensure audience safety. What are you doing to ensure safety for live concerts?
Safety is a huge priority for us. We work with the best-in-class security agencies as well as closely with the police and requisite authorities. For anyone in the crowd a Sunburn safety officer will always be close by and easily visible. We also run an awareness drive on both social media and on ground.
What was the first Sunburn Festival like and what did you learn from this experience?
The first ever Sunburn Festival was in December 2007, and I had actually attended it as a fan, not part of the crew. However, it was absolutely eye-opening as the first proper music festival on Indian shores and opened up our minds to a world of possibilities.
As Sunburn houses so many electronic dance musicians who have been your favorites throughout the years?
It is difficult to pick from the list however the favorites for Sunburn, in no order and because of the amount of love they have shown Indian audiences, are Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hardwell and Armin van Buuren.
Do you plan to expand the festival to add other genres into the mix as well as more activities?
We have already expanded into different formats like Arena, Campus, Club, Reload and things like merchandize & academy. In terms of genres, we have been dabbling with genres like rap, hip-hop and pop, however our focus remains on electronic dance music.
What can someone expect from the festival as first-time goers?
Apart from a state-of-the-art production & line-up, one can expect a special experience, meeting interesting people from all over the world, and embarking on a creative journey of the theme for the year.
How does the festival help local musicians from Goa as well as the surrounding areas in India?
This year we had set up for the first time a special stage and village in the festival only for Goa which gave a platform to local Goan artists. But beyond that a huge focus for us has always been to showcase domestic home-grown talent and indeed 60-70% of the line-up each year is locally sourced.
What was the experience like this year in 2022 and how is it different from previous years?
The biggest difference was that this was the first time the festival was back to its full scale since the pandemic hit after 3 long years. It was a fantastic release for everyone there. Our theme was “the future is now” and this was reflected across the festival experience and particularly in the main stage design – termed “Cyberpunk City” which received rave reviews from all.
What was it like having the legends Black Coffee and Afrojack this year as well as the DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike?
Afrojack and DVLM are both Sunburn & India veterans, it was amazing having them back crushing the main stage after very long. Black Coffee for us was something very new and exciting, to have a special artist and a unique sound like that close the main stage on day 2. However it was very well-received and took our experience to the next level.
As you have had the artist Avicii back in December 2011 how do you feel he revolutionized Electronic Dance Music?
Avicii is one of my all-time favorite artists and his show in December 2011 was actually my first one working on Sunburn so will always be extra special. There is no doubt that he revolutionized EDM by taking massive risks and introducing an entirely new sound which a lot of others then followed, but no one as well as he did.
How does it feel to be in charge of one of Asia’s biggest Electronic Dance Music Festivals?
It feels great, we have a very young but ambitious and hard-working team and our primary focus is to continue delivering the best possible experiences for our fans, artists and partners. India is such a vibrant and exciting market that I cannot help but be pumped about what the future holds.
Do you feel Electronic Dance Music is a misunderstood genre?
More so in a country like India possibly yes, where people who are not exposed to these experiences sometimes have preconceived notions about EDM festivals and the like. Oftentimes those people are also in a decision-making capacity and can directly affect the industry. However, things are certainly improving as the industry overall gets bigger and gets more acceptance.
What does music mean to you, Karan Singh?
Music provides a sound-track to life, it is something which is always there!
How do you choose to react when you receive negative comments about the Sunburn Festival?
Well, you have to be able to differentiate between those which are just trolling and those which are constructive or fair criticism. The latter is very important as it helps us to look at ourselves and continually improve, we are still a long way from where we eventually want to be.
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
I hope it allows us at Sunburn to reach a wider audience of the desi community around the world and hopefully get some more people to fly down to Goa for Sunburn Festival 2023 which I can promise you all will be the best one yet!
Dimitri Vegas Like Mike
We have had a long connection with India. The first time we played here was more than a decade ago. Going from clubs to being a regular feature at one of Asia’s biggest electronic music festivals which is now an institution in itself. It’s been an exciting evolution to see how Sunburn has grown over the years. The fans at Sunburn are some of the most insane and every show is a special one. We’ve always had an incredible experience at Sunburn.
Honestly, the energy I feel when I am in India is one of the most amazing things. I would say the culture and energy is what keeps me coming back! India is like a second home to me, just like Sunburn. I feel so comfortable and welcomed here. I’m always excited about coming to India and playing at Sunburn, experiencing new cities, meeting more of the people, hearing more of the music, and seeing more of the country that has influenced me so much.
Sunburn has helped dance music artists world over to tour India and connect with their Indian fans and I’m always excited about performing at the festival.
I’ve a long history with the Sunburn team. They are a great team to work with and they also give the fans amazing experiences. As an artist, I want to be a part of providing fans with lifelong memories and so we all share the same vision.
Sunburn is one of the pioneers of the dance music festival scene in India and has been instrumental in creating a truly world class platform that supports the dance music industry and all of its stakeholders. I’m always excited about touring India with Sunburn.