I am not a professional writer so this article may keep on jumping around different points. Apologies if you find it boring and not so continuous types ;). Also this article was meant to undergo some more revisions but lack of time & plenty of laziness didn’t let that happen. So posting it as it is. Special thanks to Samrat Dhillon for reviewing it (in fact, going to the extent of being a co-author) and making it look much better than what I initially drafted.
In the recent times, if there is someone who has actually tasted the juice of (super) success he is Satinder Sartaaj. His albums have been selling like hot cakes, probably leaving the old and experienced singers behind too. But all is not so well. He has been criticized for few things as well. In the opinion of his hard core fans, this criticism is not justified. On the other hand, in the view of the other group, his success is fake, hyped, spoiler and not so permanent.
This article is an attempt to discuss what is so good or bad about his success, career etc. First I will talk about his (kind of) instant success. Before he released his first album, he was quite popular on youtube and people knew about him. So his first album was a huge huge hit and it sold a record number of copies; something that matters a lot in these days of mp3-dominated-market. Now what makes him so hit? There are 2 reasons in my opinion. I will talk about them one by one:
The first reason according to me is the scope of the market. Punjabi music industry, at a broad level can be divided into two categories. One category of this market is really cheap stuff that is being released on the daily basis. Some parts of it become hit and others go unnoticed. Second part of this market is “the” really good stuff from legendary artists like Nusrat, Abida and others. And of course there is an occasional good release from Maans, Hans’s and other good artists. So there is a large vacuum between these two categories. That is where Sartaj comes in. People are fed up of the crap being served to them and it is not everyone’s cup of tea to listen to the legends we talked about. In such a scenario, Sartaj’s so called good lyrics, some decent presentation and everything comes as a pleasant change.
Second reason for his popularity is the attire he has chosen. It is immediately noticeable and looks like the dress worn by Sufis. It is an eye-catcher thing gimmick and people relate it with spirituality and divine lyrics, although his lyrics are far from such qualities.
These two are the reasons in my opinion that make him such a huge hit.
All looks well, so where is the problem?
Well, there are few things that are doing the damage. First thing is he is being called the Waris Shah of 21st century. This comparison is totally, absolutely absurd and idiotic, to say the least. It started from when he played the role of Waris Shah in the serial made by Zee Punjabi. Also, that is from where he has got his dress. He wore similar kind of dress in the serial and retained it when he started performing as a singer. From this whole story, coupled with that he writes his own lyrics people labeled him as the new Waris Shah. The unfortunate thing is that there is large section of his fans that believes in this comparison too. Waris Shah spent his whole life in writing one saga Heer and that was what made him “Waris Shah”. And this comparison, I don’t understand if it makes any sense at all.
Second thing is he has been labeled as (even believed by some) a Sufi singer. This again comes from his dress and his style of singing. There is an argument that he denies being a Sufi singer. He might do but few things related to him don’t support this. He doesn’t say NO when he is labeled as one. His twitter id (assuming it is an official one) is http://twitter.com/#!/SufiSartaaj and Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/sufisartaaj , which clearly don’t go with the argument that he says no to the Sufi label. In fact, he enjoys this association as it gives him a big advantage and a selling mantra. Now people ask what the problem is if he is being called a Sufi singer. No wonder there are few who actually think that what he sings is indeed Sufi genre. This is indeed a hilarious situation. Adhi kick te start yamah, Billo ji, neendar neeni-badi kameeni; I don’t understand what kind of Sufism is this. In my opinion there is hardly anything that he has sung that matches with what Sufism is all about. This thing actually is doing a lot of damage. His ardent fans are not ready to accept that his genre is no where close to sufi, or his lyrics have nothing to do with sufi “Kalams”. This is only going to create confusion for the coming generations as to what sufi music is all about. They will confuse sufi music with something which is not even folk. The coming generation will be confused as to what is sufi music, is it Abida’s Kaafi or is it Sartaj’s pop.
He has been accused of stealing, modifying and singing the poetry of other writes without giving proper credit to them. Plagiarization in any form should be criticized and credit should be given where it is due. Moreover being a lyricist himself he should value the writings of other poets.
So these are few of the things going against and in his favour.
I would like to see him shed this dress and change his image, making it clear that he is not a Sufi singer. He has to improve the quality of his lyrics, shed fake attire to gain appreciation from audiences who currently doubt his credentials as a good singer.