New Delhi: With pep, bling and bounce, Punjabi music is winning hearts across India, powered by a data revolution, streaming audio and deep influence of Punjabi culture on Bollywood.

Punjabi music was the second-most streamed category on the Hungama Music app in 2018, its owner Hungama Digital Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd said last week. At 15%, it is now second only to Hindi music (52%). However, streaming of Punjabi music is growing faster than that of Hindi music.

Punjabi artistes such as Badshah charge around  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>40 lakh for a public performance.
Punjabi artistes such as Badshah charge around 40 lakh for a public performance.

The story doesn’t end there. Three of the top 10 songs on Gaana, the audio streaming service owned by Times Internet Ltd, in 2018—Yo Yo Honey Singh’s “Dil Chori" (Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety), Guru Randhawa’s independent single “Lahore" and Badshah’s “Tareefan" (Veere Di Wedding)—are all chartbusters with strong Punjabi tones. Along with Namaste England’s “Proper Patola" and Tumhari Sulu’s “Ban Ja Tu Meri Rani", these Punjabi tracks, some featured in Hindi films, have notched up around 50 million playouts on Gaana, the platform says, two-three times the figures of some Bollywood hits.

“Dil Chori", “Proper Patola" and “Tareefan" also rank as the top tracks of 2018 on Hungama Music, while the new crop of 2019 Bollywood releases are already high on Punjabi-flavoured tracks, with Randhawa’s “Daaru Wargi" (Why Cheat India) and Tony Kakkar’s “Coca Cola" (Luka Chuppi) standing out. The sheer volume of Punjabi numbers, along with the presence of Diljit Dosanjh and Badshah on mainstream television shows like Koffee With Karan, industry experts say, are strong indicators of the crossover of Punjabi music artistes to the hearts and playlists of pan-India audiences over the last two years.

“Punjabi, as a language, is bouncy and peppy and resonates very well with music," said Manmeet Singh of Meet Bros, the music director duo known for songs such as “Baby Doll" (Ragini MMS 2) and “Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan" (Roy). Singh added that Hindi film music has incorporated Punjabi lyrics and tones since the 1970s, but the watershed moment was the arrival of YouTube to India in the mid-2000s. The first people to take advantage of the medium were Punjabi music artistes, and as the youth got hooked on to it, the only music it got to hear for the first eight years, apart from mainstream Bollywood, was Punjabi, partly because Punjab happens to be the only state in India with an independent non-film music scene.

That was also the time Sony Music had entered the Punjabi market and started working with artistes such as Badshah and Dosanjh.

“Badshah’s ‘Saturday Saturday’ was a big hit in the north and two years later, we signed the soundtrack of Karan Johar’s Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania, which was a film based in Delhi, and we had this song, which we thought could be a great fit. That was the first time a song from one of the big pop stars of Punjab was roped in to a Bollywood film for the value it was bringing, especially to the north Indian market," said Sanujeet Bhujabal, marketing director and Bollywood head at Sony Music India.

Sony followed it up with Badshah’s “Kar Gayi Chul" and “Let’s Nacho" in Johar’s Kapoor & Sons, and many others followed suit—standouts include “Kala Chashma" (Baar Baar Dekho), “Suit Suit" (Hindi Medium) and scores of others that today make up the trend of not just bringing Punjabi flavour to a Bollywood song, but also getting Punjabi music artistes to add hip-hop and rap overtones to songs recreated for Hindi films. The idea is to leverage the six-seven million fan base of a music artiste and add value to the soundtrack of a film when there is a fit. A significant film promotional tool has emerged in the process.

“Bollywood doesn’t stand for a genre of music. It’s a vehicle that carries the most popular songs of the day and appeals to people across age segments and languages," Bhujabal said. “It started off as Punjabi being true-blue north, but now artistes like Hardy Sandhu, Guru Randhawa or Badshah are no longer seen as Punjabi artistes but Indian pop icons."

The immediate impact is economic. Neeraj Roy, managing director and CEO of Hungama Digital Media Entertainment, said the burst of Punjabi music artistes has meant that Punjabi music now makes up 14-15% of the consumption on music streaming platforms—this includes Bollywood and non-Bollywood numbers. Gaana says the consumption of Punjabi music on its platform has grown by seven times in the last two years. Artistes such as Badshah, Randhawa, Jassi Gill and Sandhu have emerged as pan-India artistes, charging around 40 lakh for a public performance, according to various news reports and people in the industry. Plus, there is a new crop of female artistes emerging—Jasmine Sandlas, Sunanda Sharma and Jenny Johal. Digital distribution of music has also meant that these Punjabi artistes may be heard in places such as Chennai and Bengaluru. Even a retro classic like “Dheere Dheere Se Meri Zindagi Mein" has been recreated with a Punjabi flavour by Honey Singh. Swedish streaming service Spotify that came to India last week is already offering Punjabi playlists.

There are other effects too. “When we work with the Punjabi music talent, one of the things that stands out is their fashion sense, which is very blingy," Roy said, adding that this has certainly had an impact on fashion trends, especially up north in places such as Delhi, Chandigarh and Haryana, where the biggest influencer till now was cinema. That an entire segment on Dosanjh and Badshah’s Koffee episode was dedicated to identifying luxury apparel brands is telling.

To be sure, the evolution witnessed by Punjabi music and artistes is likely to extend to other non-Hindi languages, as cheap data packs and audio streaming bring music to the masses.

“Over the next two-three years, what Punjabi music has started will percolate to more languages like Gujarati, Bhojpuri and Haryanvi. All these songs will see mainstream success by reintroduction through Bollywood," said Prashan Agarwal, chief executive of Gaana, citing the example of Gujarati-flavoured songs such as Loveyatri’s “Chogada" and “Dholida" and Mitron’s “Kamariya". Gaana uses analytics in a way that if there is a Hindi user in Maharashtra, Marathi songs are suggested so that starting with hits, the individual is ready to listen to non-mainstream Marathi songs, too. “Most users in India are at least bilingual, if not trilingual. So they can consume music in at least two languages," said Agarwal.