Oone of the most subtly evocative scenes from Imtiaz Ali’s cult classic Jab we met This is where Geet asks Aditya “Tum itni achi Punjabi kese bol lete ho”. Aditya responds by telling Geet that her mother is Punjabi, but her grip on the language never quite materialized because her roots, somewhere along the way, lost their grip. While Geet and Aditya were born to Punjabi parents, only one of them speaks, behaves and functions as such. The scene perfectly encapsulates the social dilemma of an urban, educated, middle-class Punjabi who has to find his voice in the midst of modern music and new-age Punjabi icons that the industry has begun to generate over the course of the last decade. Sidhu Moose Wala, who was shot dead yesterday in his hometown of Mansa, became my anchor as I searched for that place to rest my identity.
Anyone who listened to Moose Wala’s music or followed the news knew that he was not the kind of person to be idolized. Indeed, the singer’s troubles with the law, his tendency to regular provocation and the many skirmishes that preceded this violent death, somehow presaged the end of the artist. Moose Wala was no stranger to controversy. From allegations of illegal possession of weapons, promoting gun culture and his infamously short-lived political career with the Punjab Congress, the singer has endured his fair share of ups and downs. This, however, is not about his political legacy…
Sidhu Moose Wala became my anchor as I searched for that place to rest my identity.
This is his musical legacy. At Moose Wala we had a Punjabi entertainer who catered to both outback and upper middle class, educated Punjabis aspiring to re-embrace their remote culture. Of course, there were artists before Moose Wala – the Honey Singhs and the Baadshahs who left their mark on the Punjabi music industry. But their music, while catchy and addictive, didn’t stir the emotional pot with a sense of political, youth-led rebellion like Moose Wala’s music did. Basically, the late singer was always a better writer, fiercely prolific with the pen compared to his singing abilities and personality. Punjabi cinema and music are always driven by the culture of worship, a despotic devotion to the stars and this is also what normalizes the unique power they hold over those below them and those above. them on the scale of class and politics. That’s why Moose Wala’s political foray even made sense.
At Moose Wala we had a Punjabi entertainer who catered to both outback and upper middle class Punjabis wanting to re-enter their culture from a distance.
His song Jatt Da Muqaabla was an instant worldwide hit, followed by a string of chartbusters – so high which has 481 million views on YouTube and Tochan featuring Sonia Maan with 252 million views. A commercial and critical success, the singer, as is often the case in a small but mighty alluring industry, has stayed close to his roots. His appearance in the music video for AP Dhillon’s megahit brown world showed him flexing his handlebar mustache as he stood in front of giant tractors on a farm. It was a statement song and a curious but ultimately iconic visual cameo in the wake of the farmers’ movement.
Moose Wala’s music was, of course, problematic. From verses about violence, to the use of guns in music videos, to caste, to asserting a toxic brand of male pride, there were aspects of his stardom that didn’t go down well. weren’t registering as universally as social media stats claim. But in terms of reach and global popularity, his influence cannot be denied as the young singer had become iconic enough to be at the center of a state’s often chaotic and unpredictable political arena.
Moose Wala was not the best of them, but his talent, his music meant a lot to many of us.
That’s when I, a disillusioned 20-something who grew up listening to EDM, western pop, and rap, found myself jamming to Jatt Da Muqaabla in the middle of a summer night in 2018, I realized the impact of Moose Wala’s music. The song itself qualifies for the problematic category, and yet you can’t stop but hum along to its emphatic beats and diction. This is what got me playing Punjabi songs at get-togethers in the NCR region and inspired me to proudly share my Punjabi heritage with friends who didn’t even know it. The political brawl and blame game over his death will hopefully spill over into things less violent than the young singer’s death. This points to a maddening lack of moderation and cultural criticism in the Punjabi cultural sphere that the state continues to be plagued by violence, drugs and a toxic brand of masculinity. Moose Wala was not the best of them, but his talent, his music meant a lot to many of us. At least in a musical sense he was one Jatt for whom there was indeed muqaabla.