x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Bhangra's band of brothers RDB move forward from tragedy

RDB, who went from small-time DJs in the UK to famous Bollywood music producers, talk about their plans to continue the musical legacy of their sibling, who died in May.

The RDB (Rhythm, Dhol, Bass) DJs, from left, Kuly, Manj and Surj Singh. Leon Neal / AFP Photo
The RDB (Rhythm, Dhol, Bass) DJs, from left, Kuly, Manj and Surj Singh. Leon Neal / AFP Photo

Every so often, an Indian song or film hits a global nerve and finds its way beyond the already huge market of Bollywood and the diaspora, suddenly appearing in the international charts. The British DJ Panjabi MC did it with his massive hit Mundian to Bach Ke (Beware of the Boys), which was picked up for a remix by Jay-Z. A R Rahman had a phenomenon on his hands with Slumdog Millionaire's famous track Jai Ho, particularly when repurposed as a Pussycat Dolls track. Cornershop's Brimful of Asha topped the charts when remixed by Fatboy Slim.

One of the more ubiquitous of these breakout tracks was Snoop Dogg's Singh isKinng, the title track from the 2008 Akshay Kumar film. Its earworm-worthy refrain and hip-hop-meets-bhangra production came courtesy of RDB - Rhythm, Dhol, Bass - one of the most successful production teams to come out of the Indian tradition, and certainly the most successful to come out of Britain's northern city of Bradford.

Over the course of 10 years, RDB have gone from local UK bhangra DJs to in-demand Bollywood music producers to working with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Ludacris. They have also experienced a recent tragedy that left the worlds of bhangra and Bollywood reeling: in May, their brother and leading light, Kuly, died in Houston after a year-long battle with brain cancer. The remaining brothers, Manj and Surj, have released two free-to-download tribute songs, Yaadan and Tut Gaya Dil, featuring MC Smooth and Nindy Kaur, and are encouraging their fans to donate to Brain Tumour UK.

"Cancer is such a swear word in this day and age, but it hits everyone in some way," says Surj. "Everybody has a story about cancer, and it's so sad to hear; it's a common conversation right now. We tried to tackle it with Kuly for over a year, and unfortunately didn't succeed. I wouldn't wish it upon my enemies, I'll be honest with you."

Surj and Manj have not only lost a dearly loved brother, but a musical collaborator as well.

"Kuly was RDB," says Surj, emphatically. "He was the head, the master, the guy who originated it all. It was his idea originally, when a track needed to be started; it was his creative ideas."

For Surj, who still lives in Bradford, and Manj, who has moved to Toronto, the continuation of RDB without Kuly is a tribute to his musical legacy, and a few months on, they are about to embark on a tour to India, Pakistan and North America, as well as finally complete their long-awaited fourth album Worldwide.

There's no doubt that Surj and Manj remain thrilled by music. Surj confirms two forthcoming collaborations with major American artists, though the details are top secret. Both brothers continue to work with Bollywood, which explains the delay on their album: "We've been working on Worldwide for three or four years now," says Surj. "Every time we finish a track Bollywood comes along and say 'Oh, that's a nice track, we'll take that, thank you very much'."

And when the success of their songs outstrips the films they're featured in, you can't blame RDB for enjoying the ride. "We did a big banger called Aloo Chaat," says Surj. "The film Aloo Chaat didn't do very well but the track exploded all over the world. To this day I think it's my personal favourite. You just say the words 'Aloo Chaat' at a concert and people go crazy. And when you're standing in front of 50,000 people and you say, 'Put your hands up', they really do react. It's a great feeling. I don't think anything compares to it."

The duo are not simply leaving their painful past behind, though: far from it. They are intent on working their way through Kuly's ideas in parallel with their own, as a lasting tribute to the man and the musician.

"In the studios he used to have creative ideas every two minutes," says Surj. "So he'd have an idea and put something together in the studio and then leave it, store it, and then start another one. He was constantly coming up with new ideas and me and Manj would go, 'Hold on, Kuly, slow down, you're giving us so many ideas! We can't produce them all!'"

"Kuly's passing has really brought people's true feelings out," Surj adds. "He was always positive, always graceful. It's only after his death you realise that people have been affected all over the world by this one guy, not because of his music but who he was as a person. So now it's mine and Manj's job to continue. We're not going to stop, for his sake. We're going to go on in his name, his legacy."

For details on RDB's tour, album and singles, visit www.rdbmusic.com