The remix master DJ Suketu gets funky with RD Burman's music
One of the first mainstream DJs on the desi scene – and perhaps one of the best – Suketu first took the dance floor by storm in 2002 with Pyar Zindagi Hai, a single from his debut album 440 Volts. Entering the Indi-pop charts at number one, where it sat for eight weeks, the hit was followed by another chart-topper, Bin Tere Sanam, which stayed there for 20 weeks and went on to become the highest-selling remix in the history of Indian music.
Then, when the demand for Bollywood remixes began to grow, Suketu began churning out revamped versions of popular Hindi film songs.
Last week, Suketu flew to Dubai for the local launch of his latest album, RD Burman Reinvented, in which he once again gives new beats to popular Bollywood songs. But this time, he's taken on those composed by the late RD Burman, the well-known Indian musician.
The Pakistani singers Kamran Ahmed and Mustafa Zahid performed alongside Suketu at the album's launch. The event was jam-packed with desi clubbers, reinforcing the fact that remixes might have taken a back seat on television music channels but they continue to be popular.
"I haven't performed publicly in Dubai for a very long time," confesses Suketu. "The last time was early last year. Since then, I haven't visited to play at private parties and weddings or even for a holiday, but this public performance has been a long time coming."
He looks back on a time when he used to be in Dubai every couple of months and admits that it reached a point where he felt people would skip one of his performances because he was bound to come back again in a few weeks. And so he held back.
"But it was soon time for the launch of my new album," he says. "I wanted to do something to promote it, something beyond calling my friends at radio stations and asking for a plug. I wanted to return to Dubai and create a buzz, to make people want to listen to the songs and buy the album."
Despite the long break since his last album (March 2008), this latest album materialised fairly rapidly.
"It took only about two and a half months to get finished in the studio," says Suketu. "When I did Bin Tere Sanam, it was all about remixes. Now people want something more Bollywood-orientated. A little while ago, EMI Music approached me. They said that there was still a big market for remixes in India and around the world, and that there was an enormous gap and I could plug that gap.
"I said: 'Why not?' However, I knew that to be successful, the album had to have a strong theme to attract the right crowd, and would also give us an advantage in marketing and promoting it. The theme would give the album the definition it needed."
After playing around with lots of ideas, Suketu settled on RD Burman. "The music of Pancham Da [as the musician was affectionately known in Bollywood] is absolutely timeless. I don't know anybody who doesn't like his music. He was always known for creating tunes that were ahead of their time. He used genres no other music director had even thought about. He drew inspiration from the West and brought that to Bollywood. If Pancham Da were alive, he would have tapped into today's technology and he would have done many great things. This album is my small attempt to explore what Pancham Da's music might have sounded like if he was still around today."
Suketu started out by narrowing down who he wanted to work with on the album.
"All the singers on this album are people I have worked with before and have a good rapport with. Many singers these days don't want to do remixes. They want to sing original songs. The singers featured on this album have sung plenty of original songs and were open to the idea of working on remixes. Once I'd finalised who I'd be working with, I just asked them to pick their favourite RD Burman songs. I knew that if they got to sing a song they love, they'd put their heart into it."
Suketu has plans to launch the album in Bahrain and Doha, too, but only after playing in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Australia and New Zealand.
Kamran Ahmed, the Dubai-based singer and producer, lends his voice to the album’s lead track, Dilbar Mere. The winner of MTV’s Best Breakthrough Artist Award in 2009, Ahmed says he jumped up when offered the opportunity. “I’ve always been a fan of R?D Burman and, admittedly, I was a little hesitant at first. Mostly because this is the late Kishore Kumar’s [one of India’s most popular singers] song, and his is a voice you just sit back and listen to. You can’t even begin to emulate him. But I did not want to pass on the opportunity to work with DJ Suketu, either. As it turns out, Dilbar Mere is the highlight of the album. All the tracks are great but I feel Dilbar Mere, with its romantic edge, has a really different vibe from the rest of the songs, which are funkier and more upbeat.”
• RD Burman Reinvented is available in all major music stores across the UAE