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Spotlight: Arif Lohar

Arif Lohar is back and what a comeback! Looking very hip, the Punjabi folk maestro has made a very stylish return to the local music scene with a rocking video of his illustrious father, Alam Lohar's hit 'Jugni', a classic Punjabi folk song. Re-produced by a British musician and producer Mukhtar Sahota, the song is from Arif Lohar's latest album also titled Jugni.

Jugni is basically Arif's and his father Alam Lohar's old classics with a smashing modern sound. Comprising of ten tracks, and two bonus mixes the album is Arif Lohar saying he can still be a hit is this era of stylised pop, where glamour sells more than musical expertise. Who better to make this statement than this legendary folk artist, with an immense fan following world over. Now Arif also has the oopmh to match his powerful music.

Arif is not the first one to rework his traditional music and make it more Western audience friendly. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan did it before him. Where the great qawwali maestro did not change his look to appeal to a wider audience, he did remix his music.

Arif Lohar remixing his songs was probably inevitable given the rapid evolution of Punjabi music world over. Whether it's USA or Europe, the Punjabi diaspora from both India and Pakistan, living in foreign lands have adapted their traditional folk sound to the sound of the land they live in.

Punjabi MC, Stereo Nation, Apache Indian and many other such bands and musicians have taken their original musical heritage and fused it with great success with rap, hip hop, reggae, R 'n B and even rock. This genre of modern Punjabi folk is not just popular with second or third generation Asians living in the West, but also with Westerners themselves.

Bhangra clubs or Bhangra nights in regular clubs are all the rage in UK, the most happening place apart from Punjab for Punjabi music. The extent to which Punjabi music has penetrated into the musical psyche of the West is evident from the many high profile collaborations Asian musicians have done with western artistes.

Whether it is Nelly Furtado's hit remix of 'Powerless' with Josh and Jay Z rapping on Punjabi MC's 'Mundian To Bach Kay' or 'Beware of the Boys' as it is more popularly known - Punjabi music, once 'underground' is now taking over the mainstream music scene in the West.

So even if Missy Eliot or Dr Dre can't sing along to Punjabi lyrics they still think it worth their while to put a hypnotic Bhangra loop on 'Get Ur Freak On' or an entire Lata track on Truth Hurt's 'Addictive'.

Therefore it comes as no surprise to see that it is not just Punjabi musicians but also Punjabi record companies that have become all the rage in the west. Arif Lohar's Jugni was released worldwide in the last week of October by Mukhtar Sahota's record company Internal Music, a British outfit. The record company is also responsible for Arif's look and his video.

Dressed in true R 'n B style, complete with a fur coat and necklaces, Arif's look is completely fresh. The only thing missing is a customised bling bling chimta! From fluorescent dhotis, crooning his brilliant folk songs in lush green fields of rural Punjab Arif Lohar has come a long way.

A performance based video with a very Lara Croft inspired storyline running in the background, 'Jugni' was shot in Canada. The sound is rock with electric guitars jarring through the widely popular folk riff. Even though Arif Lohar, the rock star may be perceived like an oxymoron by many, it is a fact that Arif does not look out of place.

It can be a combination of us becoming accustomed to the western packaging of our local music and the fact that being a strong performer is crucial. And Arif, even in a dhoti and kurta has always had tremendous entertainment value. Arif and his father were popular in those times when musicians could not bank on backup dancers or extraordinary lighting and stage or theatrics to woo and impress an audience.

According to Arif, who is basking in the glory of his new hit, this video has introduced him to a new audience. The idea was to merge his very folk music with that of the West to keep up with the changing times. "I had to be careful that I do not lose the originality of my vocals. So my vocals and lyrics are the same but the beats are new and slightly rock-ish," he says.

Mukhtar Sahota was probably the best man for the job as he has quite an experience mixing Punjabi folk with reggae, hip hop, dance and rock. Mukhtar started his musical career at a very young age, playing the harmonium in a band, The Sahotas with his brothers.

Apart from doing his own music he has produced a number of albums, and has done both traditional Punjabi songs and fusion. He approached Arif Lohar with the idea of redoing his classics with a modern sound. Arif agreed to shining results.

So it is not surprise that the new look and the fresh sound are catching on tremendously well with his fans who Arif promises will witness him live in concert soon. Now this is an artist, staying true to his art form and yet adapting it to changing styles and still not losing that edge.

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