KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Two Sikh brothers nicknamed “Malaysia’s Bhangra Ambassadors” are trying to become international hit-makers in Punjabi dance music with the help of stars from Britain and India.
The duo officially known as Goldkartz have released an album that is the first serious attempt by a Southeast Asian bhangra recording act to cross over to foreign markets. The CD, titled “24 Karaatz,” was launched simultaneously last Friday in Malaysia, Britain, India and other countries.
“We are a fresh product for the bhangra scene,” Goldkartz member Manjit Singh Gill said in an interview this week. “We have something different to offer, coming far from the hub of bhangra.”
Modern bhangra blends hip-hop, electronic and rock rhythms with centuries-old sounds of Punjabi singing, traditional drums and string instruments. Its popularity grew in Britain in the 1980s after many Punjabis migrated there.
Goldkartz’s album features collaborations with well-known vocalists, composers and producers in bhangra and Indian music, including Rishi Rich and Mumzy Stranger from Britain and Shankar Mahadevan of India.
But the brothers insist their mostly self-composed work remains distinctive because their singing is infused with Malaysian cadences unfamiliar to bhangra fans. The novelty of being a bhangra act that isn’t from Europe or India could also help, they add.
Manjit, 26, and his 22-year-old brother, Sukhjit Gill Singh, are an anomaly even in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation where Sikhs number fewer than 150,000 people in a population of 28 million.
In 2008, Goldkartz became the first group to release a Malaysian-made bhangra album, selling 5,000 CDs in a modest success.
“It was a passion project,” Manjit said. “We had been listening to bhangra from other countries for years.”
Their second album was built with a worldwide audience in mind, recorded over 18 months as Manjit and Sukhjit juggled time between the studio and their occupations as a lawyer and law student respectively. They also honed their craft by singing in Malaysian clubs and at concerts in Australia, Canada, Indonesia and Singapore.
Goldkartz’s songs highlight themes about romance and having fun. The chorus of their lead single, “Ha Karde,” translates as “Darling, just tell me yes once, and let’s love each other tonight.”
Top bhangra record companies in Britain and India are distributing the album, which was launched at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur by the prime minister’s wife. The brothers, who have performed music together since they were teenagers, plan to tour soon to promote the CD.