Monday, March 07, 2011

The Simple Superstar

If you don’t know Wilbur, you are a waste! At least that’s what desi netizens of today’s Bangalore feel! We catch up with the virally popular and super hilarious Wilbur Sargunaraj.

You may not know him, you may not like him, but you definitely can’t ignore him.

Quality. First Class. Sargunaraj Trademark — screams the bright yellow logo that usually announces Wilbur Sargunaraj, who has arrived and is here to stay.

A son of the soil Tamil boy from Madurai in Tamilnadu, Wilbur moved to Canada around five years ago and began recording in his insanely popular style of humour-based rap-like songs, that revel in the madness of ‘being local’.

In less than four years, he achieved viral popularity on the internet and even released his self-titled first album — Wilbur Sargunaraj. With his subversive style of poking fun at oneself to show one’s confidence, he has stolen the hearts of millions across the world and is now finally, in namma Bangalore.

We’ve all figured that you’re from Tamilnadu, but where exactly is this Tamil’s ‘natyive’ place?

My ‘natyive’ is in several places. I am partly from Tenkasi, but also from Tirunelveli and my dad’s actual home is a small ooru (village) called Surandai. But I grew up all over India. As a child I was in Darjeeling for a year and then in Kolkata for half a year and then we finally moved to Madurai and in between I was in Ooty too. I speak Hindi also. Mujé Indi Maalum Ae, Apun Ko Kya Samajtha Hai, Baaisaab? (In a faux bad Hindi accent)

When did you realise you wanted to sing in your unique and particular style?

I have always wanted to perform in the style that comes most naturally to me and when I moved to Canada, it began just as an experiment. In no time, it was an internet hit and fans started cropping up everywhere. I now have so many fans globally that I need to work out of Chennai and Toronto. This has made me a vagabond, and I enjoy how much I get to travel to meet people who like my work and my sound.

Do you have a background in music?

Yes, I do. I have always been interested in percussion and drums and I’ve even been all the way to Cuba to learn the native style of percussion there. I also studied mridangam for a while, when I was in Madurai.

So how did the Sargunaraj style evolve?

See, many people think I am making a mockery of who I am and compare me to Borat and the likes. What they don’t see is that, unlike Borat, I make fun of my own culture with a hope of celebrating and sharing it, not mocking it and being vulgar. I have a message — the message of being proud of who you are and where you’re from, irrespective of what economic, cultural, intellectual or educational background you come from.

It’s a socially oriented message then?

Of course! I am trying to represent rural India, or at least the rural India I know, in the most real form that I can. Issues like arranged marriages are still a huge problem for the young there and even though my songs may not always have a social message, they at least speak of a sentiment that rings true to that area. I want to use my music as a medium to give these people a voice. Once that is done, I also want to be able to serve these people, which is why I’ve partnered with so many social causes.

What about your own cause, any hope of a love marriage?

There is a song in my new album called Annie Rose and that is a dedication to this girl I met when I was really young. It’s been 25 years since I met her and even though I knew her for a very short time, like that only love happened. She moved away and ever since I have been searching for my Annie Rose. One of the last songs in the new album is based on her. Love is a feeling, this song is that feeling.

The new album seems to have a lot on offer, tell us more?

I have always wanted to do much more than singing, which is why I even made a video on how foreigners should use the Indian toilet. In my new album I have a song that describes in a fun-way how foreigners can interpret what Indians really mean when we shake our head in a particular manner. The song is called Shake the head.

Anymore tracks to look forward to in the new album?

Simple Superstar — which already seems to be a hit. Then there's Vaigai Express No 2635 — which is the name of the train that runs between Chennai and Madurai and is my first song that will feature one deadly dabaangkoothu beat. And then there's Super mobile — which is about a super mobile phone. The album will also feature an extra CD that will contain my other older hits like Love Marriage, Chicken 65, Cobra Cobra and Cricket.

You performed in Chennai earlier this week, how was the reaction?

It was amazing. It felt so amazing to be performing in my homeland and soon after the performance; I was amazed at the responses from the city. People kept calling, offering film music contracts and asking me to perform in their projects — it was humbling!

What do you expect from the crowd in Bangalore?

I perform there on Tuesday for the first time and I am overwhelmed at the response I am already getting. Bangalore will always be special as I have always had a loyal set of fans in the city from the very inception. What I have missed from crowds across the globe is an energy and a fun-loving spirit that matches my own. I am almost always the only one still dancing and being enthusiastic by the end of a performance. I hope the Bangalore crowd will break this curse and out-do me with their energy. I’ve heard so much about the city’s party crowd, that I am super excited to finally meet them.

Illustration Courtesy: Nithin Rao Kumblekar, ©Nithin Rao Kumblekar

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