India Abroad March 11, 2011
In the world of music, where ego trips, bizarre behavior, drug dependency and fractured personal lives are com- mon, rapper, writer and singer Jay Sean repeatedly tells himself to never be bogged down by the numbers game, gloat over his success or feel low when things
don’t happen as per expectations.
“At the end of the day what matters to me is if I have created something that I can make an impression on a few
people or touch at least one life,” says the London born and
raised 29-year-old, chatting between over a dozen appearances in just about two weeks across America.
The British Punjabi singer has become a success in the
United Kingdom, a Billboard topper on the R & B charts in
North America, and has millions of fans in countries ranging from India (the home of his migrant parents) to
Romania, Russia, Japan and Australia. Many believe that
he could become even more popular than Freddie Mercury,
who was also born to Indian parents in East Africa.
It isn’t as if Sean does not have much to boast of. Hit the
Lights, his second collaboration with American rapper Lil
Wayne following Down less than two years ago, has shot
straight to the top of the charts.
“I am never in a hurry to produce anything… I have
always been asking myself is this something I can put my
name on?” says Sean, whose passion for music prompted
him to give up his interest in medicine after two years of
dissecting cadavers — a decision, he says, he never regrets.
The self-confessed super nerd in school and college started
with bhangra fusion, and went on to embrace the beat scene
that would take him far and wide.
Though his album Freeze Time is creating buzz thanks to
Hit the Lights, he admits he has weathered many disappointments and that he is always learning life lessons, be it
from fellow musicians or fans or life in general.
“I have been writing music for over 13 years, but I am
always learning about not only music but also life,” he says.
“I am ever open to learn things, and I seek inspiration all
For second and third generation Indians abroad, especial-
ly in the UK, he is not only a role model, but also a big suc-
cess story. Teenagers in London, Edinburgh and
Birmingham have quizzed me about Sean.
“Why is his music different from Bhangra Pop?” asked
one. Another was curious about Sean’s personal life: “Do
you think he will have an arranged marriage?” Then there
were some who wanted to know if he was considering
Bollywood. “He can be in any film and I am sure he will be
great,” said one college student who isn’t South Asian.
“He can do a dance video Dance with You (Nachna Tere
Naal) with Bipasha Basu and then do a hypnotic dance
number with top African musicians,” said an Indian student
in Bristol. “Jay Sean has shown that Indians can excel in
music they did not hear in their homes. And yet he is a cool
guy, we have never seen him boasting or losing his temper.”
“There are times I pinch myself and ask is all this success
real?” Sean says. “And then I think of my responsibility
especially towards the young.” He may do a raunchy song
now and then, he says, but don’t expect music that is nihilistic or violent from him.
This comes from his Indian upbringing, which has taught
him to always be respectful of other people’s feelings, he
Sean was born Kamaljeet Singh Jhooti to Sharan and
Bindi Jhooti and raised in Southall and Hounslow in
London. His grandparents had migrated from India and his
grandfather had to take down his turban, cut his hair and
shave to get a job in a British factory. Sean’s parents did far
better: His father ran clothing factories and segued into the
insurance business; his mother became a successful beautician.
Sean had a number of friends who were from the
Caribbean and loved Snoop Dogg and Ice-T. That ignited
the passion for hip hop and American musical idioms in
him. At age 11, he and his cousin Pritpal Rupra formed a hip
Despite all the
upheaval in the
going --- love,
rapper Jay Sean
tells Arthur J Pais
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