India Live: Manj Musik, formerly of RDB, taking music in a new direction after brother’s death

Published: August 7, 2014

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Manj Musik, Manj Ral's solo project after his brother and bandmate died of brain cancer two years ago, will be performing under the new moniker for the first time in Vancouver at India Live on Saturday.

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

The Toronto-based producers and brothers behind former Punjabi group RDB (Rhythm, Dhol, Bass) were like “two peas in a pod.”

“I would play a beat, he would start playing some music,” Manjeet Ral said of his brother and former bandmate Kuly Ral, who died from brain cancer two years ago. “Me and Kuly were two peas in a pod — we were exactly the same.”

The British brothers first formed RDB in 1995 while living in the U.K., with their youngest brother Surj acting as manager, Manj and Kuly as co-producers and Manj as lead vocalist.

In the early days, it was just Manj and Kuly coming up with tracks on their “crappy computers” and recording them onto tapes.

By 2001 they released their first album and went on to produce Bollywood hits, including tracks in the 2011 Indo-Canadian film Speedy Singhs, as well as collaborations with mainstream artists like Snoop Dogg, T-Pain and Ludacris.

“[We were] pretty much at the top,” said Manj.

But their career ground to a halt when Kuly was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumour. Despite flying all over the U.S. for the best treatments available, Kuly, only 35-years-old, died in May 2012.

“We lost a huge part of the music — RDB is only RDB because of the music that me and Kuly made,” said Manj. “I didn’t really want to carry on doing RDB as myself, to take any sort of credit.”

“So after Kuly passed away, we kind of disappeared.”

It wasn’t until January that Manj officially launched his solo venture, Manj Musik, and this weekend marks his first time performing in Vancouver under the rebranded name as he takes the stage as the headline act at India Live, a cultural event Saturday afternoon on Granville Street.

While he’s already toured some of India, performed in the U.S. and Toronto as Manj Musik, deciding to rebrand himself as a solo artist wasn’t easy.

“It was a very, very tough decision,” said Manj. “It wasn’t a decision overnight — it was something that I had to be talking to Surj about for a long time.”

With RDB at the height of its career, Manj didn’t want to “demolish the brand by releasing music or doing things without Kuly around us now.”

“Anything that you’ve ever heard was me and Kuly,” Manj said. “People could point the finger and say that’s just not as good.”

“Do we really want to go through that whole process? Or should we lay it to rest in respect for Kuly and call RDB a legacy?”

So after mourning the loss of his big brother, Manj decided to put RDB behind him and “leave it as a legacy at the top.”

And when he finally started to develop Manj Musik, his first musical venture without Kuly, there were some challenges.

“I’ve always had that right hand man — that shoulder to lean on,” Manj said. “But things haven’t really changed much … because the original team is still with me.”

“And I’m still getting the love and affection from the fans.”

“The hardest thing is getting people to recognize me as Manj Musik … they still see me as RDB.”

But with the new moniker comes a new sound — a departure from the familiar folk and bhangra that often defined RDB.

“I’m completely experimenting,” said Manj, adding that while he still incorporates traditional bhangra sounds, he also throws in hip-hop and EDM. “I’m free to think about creative music in whichever way, shape, or form I want now.”

“It just gives me more options really … rather than just sticking to typical bhangra tracks [like] before, I’m opening up to a different audience altogether.”

Manj Musik quickly picked up steam as Manj maintained the relationships he built as RDB with Bollywood producers and American artists. Within less than a year of launching, he’s already landed a guest appearance and song in Dr. Cabbie, an upcoming movie produced by Salman Khan, and has plans to collaborate with artists like Sean Kingston, Redfoo from LMFAO and 50 Cent.

But as he moves on with his solo career, Manj will always look back fondly on the “huge family business” that was RDB.

“I’ll never forget those days,” said Manj. “We’d have a lot of fun in the studio, on stage and just travelling with Kuly would be hilarious.”

India Live, organized by Vancouver not-for-profit South Asian Family Association (SAFA), will also see live performances by Yasmina Dance Academy, Neelamjit Quartet, Now or Never Dance Crew and local artists like Lapis. The free event runs from noon to 8 p.m. along Granville Street between Georgia and Smithe, and also offers a range of cultural activities from yoga, cricket, bhangra and dhol lessons, sari and turban tying, roti making and Bollywood makeovers. For more information visit IndiaLive.ca.

lcahute@theprovince.com
twitter.com/larissacahute

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