Ikwinder Singh remembers the last thing Sidhu Moose Wala said to him.
“I’m excited to come see you.”
The Canadian artist and music producer, also known as Ikky, says the pair had made plans to meet up in Toronto. Days later, Moose Wala was killed.
“We would FaceTime all the time…. It was unsettling that you could talk to someone just a few days ago and then see it go down like this.”
Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, known by his stage name Sidhu Moose Wala, was shot dead in Punjab last weekend, according to police in the Indian state. He was 28.
Sidhu was born in Moosa, a village in the Mansa district of Punjab, India, in 1993. After receiving an electrical engineering degree in 2016, he moved to Brampton, Ont., to later find success as a rapper.
He was renowned for his ability to combine classic Punjabi music with modern rap and hip hop in a way that resonated with fans throughout the Punjabi diaspora.
“He was so ambitious about what he wanted to do and there was no way he wasn’t going to make it to the top,” Singh said.
Opening doos for Punjabi artists
Singh, 21, befriended Sidhu before his rise to stardom, bonding over their love of music. Singh has worked with Sidhu to produce his track 22 22, and the hit song Bambiha Bole.
Singh says it was Sidhu’s ability to blend Punjabi and North American culture and music together that set him apart — and “opened the door” for other Punjabi artists to progress into the mainstream.
Sidhu tackled several social issues facing the Punjabi community, including a song about the widespread farmers’ protests in India of 2020.
WATCH | Sidhu Moose Wala’s hit song Bambiha Bole:
He has performed to sold-out crowds in Winnipeg and Toronto, and was also an iconic figure in Surrey, B.C. — home to Canada’s second-largest South Asian population.
Through his rich, soul-filled melodies, and his socially conscious and sometimes politically charged lyrics, he gave the youth of the Punjabi diaspora a new way to connect to their roots.
His music videos frequently garnered millions of views in a short span of time and featured slick production and camera work. His 2018 song, Its All About You, was the most-watched YouTube video on Valentine’s Day in 2018.
The rapper has more than four million monthly listeners on Spotify and millions of views on YouTube, with some songs reaching the top 100 YouTube song charts in Canada.
He frequently collaborated with other Canadian artists, including Sunny Malton and AR Paisley.
Providing cultural clarity
But for some, Sidhu’s music provided an opportunity of another kind.
Harpo Mander, a second-generation Canadian, says she grew up feeling either too brown in some spaces or too white in others.
Today, she’s the general manager of the 5X Fest, an annual Surrey-based music and art festival for South Asian youth.
Mander says Sidhu’s music helped her to “merge different identities” of her daily life.
“He was one of the first artists to speak to all the different elements of our identity.”
Mander says the representation that Sidhu provided for Punjabi kids in Canada cannot be understated.
“There’s something so special about seeing people that look like you and sound like you and have grown up in similar environments as you.”
‘I’m Punjabi and I’m proud of it’
Sidhu showed Punjabi kids “the possibilities of what we can do,” said Mander.
Singh echoes this sentiment, noting that Sidhu broke down barriers and took risks for his community.
“He paved the way for a lot of kids to say ‘I’m Punjabi and I’m proud of it.'”
“He was a voice for the culture,” said Singh.
A part of his culture that Singh says Sidhu helped to normalize is the turban.
“Most people that are huge in this industry don’t have turbans … but he always wore his.”
Singh says he’s proud to wear his turban because of Sidhu.
“People ask about the turban and that’s where people educate other people, and that’s the type of mind Sidhu had…. He wanted to promote the one thing that make Punjabi people stand out, which is their turban.”
“He helped the Punjabi community to be so much more proud of themselves.”
Mourning while moving forward
While both Singh and Mander continue to mourn, they say it’s important that the South Asian community in Canada continues to do the type of work Sidhu excelled at.
“Everybody is so distraught and so upset, but I think that’s going to push people to step into their art a little more freely and passionately,” said Mander.
For Singh, his work as a producer will be continuing to grow the awareness Sidhu had been working toward: using music as a tool that can educate the next generation.
“It’s even more important for me to carry the culture,” said Singh.
“Especially with Sidhu passing away, we’ve got a responsibility to make sure his legacy and this language that he was a part of doesn’t die.”
Despite his untimely death, the beautiful thing about Sidhu’s art and what he brought to the world, says Mander, is that it carries on.
“We’re only here for a limited time but our art lives on forever.”
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