The first song Ikwinder Singh produced, Gurnam Bhullar's Diamond from 2018, has notched more than 500 million views on YouTube, while other tracks by big-time Punjabi musicians he has worked with since have collected another 500 million online streams.
But Singh, who grew up in Toronto’s Rexdale neighbourhood and is popularly known as Ikky, is not satisfied.
“Growing up in the city, you have a little bit of everything. You have all sorts of culture, all sorts of diversity, and I'm at that stage now where I did well in India and it's me trying to cross over to this side of the world,” he said in a video interview.
(Other tracks Singh has produced include Difference by Amrit Maan, Bambiha Bole by Amrit Maan and Sidhu Moose Wala, and Yeah Baby by Garry Sandhu.)
Singh and his management company Coalition Music have secured some help in this regard, teaming up last year with Warner Music in Canada and India to boost his imprint, 4N Records (pronounced like foreign), which released its first song last May.
The deal means Warner will fund Singh and 4N’s efforts to find and sign artists working in Punjabi hip-hop, pop and Bhangra music and help them create songs that appeal to both a core audience in India and the Punjabi diaspora and others around the world.
“That’s like my way to globalize this language, music and everything coming out of Punjab,” he says, referring to the Sikh-majority region that straddles India and Pakistan.
He cites a Jay-Z remix of the 2002 Panjabi MC song Beware of the Boys (Mundian To Bach Ke) as proof that a hybrid style can achieve widespread commercial and critical success.
Ikky Singh and his management company Coalition Music have secured some help in this regard, teaming up last year with Warner Music in Canada and India to boost his imprint, 4N Records.
“That was solid proof 20 years ago that this was something, that the bridge between East and West could work,” Singh said.
The deal with Warner also allows artists to get a bigger share of any commercial success, with a royalty-sharing agreement that is unusual in an industry where labels typically pay artists and producers upfront and keep the royalties.
The young producer says he would most relish the opportunity to collaborate with Toronto hip-hop star Drake — someone he looks up to for his business acumen and ability to integrate various musical styles (most noticeably dancehall and other Caribbean styles) into his work.
“You want to have growth for the rest of your career, you don't want to hit a peak and then come back down,” he said. “You want to grow every year. And I think that should not only be for an artist but for the industry, that every year this (Punjabi music) industry grows more and more.”
Singh says Toronto is a logical place to build up the scene outside of India, as it and Vancouver host most of Canada’s significant diaspora population.
But while the outside view he brings has helped make the tracks he works on more modern and international, Singh says diaspora artists still find it difficult to break into the market.
“I personally think it's that we have maybe even one per cent of an accent that isn't completely Punjabi, that might not resonate with everybody,” he said.
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer