When asked to recall our first tryst with Hindi rap, the first name that comes to mind is Baba Sehgal’s. Dubbed the first Indian rapper, Baba Sehgal is credited with introducing the masses to the genre. Even now, with the coronavirus pandemic, he has been releasing songs around the importance of washing hands and wearing masks, following social distancing and so forth. His tunes are catchy, music peppy and lyrics relatable.
“We are so fond of watching misery that whenever an accident or a disaster happens, we get in this mode of creating a noise around it and making hashtags to stay in the limelight. There are so many instances where people film accidents. No one takes any action. I believe in doing, and turning any negative into positive,” says the Thanda Thanda Pani (1992) hitmaker.
His deeds are not restricted to creating a buzz on social media; he believes in performing sewa at gurudwaras. “Earlier, I would donate money to charities, but found that there is no accountability for it. Why are people still suffering if so many donations are pouring in? I don’t want to issue a cheque just to put it on social media; I never bothered about this kind of stuff,” he says, adding, “I am a gurudwara man. I serve through the sewa by making food packets and giving ration for langar.”
He has a degree in engineering and a love for technology. Combined with his flair for poetry and music, it was not difficult for Sehgal to produce and release songs from home under lockdown. “I have a setup at home and do everything on my laptop. There’s a green screen (for making videos) so I don’t have to go out actually,” he says.
Born Harjeet Singh Sehgal in a middle-class family in Lucknow, Sehgal took on the name Baba when his work started getting noticed. His family would address him as Babbu, a pet name that eventually led to his stage name. “I realised that Harjeet Singh Sehgal was too long a name for anyone to remember. So when Thanda Thanda Paani released, I used Baba Sehgal to make it catchy and add a star value. When my mother showed the cassette to my father, he asked who is this Baba Sehgal? She told him this is your son,” he laughs.
The 54-year old artiste, who dominated the screens and the indie music space in the 90s, has been very mindful of the language of his content. He has often raised the issue of rap songs with A-rated language, and mentions of drugs and violence. “My poetry is very simple, devoid of any abusive language. I keep my content clean and relevant,” he says.
In addition to being active on social media platforms, Sehgal has a website where fans can subscribe to get premium access to him and his work. He has also dedicated a page to save the girl child on the website, in addition to talking about conservation. How does he pack so much in a day’s work? He is modest in his reply: “It comes naturally to me. Ek shauq bhi hai, passion bhi. I love keeping myself busy.”
But with great star value comes great trolling. Sharing his calmness mantra, he says he takes it in his stride, believing that criticism is an important part of an artiste’s work. While he makes sure to reply to as many fans as he can, he blocks the hate-mongers. “There are two types of trolling — one is hatred, the other is fun. I choose to focus on my work, and block accounts that tend to get abusive even if it means removing a thousand followers,” he says.
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