From Prairies to Bollywood: Document deal reveals energy of TikTok to get various artists observed
Last year, a 25-year-old rapper, producer, and musician from Canada checked out one of his remixes on YouTube. In the comments someone had written, “As if you were coming from TikTok.”
Surprised and confused, Hitesh Sharma went to the social media app. He discovered that one of his remixes had been used in 500,000 user videos.
“I didn’t advertise it. It just happened spontaneously,” said Sharma, who goes by the stage name Tesher.
Sharma’s remix of Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ Old Town Road starring Ramta Jogi from the Bollywood film Taal had gone viral.
That led people to discover his catalog, including Young Shahrukh, a song inspired by Shah Rukh Khan, the Indian actor best known as the king of Bollywood. Sharma had written, tapped, and produced the song on a whim in his Toronto apartment alone.
“People used it to do makeup tutorials, dance videos … They showed off their outfits. They did game assemblies – you name it. It was all over the platform,” Sharma said.
Soon, Young Shahrukh had roughly a million views on YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify.
At this point, Sony Music India called. It released Young Shahrukh on the label. It was Sharma’s first major record and ranked number one on the BBC Asian Music Chart.
As of March, Young Shahrukh has over 20 million views on YouTube.
Sharma is part of a wave of up-and-coming South Asian Canadian musicians who are not only inspired by Bollywood, but a mix of musical styles brought about by their upbringing, location and Western influences. He is also one of several musicians who have received widespread attention and success from TikTok as the app helps artists from diverse cultural and musical backgrounds break into the mainstream.
CLOCK | Musician Tesher explains how he made his hit Young Shahrukh:
Sharma’s love for remixes that play with Bollywood began at a young age.
In Regina, where he grew up and currently lives during the pandemic, he started performing in front of an audience at the age of 12. Sharma’s father, a videographer, recorded weddings, birthdays, and parties for members of the city’s South Asian community and recommended that his son do the DJing.
“That kind of thing got me even more into the zone where I was trying to find a way to not only appease the Indian crowd, but also to interfere with the music I listen to and appeal to people who like that grew up here, like me, with music that is popular in the western world. “
Hitesh Sharma grew up in a musical home that he says shaped who he is today. (Submitted by Hitesh Sharma)
Sharma grew up listening to music from Bollywood and Punjabi Bhangra to Kanye West and Jay-Z to country music by artists such as Eric Church, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton.
“And all of these influences came together to shape the kind of music I make.”
The music of Slumdog Millionaire, which won the Oscar and the Golden Globe for best score in 2009, mixed electronic beats and South Asian music and is considered a milestone in achieving western notoriety for Indian music. ((Ishika Mohan / Fox Searchlight))
World music on the western stage
The term “world music” has long been used to denote almost anything that did not come from a British or North American musical tradition.
“But now things have changed,” said Sharma.
“Because we’ve heard so much now, in 2021, it’s time to borrow from other cultures and other influences, and I think that’s natural. This is how music evolves.”
Sathish Bala, CEO and founder of DesiFest, an annual South Asian music festival in Toronto, points to an important cultural milestone in 2009 Film Slumdog Millionaire.
“When it came out, it had a very interesting soundtrack that nobody was used to: the mix of EDM and hip-hop beats in South Asian music.”
Sathish Bala is the CEO and founder of DesiFest, Canada’s largest South Asian outdoor music festival. (Sathish Bala / Facebook)
“We started to see those little moments of seeing into what our culture sees as inspiration,” said Bala. “But there is no blueprint. The South Asian independent art scene in North America is … very young.”
DesiFest is now entering its fifteenth year and has grown by leaps and bounds alongside Canada’s list of South Asian musicians.
“It’s only been in the last 10 years that we’ve seen the rise of independent artists, people creating content that wasn’t for them [Bollywood] Movies, “said Bala.
TikTok also helps make South Asian musicians known.
“The algorithm is definitely a bit of a mystery, but anyone can go viral on this platform right now, and that’s definitely a benefit. Everyone is looking at this screen too,” Sharma said.
Platforms like YouTube and Instagram are filled with accounts with massive followers and brand partnerships. This can make it difficult for lesser-known artists to assert themselves, Sharma said.
But TikTok is still relatively new.
“I think the advantage of TikTok is that it’s kind of a wild, wild west right now. There are fewer barriers to entry,” Sharma said.
Like Sharma, so is the South Asian-Canadian musician Jonita Gandhi The professional music career started online.
Gandhi, who now lives in Bombay, India, began making YouTube cover songs at the age of 17 in collaboration with the American composer Aakash Gandhi. The videos quickly went viral.
“I think doing that was kind of a novel for me at the time because there weren’t that many South Asians posting content on YouTube,” Gandhi said.
“It served like a demo role.”
Gandhi grew up and lived in the greater Toronto area until her success on the platform caught the attention of Bollywood. She then moved to India and embarked on a career as a playback singer, a performer whose singing was recorded for use in Bollywood films.
Since then, Gandhi has worked with greats like AR Rahman, the Oscar and Grammy winning composer and musician who is perhaps best known in North America for his score for Slumdog Millionaire.
“Because I grew up in Canada, I feel like I have a unique perspective and many different musical influences that I am now trying to combine in my music to represent someone who is not only Indian but also Indo-Canadian “said Gandhi.
Jonita Gandhi, who now lives in Mumbai, India, began making YouTube cover songs at the age of 17 in collaboration with the American composer Aakash Gandhi. The videos quickly went viral. (Submitted by Akanksha Namdeo)
She recently went to a party where friends raved about Tesher – and that he was Canadian.
“And I said, ‘Yeah! I’m so happy! Represent!’ I feel like we’re taking over. “
A year after his initial success with Young Shahrukh, Sharma is working hard on what’s next – something he is currently unwilling to reveal.
He is confident that Indian languages and South Asian musical influences will break into the western pop music charts.
“Spanish music plays a huge role because they have the co-signs of artists like Cardi B and Justin Bieber. They come and give her her voice and help encourage her,” Sharma said.
“I’m not saying we need a non-South Asian artist to encourage South Asian music to make it mainstream, but I think we’re just waiting … and I know we’ll hit the point where our music is played along with an Ed Sheeran record or a Drake record. “
By March 2021, Tesher’s song Young Shahrukh had over 20 million views on YouTube. (Tesher / Facebook)
Like Sharma, Gandhi believes that “ethnic Indian music” has mainstream musical potential.
“There are so many more artists of Indian descent or with Indian musical backgrounds now, crossing over or working with people from different genres … And I think that has always been a goal of mine to erase those lines because it’s all just Music is. “
Gandhi sings in more than 10 Indian languages. She doesn’t speak all languages but feels that the inclusion in her lyrics connects her with a wide audience. She dreams of having a song in Punjabi or Hindi to gain a foothold in the mainstream.
“The world is getting so small in a good way … I’m just waiting for it. I have a feeling it’s going to happen.”