Taking British Asian music to new heights

2022 continues to deliver massive blows to the Indian music industry by taking away some amazing talent. If losing legends like Lata Mangeshkar and Bappi Lahiri this year wasn’t enough, the most recent blow has crossed borders and taken down one of British Asian fusion music’s greatest pioneers. Tarsame Singh Saini aka Taz aka Stereo Nation aka Johnny Zee is no more, losing a long battle with poor health on the 29thand April 2022. Suffering from a hernia, Taz suffered liver failure and could not be revived from a coma according to recent reports. The man was just 54 and had a career spanning over 40 years in the Asian music scene, from the UK underground to mainstream Bollywood, with one of the biggest portfolios of hits of any Asian artist. British.

What seems to be the current trend of mixing Indian/Bollywood music with Latin, Middle Eastern or African music was something Taz was already doing in the 90s. Afro beats, Bashment, Reggae are the latest trends and addictions of the club scene, but it was Taz and Apache Indian who combined these styles of music with their British Asian influence in the 90s to create a whole new sound that took the world by storm.

He is perhaps the only British Asian artist who can sing in English and Punjabi with his brit desi roots but also in perfect Hindi without an accent. This aspect helped make him a major hit in the mainstream world of Bollywood music. Using his Anglo-Asian heritage and the huge reggae influence in the Midlands in the 90s, Taz pioneered the Afro-Jabi sound which started the trend of Asian fusion, a sound which evolved through the ages encompassing various cultures.

Along with his great Hindi skills, the man truly had a unique voice that even today cannot be confused with anyone else. There was never a case where even someone imitated his style as Taz really had a clearly differentiated style and tone in his singing which helped him leave a lasting mark on the music industry.

With 17 albums in his prolific career, Taz impressed audiences right from his debut album. ‘Hit the Deck’ released in 1989 and songs like Disco Di Rani, Ghera Dede, Ho Gayi Kuri Kharab and Hoon Ta Main Nachna were instant hits. The album was groundbreaking and truly iconic for the UK Asian music scene at the time, keeping the album at the top of the UK Asian charts for 36 weeks! He mixed Punjabi with pop and disco sounds at the time, which gave the album wide appeal among the Asian masses.

The albums continued to roll out every year, with Taz being the hot property of the Asian scene and dominating the evolution of the Punjabi music scene towards more urban, hip-hop and pop cultures. Strokes like Yaar Nach La from ‘Back to My Roots’ (1992), At the sea from ‘From Me to You’ (1993), Larl Larl Boleeyan from ‘Spirits of Rhythm’ (1994), Ishq from ‘New Dawn’ (1995) were all great tunes. “Spirits of Rhythm” was a massive album that even became popular in the Indian subcontinent and heralded Taz’s arrival on the international scene.

The consistency Taz was able to deliver by releasing an album each year loaded with hit numbers was pretty incredible for the time. Leaving Punjabi Larl Larl Boleeyan for I waited with a reggae twist was a piece of genius that hit Taz in the mid-90s, changing the trajectory of his career. His next album ‘Jambo’ (1998) was truly iconic for the Afrojabi genre. It was also the time when this influence stood out between Apache Indian and Taz to take Asian-Jamaican fusion to new heights. It’s the kind of stuff never heard in the Indian mass market before and instantly became a sensation. songs like Oh Carol and hambo are the great hits of this album. Taz delivered Hindi in Oh Carol and it was his entry into the Indian mass market, making him a household name. He even had something for his British-African fans with his version of DAYO (The Banana Boat Song) which had its unique touch with added sitar sounds.

‘Nasha’ (1999) delivered one of his greatest Punjabi songs to date titled Gawandiyaa (Apna Sanjeet) and the video was one of the most played songs at the time on Channel [V] and MTV India at that time. The song had a killer beat and tempo that worked like a charm on every dance floor.

Her new found success with Hindi fusion inspired her next album and it was her biggest hit to date. ‘Slave II Fusion’ (2000) made Taz Stereo Nation a household name across India. Nachangeh Sari Raath was and remains a timeless hit that even plays in remixed forms at desi parties around the world. The song has been remixed, redone many times including Meet Bros Anjjan in the movie ‘Junooniyat’ (2016) starring Yami Gautam & Pulkit Samrat. Pyar Ho Gaya and the romantic Galan Gooriian were other big numbers on the album.

This album allowed him to enter Bollywood singing an original Daroo Vich Pyar in the movie ‘Tum Bin’ (2001). It was yet another huge hit for him to music by TS Jarnail. The film itself did very well at the box office and with him in the video within the film itself marked the arrival of Taz the pop star on the booming Indian pop scene at that time. He released his Indian pop album ‘Taz-Mania’ (2002) accordingly with the opening track Ishq become an instant hit. A seductive video and a very groovy disco beat helped make it a rage. He even collaborated with Anuradha Paudhwal on this album but none of the other songs clicked with the audience making it a hit album.

Now an established name in Bollywood, Taz got his biggest opportunity with Rakesh Roshan to voice Hrithik Roshan in the movie ‘Koi.. Mil Gaya’ (2003). It is magic was by far Taz’s biggest hit of his career! Her voice and singing style was perfectly suited to the setting of the song and the character that this dance number really rocked the audience. It was the peak of his career and the culmination of success. Taz has spent years since doing live gigs, performing on stage with his huge portfolio of massive hits.

Taz has featured in my film soundtracks including ‘Race’ (2008), Gurinder Chadha’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Afterlife’ (2010), ‘Guest iin London’ (2017) and most recently in ‘Batla House’ (2019 ) with the remake of Galan Gooriian with Dhvani Bhanushali.

His subsequent albums failed to deliver him any major successes. ‘Jawani on the Rocks’ (2008), ‘Twist & Shout’ (2010) and ‘Desi & U know it’ (2012) were lost in the changing sound and evolution of the music scene. He even attempted to revive his career with a collab called TAB by British Asian biggies Taz, Apache Indian and Bally Sagoo but the song pretty baby was a hit that doesn’t connect with anyone. Punjabi music along with Indo-Jamaican rap and techno music aimed at the Indian masses had a bit too much momentum for this to work.

His most recent work published during the pandemic is titled Magnificent featuring Ji-Madz and it was a pretty decent song but definitely not one of his best works he will remember. But Taz left behind a huge legacy as a game-changer and trailblazer who took British Asian music onto the international stage. A great singer with a unique voice and a humble good person who will be remembered as. TO TEAR!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

Lyle L. Maltby