Gwalior, 29 March 2015: Remixing the song with her signature dhol beats in a minute has never been a challenging task for her, that is why her playing dhol on Rihanna’s Rude Boy was regarded as the most watched dhol video in the world. In an interview with SouLSteer, world famous British Pakistani dhol player Rani Taj said “It doesn’t take long. I hear a beat, track and I know immediately that what I want to mix to that track. You put on any piece of music I will remix to it there and then. Bollywood needs to experience Rani Taj”. Source of amazement is that she is just 22 years old. Excerpts:
1. Greetings Rani Taj! Let’s get to know you a little bit here, and when you thought of taking dhol playing professionally?
I feel into dhol. Loved it from the moment I heard it being played passed me at the Vaisakhi Mela when I was nine. I went to this festival with my family and saw those colours of the dhol player’s uniform and the Dhamaaka of the Dhol left me thrilled.
2. Have you produced your dhol music albums? If not, then you only do stage shows?
I was studying at college before. I had to finish my A levels so I had a huge work load, playing the dhol, travelling all over the globe and then getting into college the next day and hand in papers. It was tough but I have done it. Now I can commit fully to my music. I have more energy now to work with the right producers and create that specific ‘Rani Taj’ sound.
3. Who are your biggest musical influences?
Gurdas Maan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Michael Jackson, Kishore Kumar, Helen the Bollywood dancer, ABBA, Hans Raj Hans, Damian Marley, Black Sabbath.
4. How long did it take you to create the dhol music for the track?
It doesn’t take long. I hear a beat, track and I know immediately that what I want to mix to that track. I don’t go looking for the music, the music finds me. It hits me. I could be anywhere. At college, on a plane. I heard a train going by once. A steam train and I mixed a beat to it as the train went by. The rhythm of its wheels gave me the base, the beat. It was great. I am spontaneous. I could do it right now. You put on any piece of music I will remix to it there and then.
5. What’s the most challenging thing you have to deal with while making the music?
One of the most challenging things has been to travel to and play at Shabaz Qalandar Darbar, in Sindh, Pakistan. We had to contend with the unbearable heat, the cultural differences, the basic and tough living conditions. I lived with the Sain on and off for three years. But this was the toughest part. There wasn’t clean running water or the comforts I was used to. Heat was forty-eight degrees in the shade. Even though we played in the night when it was little cooler, it was tough, really tough. Three people died on that mela that year from the heat. But it was a good education and stamina building exercise. You can’t just be physically tough in these conditions but mentally tough. But I am so proud that I had this experience. I would do it again because Qalandari dhol is my passion. Other peoples’ prejudice and fears. For example, the fact that I am a girl was a big issue in the beginning but now they get it. That it doesn’t really matter as long as you can do the job. Another challenge is to make sure that I deliver bigger and better than my last performance and leave a bigger trail of the Rani Taj magic and bigger and more smiles.
6. How you derive inspiration for the dhol music? Are you given concept art or descriptions? How does that process work?
Well this is where my first and ultimate Ustad comes in. She is a woman by the name of Frankie and she is my manager and mother. She has influenced me and is the most creative person I have ever met. She can pull out an amazing concept from anywhere. She may see something when we are travelling or driving, or she will jump out of bed in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea. Then I watch and learn from my environment, from different cultures. From Indian, Pakistani, British, American influences. I am blessed to travel and I never waste a moment. Every situation provides an opportunity to learn something new. I listen to music from all over the world and from as many eras as possible. Music has no boundaries and is a universal language. I surround myself in it. I have the best fans I could wish for. They keep me posted. I have had fans from India send me their dhol videos or local folk music. Pathans from Afghanistan send me their music, Africans, Arabs, Pakistanis, people from all over the world share their experiences and ask me to give my opinion. So they keep me updated and motivated and inspired.
7. How important are practising and instrumental technique for achieving your musical goals?
Practice is important. I used to practice like a machine until I was about nineteen. Now I play so much publically that I don’t need to practice unless it is something specifically new. I have to watch the amount of playing I do because it has an impact on my back and skeleton. So I have to rest my body as it will suffer from strain in the long term. But you must never stop learning.
8. How many minutes of music have you recorded so far?
Its difficult to quantify in minutes or hours. But just to give you an idea. I have played in public since I was ten years old. I am now twenty-one. So that is eleven years. I would confidently say that I have a lot of experience and in my short years have probably played more than some musicians do in a lifetime.
9. Tell us about your personal life? Your family business and your siblings?
Sorry I never discuss those personal areas of my life.
10. Have you visited India? Which places you have played in India?
I have not visited India yet. I love India and the Indian people. I have had two ustads since I was six. They are both Sikh Indian. So for this reason I have a special connection with India. One of my greatest ambitions is to come and play in this beautiful country which is also home to the Dhol. I have brilliant and many Indian fans not only in India but all over the world and they have given me the greatest support. I have fans from Delhi to Chandigarh. In fact when I was in Dubai recently on a quiet shopping trip two Indian fans were chasing me around the mall. They came over and were very excited to see me. They were from Delhi and were telling me how much they loved my music. It was great. I can’t wait to come to India.
11. Any offers from Bollywood?
I haven’t made myself available to Bollywood just yet. I was too young and had to get education done before and was absorbed in learning my art. But Bollywood needs to experience Rani Taj at some point soon.
12. How does one incorporate both sci-fi and traditional into a music?
I assume you are meaning how do you combine western and traditional folk music. Well I am both. I am a westerner and Asian. So I can think in both cultures. It comes naturally to me. I feel it, its not something i think about or plan, it just happens.
13. What’s your favourite memory while completing a project?
When the parent of a blind girl stopped me when I was about to go on stage at a big concert. He begged me wait for a while so his daughter could have photo. So I waited whilst he came back with a little girl of about nine years old. She was carrying her white stick and he stood her next to me and told her that she was standing next to Rani Taj whose Rude Boy remix she played so much that she drove her mad. That was beautiful. Something that will stay with me for a long time. The power of music.
14. Looking around your studio, what is the single most important piece of gear you couldn’t live without?
My dhol. The dhol I play is the original one I played the ‘Rude Boy Remix’ on. I love that dhol. I have four dhols but this one is my special companion.
15. Strange question, but which brand dhol do you use?
Only one brand for Rani Taj. That is the Gurcharan Mall Brand. You will see the Crown, his logo on my dhol in photos. That is a G.Mall Dhol. That is my ustad from childhood. He specially makes his dhols. I have always used his dhol and when I feel tired he will maintain them for too. Bless him. Thanks Uncle.
16. If you could bring back one Artist or Band from the past, who would it be?
That has to be Michael Jackson. He gave the world a new way in music and art. Completely unique and original. The world is a less richer place without him.
17. Can we see Rani singing or acting? Anything apart from Dhol playing.
Oh yes I am a very good bhangra dancer. My ustad taught the whole group when I was learning dhol. I will dance more and will use more vocals in my performances. How I will use them will be a surprise.
18. When are you planning do marry? Did you felt love anywhere in your life?
I am career girl. My dhol/music is very important to me. I devote all my time to it. So it wouldn’t be fair for me to have any relationship yet as I would be unable to give it the time it required. There is plenty of time for boys, marriage and children, my mum tells me. If I met the love of my life I dare say I would have a rethink. But it is not something I miss or want right now. I don’t believe the time is right. I am on a different journey to most people.
19. Can you reference a album or film that continues to influence your work today?
Many there is not just one. But any of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s albums.
20. What’s favourite music other than your own work?
Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, Old Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar Songs, Noor Jahan, Hip-Hop, Sufi Dhol, Bhangra and the list goes on…
21. To someone reading this interview, give our readers one important piece of advice if someone was looking to get into this side of the field.
Well to the girls I would say, when you are travelling you must wear a comfortable pair of shoes, lol. But on a serious note. I suppose it would be the same that most good artists would give. You have to be prepared to make sacrifices you believe you can’t make. Success doesn’t come overnight. Be prepared for disappointments. Practice, practice and practice some more. Get up when you fall no matter how hard it is, you have to get up again and keep going. Always respect your family, music and those who have supported you along the way such as your fans. Always try to have fun and a sense of humour. Try to enjoy every step.
22. What’s your favourite outfit?
My long ‘Matrix’ Jackets as I call them. They are the long Mandarin collar jackets you have recently seen me in. I have them especially made. I love to choose the colours and themes to fit into the music and mood of the next performance.
23. You are beautiful, what is the greatest and worst and best pick-up line you’ve heard?
I’ve yet to hear the best one. But the worst or cheesiest one is, ” I love you Rani Taj so much that I will be your air conditioner…” Lol, that one still makes break out into a smile.
24. What about favourite music/movies/actors?
Music I have mentioned and there are too many more. Movies, Fighting Temptations, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, World War Z, I am Legend, The Kite Runner, Annabelle, English Vinglish and the list goes on. Actors, Denzel Washington, Cuba Gooding Junior, Shah Rukh Khan, Sridevi, Tom Cruise, Anthony Hopkins and the list goes on.
25. Do you have some big goals in your life?
To play in India, Canada. To become a cultural ambassador for music around the world.
26. Can we know about show fees?
No, you will have to book me to find out… lol.
27. Tell us about your upcoming compositions?
Watch this space. Don’t want to reveal the surprise.
28. What’s your future planning for your career?
To produce my own music, to give Bollywood a bit of the Rani Taj magic, to teach and to set up music academies/foundations for young people in India and Pakistan, the main homes of Dhol.
29. Finally, give us one word that immediately comes to mind when we say “Rani Taj”.
I would just like to thank SouLSteer for their interest and support. I would also like to send out a big kiss and thank you to to all those on my musical journey, especially my fans…RANI TAJ….X.