SOCAN is on the scene at the 2024 edition of Canadian Music Week (CMW) conference, June 1-8, at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel on Toronto’s waterfront. Below is a summary of information gleaned from CMW panels on Wednesday, June 5.

Music sung in Punjabi has amassed more than three billion worldwide YouTube views annually; artists like Karan Aujla and AP Dhillon are leading streaming charts worldwide (Aujla is close to a billion); and Punjabi is the second most-streamed language in Canada – even more than French.

To take a look at the phenomenon, Gagan Singh, SOCAN Creative Executive, Film/TV & Visual Media, moderated a CMW panel, The Rise of Punjabi Music on the World Stage. The panelists were Baldeep Randhawa, Talent Buyer/Promoter, Live Nation; Charlie B, Director of A&R, Warner Music Canada; and artist manager Jashima Wadehra, Founder, Ode Consulting.

To kick things off, and demonstrate the rise of Punjabi music, Singh played a short melody on the small, single-string tumbi, a traditional folk instrument. It was the hook from “Beware Of The Boys (Mundian To Bach Ke)” – originally sampled on a song by Labh Janjua; remixed by Panjabi MC in 1998; then remixed again in 2003 by Jay-Z, ultimately selling 10 million copies worldwide.

All of the participants were quick to point out that Punjabi is a language, not a style of music, and that it encompasses all genres, from folk to pop to R&B to rap – though the latter two categories are the ones breaking through at the moment. “The emergence of Punjabi rap changed everything” said Baldeep Randhawa, “It’s become the trendsetter now, and it all came from Canada.”

Randhawa discussed how, from one generation to the next, music sung in Punjabi has graduated from being performed live in small venues and banquet halls to Diljit Dosanjh selling out 50,000-seat stadiums like Rogers Centre in Toronto, and similar-sized venues across North America. “ I made sure everyone in the music industry was in the room [for those shows],” said Randhawa, of these first Punjabi performances in such huge North American venues. “Then I repeated it with AP Dhillon,” and successfully  in secondary markets like Halifax, Houston, and Florida.

Charlie B said that initially, there was no real infrastructure for Punjabi music to scale up, but added that the success of Karan Aujla has opened doors. He also pointed out that the widespread, mainstream success of Latin music, sung in Spanish, has proven that people can accept music performed in a language other than their own. B cited musician and producer Ikky (Ikwinder Singh) – who has his own label, 4N, distributed by Warner Music Canada – for collaborating with other producers, who work in different genres, to expand the range of Punjabi music.

Jashima Wadehra said that while major music industry players are hiring South Asian individuals to work Punjabi music, “the  markets we’re serving require full teams… We need the opportunity to gain equity and ownership.” Wadehra suggested that knowledge sharing and mentorship are instrumental in that process. She said Punjabi music isn’t a monolith, and that artists who sing in the language need to be treated individually, across all genres.