In April this year, Diljit Dosanjh achieved his life’s dream; something that he had dreamt about since his early days as a singer. He made history as the first Sikh artiste to perform at the iconic ‘Coachella Music Festival’ in California. “For years, I have been watching videos of singers from around the world performing at Coachella,” the singer says, “So performing there was one of the top items on my bucket list, and I am glad I have been able to finally fulfil my dream.”
The performance, which grabbed headlines around the world, comes at a time when Punjabi music, particularly rap, is taking on a more international flavour, helped along by the Indian diaspora around the world and, of course, by skilled musicians, particularly from North America. His latest album Ghost, he says, was mostly recorded in Vancouver, with some songs composed in Toronto and Los Angeles. Also, he is currently on the Australia-New Zealand leg of his ‘Born to Shine’ world tour, which has already seen him perform at multiple venues in Canada and the US. “I am constantly on tour these days,” Diljit says, “Only my tour manager would be able to tell you where I will be next week.”
All this is quite an achievement for a village kid born in Dosanjh Kalan in Punjab’s Jalandhar district. Little did anybody know that this musical prodigy, who spent his early years playing ‘Kirtan’ (Sikh holy music) at local Gurudwaras, would eventually go on to become a torch bearer for Punjabi music around the world with hits like ‘Lover’ and ‘Proper Patola’.
Diljit began his Coachella set in April this year by proclaiming, “Punjabi aa gaye Coachella oye,” (Punjabis have arrived in Coachella)—a moment that went viral on social media in no time. He followed it up with a memorable performance of ‘Patiala Peg’. Soon after, in an interview with ABP Sanjha, Diljit revealed how important the Coachella set was for the Sikh community. “Almost 10 days ago, someone asked me, ‘Do you realise this is going to be a historic moment?’ ‘I know; no one has been there before,’ I answered. ‘No, for the first time, someone will talk in Punjabi on stage,’ said the individual, ‘I did not think of it’,” I said. The performance has been seen by many as a landmark moment for Indian music, and videos of entertainers such as Diplo and Lily Singh dancing to Diljit’s set were social media talking points for days after.
Diljit acknowledged his enthusiasm for Diplo’s appearance at his performance. “Unhone bhangra paya ji,” the ‘icon’ singer exclaimed, adding, “After the performance, I went to his [Diplo’s] house and recorded a song for free with him. It was a gift for him.” Diljit says he would “collaborate with anyone as long as the vibe matches”. “I don’t care if it’s a big artiste or an entry- level musician; it’s a matter of vibe to me.”
Coachella was a big moment for Diljit’s career. He has since been spending a vast amount of his time in North America, particularly Los Angeles. “I’ve been composing and shooting music videos here,” he says. The singer has been spotted around the city, hanging out with international musicians like Saweetie, A Boodie Wit Da Hoodie, NLE Choppa, Sia, and Camilo. Ghost, which was released last month, was recorded there. It features 22 songs and verses from Thiara, Hrmnn, and rapper Sultaan Dhillon, among others. The album does not include lyrics from overseas artistes, but the singer has confirmed that new songs in partnership with American musicians will be released shortly. “Coming soon ji,” he told Man’s World.
Though singing, he says, will always be his first love, his successful acting career, has over the last decade transformed him, arguably, into India’s most successful actor-singer in more than a generation. One must go back to the times of geniuses like Kishore Kumar and K L Saigal to find someone who was equally successful at both the arts. The 39-year-old has appeared in more than 40 movies to date, including Punjab 1984, Jihne Mera Dil Luteya, Sajjan Singh Rangroot, Jogi, and 2016’s Udta Punjab—Diljit’s big Bollywood break—which chronicled Punjab’s drug crisis to much acclaim. In the film, Diljit played the part of Sartaaj, a cop, opposite Kareena Kapoor Khan, a doctor, with a narrative tied to Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt’s characters. Diljit received the ‘Filmfare Award for Best Male Debut’ for his performance, which was followed by a run of blockbusters like Phillauri, Soorma and Good Newwz.
Diljit’s new film The Crew, is scheduled for release in 2024 and stars Tabu, Kareena Kapoor, and Kriti Sanon. Next year, he will also be seen in the music biopic Amar Singh Chamkila, based on the life of the Punjabi folk singer. The much-anticipated film, directed by Imtiaz Ali, will be released on Netflix. “When Imtiaz sir offered me a film, I had no reason to say no,” Diljit says. “Plus, his 2011 film Rockstar is my favourite movie of all time, so it was an absolute honour to work with him.”
The singer, however, is certain that acting would never be his primary focus. He hates the amount of time spent on networking to be considered for a decent role. During an interview with Film Companion, Diljit said, “I can’t do networking, I can’t attend parties, and I can’t call people up every day. I have seen actors video-call their producers six times from the sets! They tell them, ‘We are doing this, now doing that’. Main kaha hadd ho gayi (I think this is too much). I can’t do this.” And he told Man’s World, “I love acting. It’s something that I love to do, but only when I am not involved with my singing career, and when someone calls me with an interesting role. Like in the case of The Crew, they called me and said that it was a special appearance involving shooting for a week. I was on my way abroad but had a week to spare. So, I took it up.”
He reiterates that nothing is more important for him than making music. “It is not just Bollywood. Nothing, besides music, is a high priority for me,” Diljit said. “Music will always be my first love.” He hasn’t looked back since achieving national recognition with the 2008 album Chocolate, followed by The Next Level 2009 in The Next Level 2009 in with Yo Yo Honey Singh. In 2020, he hit the Billboard’s ‘Social 50’ list with the release of his 11th studio album, G.O.A.T. MoonChild Era. His next album, also made it to the Billboard Canada Albums Chart. It is not surprising then that he is one of the few Indian singers who sells out stadiums and arenas around the world. He was only the second Punjabi musician to sell out Wembley Arena, following Gurdas Mann.
One big aspect of Diljit’s public persona has always been his personal style. “Style is an essential part of a musician’s life,” he says, “Music and fashion are interconnected”. In previous interviews, the artiste admitted that he spends a lot on clothes and shoes. “Now that I have access and money, I spend all of it on clothes and shoes,” Diljit told Vogue India in 2019. “I have no other pursuits. I don’t drink or smoke. I live on producers’ money. Everything in my life Dis taken care of. I don’t see a better way of spending my money.” But he tells Man’s World that unlike what people think, he does not have a large wardrobe or a big collection of sneakers. “I keep giving away my clothes and shoes to my fans, so I have to keep shopping for more.”
Diljit is famously known for fusing Punjabi couture with the edginess of urban streetwear, like a traditional kurta with a bomber jacket. He has also been seen wearing traditional Punjabi jutties with fancy suits. Most recently, Diljit shot the video of his new track ‘Feel My Love‘ in a custom outfit designed by Celine. For days following the release of his video, the artiste’s appearance and style were a trending hot topic on Twitter. As for his stage clothes, he says he prefers them made by tailors back home. “Till date, local tailors in my hometown of Ludhiana stitch my stage outfits,” the artiste confessed. “I don’t care if I’m wearing Louis Vuitton or Gucci; my original stage looks and kurta chadra is manufactured in Ludhiana ji.”
His global success notwithstanding, what makes him instantly likeable is his humility and down-to-earth style. He is not shy about admitting that he is not fluent in English. “Ek hi kami hai mere mein bas, mujhe English nai aati. Ye ho jati to main aur successful hota life mein (I have only one weakness, my lack of fluency in the English language. If I knew English better, I would have been more successful),” he told an interviewer a few years ago. For many it was a surprising statement coming from someone who is already a global star, and who has contributed so much towards making Punjabi music an international phenomenon.
Photographer: Colston Julian
Creative Director: Kapil Batus
Styled Exclusively in Louis Vuitton FW 2023
Shot on location in Los Angeles