The Power of Shaktee..
We are back after a hiatus over the summer where we got carried away with the “its coming home” hype, and I finally got over the ending of the Avengers Infinity War. This week’s flashback is about Shaktee and their second album “Powered up”.
Shaktee had released their debut album “Chacklo” back in 1988 on the EMI label. The album was dedicated to Tarlochan Singh Dale who was a musician for the band. At that time Shaktee were fronted by Dara on the vocals. The title track “Chacklo” and “Nach sambhal sambhal ke” were the stand out tracks. The boys must have been relatively happy with their debut outing.
3 years later the group returned, this time with an additional vocalist – Mikki, new keyboard player and the man that produced the album – Amar Nagi (we will talk later about this talent), a record label – Birmingham based OSA. The album was Powered Up.. I don’t remember much hype in the run up to this release in 1991, and expectations from the bhangra audience were probably not that high to be fair after a decent but nothing spectacular debut album. Boy did they blow up the scene with their second outing though. My cousin bought the cassette and told me to have a listen as he thought it was “baaaaad”, initially I turned my nose up thinking it would be average, but one listen to this album on my Sony stereo and I was a believer. The album was yet another nail in the coffin for team London, as the midlands were now comprehensively beating them into submission.
So lets kick off this review of the 8 track super hit album “Powered Up” – Track 1 is “Gidhea Vitch”, and you immediately after the “yo give me something to dance to” intro realise how crisp and polished the production is. Dara is on the vocals for this track, and I noticed when comparing his vocals to the “Chaklo” album that he certainly had seemed to have matured vocally over the past 3 years. Amar’s production skills are top notch, and this is a terrific start to the album. The beats were western and struck a chord with me.
Dara introduces us to shaktee da dhol next up, and this is a typical fast paced track for the party scene back in those days. Once again Amar gives a fresh and vibrant feel to this track. Dara’s vocals seem to also be perfect for the dance number.
Now lets move on to perhaps the track of the album the monster “Gora Gora Rang” and we get our first chance to listen to Mikki. This track took the scene by storm back in the day, people went crazy for this track. Amar is at his best in terms of production, and Mikki makes a solid impression vocally too. If you didn’t dig this track back in the day, there was something wrong with you. Interestingly Dara co-wrote the song with fellow band member Parem, but didn’t sing it.
Shaktee and Dara slow it right down next with “Pyaar (special mix)” – one for the 24/7 senti crew me thinks. Not my cup of chaa personally but I’m sure there’s some fans of this track out there. This slow romantic number brings a close to side A.
Side B starts with both Dara and Mikki on “Aaa Nachiye” for a quick paced dance number. This was another firm favourite with fans. Even now the production sounds crisp and you’d never see it as being dated or stale.
“Laal Vanga” brings Dara back on a solo mission with his own penned track. In terms of production and arrangement once again Amar follows the formula he developed and delivers the goods
Next up we have the traditional “Lus Lus” – now the lyrics although traditional are controversial and I’m sure if you stuck this on with your strict baba or bibi around they’d chuck a chappal across the room along with “ahh ki bakwaas laaya ya, band kar enhu”. At the time I probably didn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics, but now listening back it is quite uncomfortable to listen to. But let’s not take anything away from the vocals and production as they were top notch and they’ve delivered.
The boys finish things with the requirement of the day – “Boliyan”. We know every album from that era had to have boliyan as it gave them a chance to showcase a boliyaan track an audition for a wedding booking. The boliyaan are given a uk flavour thanks to the duo vocalists and Amar’s production. Who can forget the “Kand tapke gulabi phull kehn tohreya” line from this track.
Shaktee seemed to have ticked the majority of the boxes with this album. I’m not sure of the album sales figures but I’m sure this will be up there with the best of them. The album took the scene by storm, this was another uk based band who knew what the youth wanted at the time.
Shaktee jumped from OSA to Nachural Records and released the follow up to Powered up in 1994. It was eagerly awaited, probably one of the most anticipated albums of that time. Fans may have expected another album full of dance floor bangers. However the band had other ideas, they had for whatever reasons lost a vocalist – Mikki and gained another – Surjit, but importantly kept the talented Amar, this album was experimental and in their own words it was something they wanted to do and believed in. It was considered to be a thinking mans album I guess, giving the listeners much more to ponder on rather than the staple diet of dance tracks. Shaktee felt the scene was dying and wanted to do something to make the listeners think. Did it work? Well the jury is still out I guess, I’d say it probably didn’t hit the heights of Powered up but it was still a very good stand alone album. It takes guts to go against the grain and the band and label should be congratulated for that.
After this the band never quite managed to hit the same heights, and their endeavors to return with dance albums didn’t quite create the same excitement as Powered Up had. Losing the talented Amar didn’t help. Amar produced the remix version of Safri and Death Jamm Productions “Putt Sardarran De” on the ruff kuts album, which I personally rate highly. He also released an album titled “Visions” on the nachural label which featured a very good house remix of Anakhi’s “Umbhi”. Not sure what he’s up to now though.