At the age of 13, he ran away from home to Gorakhpur in search of a guru after listening to a voice on the radio. Training under Ustad Rahat Ali Khan of Gorakhpur and imbibing the Patiala Gharana style of singing, singer Daler Mehndi, one of the very few Punjabi musicians who continue to be relevant decades after he took to the mic, says that his commitment to music is like what breath is to life.
"It is my highest truth and the sole purpose of my life. It is the art form in which I have found my oneness," he tells IANS.The singer, who recently released his single 'Apna CM' dedicated to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, admits that social media has completely changed the music scenario, with singles ruling the roost and albums becoming a thing of the past.
"This is a great time for all performing artists. In this age of fast consumption, variety is the key. One can now work on tracks according to how she/he is feeling and not wait for an entire album considering the latter would sometimes take years or months.
It is a great feeling to be able to continuously work on your music and ensure that it comes out timely and regularly," says Mehndi, who has to his credit evergreen numbers like 'Ho Jayegi Balle Balle', 'Dardi Rab Rab Kardi', 'Tunak Tunak Tun', 'Zor Ka Jhatka' and 'Nach Baby Nach Kudi'.
At a time when in face of Punjabi singer Moosewala's recent murder, there has been much debate about the lyrics in contemporary Punjabi songs, Mehndi says he has always been extremely conscious about the lyrics he uses.
"As an artist, our art has a capacity to bring about behaviour change in society. I believe each one of us should strive for that. It is extremely important for artists to be conscious about what we are doing," says the singer and lyricist who has been instrumental in making Bhangra popular worldwide, as well as Indian pop music independent of Bollywood music.
Believing that it is important that young and upcoming singers do not look for shortcuts, he says that consistent riyaaz is paramount."Humility is important and staying away from alcohol and drugs will benefit them greatly.
"Mehndi, who recently started a series 'Jewel of Music' that involves looking for talents who have not been able to get their due owing to lack of exposure, financial conditions, family restrictions or other reasons, says, "We are releasing albums and singles of such talented artists.
"Ask him what comes first lyrics or the music, and he says that it all depends on the creative flow. Stressing that most of my songs are created extempore, he adds, "The famous 'Namoh Namoh' was created in Islamabad while performing on stage and 'Kudiyan Shehar Diyan' came together with words and music while performing live on stage in Nagpur.
"Adding that the government and large corporates must patronise musicians and artists as they are the custodians of values and art culture for future generations, he concludes, "They need to be financially comfortable, give them tax and health benefits."