Ikwiser Singh remembers the last thing Sidhu Moose Wala said to him.
“I am delighted to come to see you.”
The Canadian music artist and producer, also known as Ikky, said the couple planned to meet in Toronto. A few days later, Moose Wala was killed.
“We were FaceTime all the time…. It was unsettling to be able to talk to someone just a few days ago and see it go like this.”
Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, known by his stage name Sidhu Moose Wala, was shot dead in Punjab last weekend, according to Indian state police. He was 28 years old.
Sidhu was born in Moosa, a village in the Mansa district of Punjab, India, in 1993. After earning a degree in electrical engineering in 2016, he moved to Brampton, Ontario, to later find success as a rapper.
He was renowned for his ability to combine classic Punjabi music with modern rap and hip hop in a way that resonated with fans across the Punjabi diaspora.
“He was so ambitious about what he wanted to do and there was no way he wouldn’t reach the top,” Singh said.
Doors open to Punjabi artists
Singh, 21, befriended Sidhu before his rise to stardom, bonding over their love of music. Singh worked with Sidhu to produce his track 22 22, and the hit song Bambiha Bole.
Singh says it was Sidhu’s ability to blend Punjabi and North American culture and music that set him apart – and “opened the door” for other Punjabi artists to progress into the mainstream.
Sidhu addressed several social issues facing the Punjabi community, including a song about widespread farmer protests in India in 2020.
WATCH | Sidhu Moose Wala’s hit song Bambiha Bole:
He performed to sold-out crowds in Winnipeg and Toronto, and was also an iconic figure in Surrey, British Columbia, home to Canada’s second-largest South Asian population.
Through his rich, soulful melodies and socially conscious and sometimes politically charged lyrics, he has given young people in the Punjabi diaspora a new way to connect with their roots.
His music videos frequently garnered millions of views in a short time and featured shrewd production and camerawork. His 2018 song, It’s all about you was the most viewed YouTube video on Valentine’s Day in 2018.
The rapper has over four million monthly listeners on Spotify and millions of views on YouTube, with some songs reaching the top 100 of YouTube song charts in Canada.
He frequently collaborates with other Canadian artists, including Sunny Malton and AR Paisley.
Bring cultural clarity
But for some, Sidhu’s music offered a different kind of opportunity.
Harpo Mander, a second-generation Canadian, says she grew up feeling either too brown in some spaces or too white in others.
Today she is the Managing Director of 5X Fest, an annual Surrey-based music and arts festival for young South Asians.
Mander says Sidhu’s music has helped her “merge different identities” from her everyday life.
“He was one of the first artists to talk about all the different elements of who we are.”
Mander says the representation Sidhu has provided to Punjabi children in Canada cannot be underestimated.
“There’s something so special about seeing people who look and sound like you and who grew up in environments similar to yours.”
“I am Punjabi and I am proud of it”
Sidhu showed Punjabi children “the possibilities of what we can do,” Mander said.
Singh echoes that sentiment, noting that Sidhu broke barriers and took risks for his community.
“He paved the way for a lot of kids to say, ‘I’m Punjabi and I’m proud of it.'”
“He was a voice for culture,” Singh said.
One part of his culture that Singh says Sidhu helped normalize is the turban.
“Most people who are huge in this industry don’t have turbans…but he always wore his.”
Singh says he is proud to wear his turban because of Sidhu.
“People ask about the turban and that’s where people educate others, and that’s the kind of spirit that Sidhu had…He wanted to promote the one thing that sets Punjabi apart is their turban .”
“He has helped the Punjabi community to be so much more proud of themselves.”
Mourning while moving forward
As Singh and Mander continue to grieve, they say it’s important the South Asian community in Canada continues to do the kind of work that Sidhu excelled at.
“Everyone is so distraught and so upset, but I think it’s going to push people to get into their art a little more freely and with passion,” Mander said.
For Singh, his work as a producer will continue to develop the awareness that Sidhu was working towards: using music as a tool that can educate the next generation.
“It’s even more important to me to carry the culture,” Singh said.
“Especially with the passing of Sidhu, we have a responsibility to ensure that his legacy and this language of which he was a part does not die.”
Despite his untimely death, the beautiful thing about Sidhu’s art and what he brought to the world, Mander says, is that he continues.
“We are only here for a limited time, but our art lives forever.”