Open Chest Power Series
I’m back after a long hiatus with the Open Chest Power Series style of interviews. (You know I don’t interview anyone who doesn’t inspire me, so if I have to wait until I come across someone who does, so be it.) This story is about a woman I have long admired for her subtle, elegant, and chic way of conquering the world of music. Meet global Bhangra-Bollywood superstar in my OPEN CHEST with Nindy Kaur.
Yes, I really mean “meet” her because although most of you know her as an artist that hails from the RDB alliance and a hot property playback singer in Bollywood, very few of you (if any), actually know the woman behind the brand that she has so carefully built. Why? Because that’s the way she wants it; her privacy is extremely important to her when she is not singing on stage or being the voice behind a famous actress on the big screen.
So, who is this elusive woman who prides herself in keeping her priorities straight — first her son, then her husband, and then her brand? Whether you agree with her priority trajectory or not, one thing is for sure, I don’t think she really cares one way or the other if you do, because she is razor sharp clear on living her life by HER design.
Now, so you know, I’m not going to give you a bio synopsis here on her extensive song portfolio or on-stage performance repertoire, because honesty, that’s what Google and Wikipedia are for. What I suggest you do if you’re not familiar with her career path (wtf, what rock have you been living under?), is hit the two links above and search “Nindy Kaur” and bam! Then, after you’ve read and listened to everything there is to know about Nindy, come back here and read below to discover WHO SHE REALLY IS — why she was the reluctant superstar, why she always puts everyone else first, why she decided after the passing of her brother-in-law, Kuly (RDB founding member), to push through depression and take the bull by its horns and ram through the next phase of what she calls “the best phase of my life!”
Read on . . .
Before The Velvet Rope…
There’s very little known about the person you were before you broke into the public eye back in 2004 when the masses met you on tour in the U.S. with Bhangra duo Shehzad Roy and Sukhbir. So I would like to start our chat by painting the canvas of your life by going back to the beginning — the very beginning. Okay?
You were born in England in the ’70s at a time when culture there was very monochromatic — you were white or not white. Being from the same country and the same era, I can share with you that my earliest memories were of extreme racism at every juncture outside of the home, which I justified to be because we always lived in communities where there were hardly no South Asians, so I figured ignorance to be the cause of what I went through. These experiences shaped my mission later in life to create a platform to promote, elevate, and celebrate the South Asian community, which I’ve been doing for the past 14 years as you know. What was life like for you as a young girl growing up smack dab in the middle of where so many South Asians lived? Did you face racial discrimination from outside of the culture or was there a sense of empowerment due to strength in numbers?
I was born in London, Southall in the mid ’70s and as you may know Raj, it was “spot the non-Desi” in Southall back then, so I didn’t really face any racial discrimination. The street we lived on in Southall, St. Joseph’s Drive, was full of Desis. As a matter of fact, Channi Singh from Alaap lived on the same street just down the road. Neighbours were like family and everyone bought each other food. Someone worked in a bakery and we would always get a ton of cakes and doughnuts. Another uncle who we called Uncle Hussain, worked in an ice cream factory so we used to have a freezer full of Cornettos. However, when we used to turn the TV on, we always saw racial attacks on South Asians. When the Southall pub was burnt down, I vaguely remember watching that.
And when did the move happen to Birmingham?
When I turned five. My parents decided they wanted to make a move to Birmingham so they bought a small clothing shop there and we shifted. Again, luckily the area we lived in, Walsall, had a very mixed community. School was full of Hindu, Punjabi, Muslims and British white kids. So again, I lucked out on not facing any negativity when it came to race. I mean, don’t get me wrong, down the street we would get the odd “go back to your country you Paki” comment, but we would just ignore it or even laugh at the person shouting it. A lot of us would stick together since times were very different then. It was about having one another’s back!
It’s interesting how geography really makes a difference in our experiences with discrimination, isn’t it?
Let’s touch upon cultural gender expectations of the times when you and I grew up, and let’s see if we had similar or differing experiences there also. One point of note is that today, girls from our culture are far more verbal about owning their identity than back in our day. It’s so empowering to witness how there’s not even a question to them that they own their life. I remember never feeling like my life belonged to me. Additionally, back in our day, the idea of men and women being equal wasn’t even a topic of discussion as it was just accepted (for the most part) that boys get to do things that girls don’t. There was a definitive line between the role of boys and that of girls for most of us. Was this how it was inside of your home environment or was your family one of the rare examples of equal opportunity for both genders?
In my home, girls were not allowed to do things that boys were allowed to do. At the age of 10, my mother was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. Back then, if you had TB, it was a huge deal and you were hospitalized. I was too young to understand what was actually wrong with my mother but I was told by both parents that my mom would be admitted in hospital for a minimum of six months. Once she had gone to the hospital, my dad and my brother looked at one another and said: “We don’t know how to make food!” so I took over the kitchen and household chores.
All by yourself?
My brother is five years older than me and he would give me a helping hand in everything.
Oh thank God!
After the six months of treatment, my mum came home and I continued looking after the home. I would go to school and then after school, help my dad in the clothing shop, and then make dinner in the evening. It became the norm. I was always told this is what girls do and this is what boys do. It was the way my parents were brought up back in India.
So you just accepted it and didn’t broach the topic of equal opportunity then?
I think the subject of equal opportunity would have been a touchy subject at home.
Understood! Let’s talk music now. I’ve read that your love affair with music began at a very early age — at the tender age of 10 in fact, when you began singing as well. What was it about this particular art form that filled your passion?
Honestly, I was a bathroom singer. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would become a profession. The influence came from my dad when we lived in the Southall house. My dad would come home from work every few weeks with a new record in his hands. He would play Kuldeep Manak, Mohammed Saddiq, and Ranjit Kaur songs, and I used to pick up the words and bop to the melodies. Everyone at home spoke nothing but Punjabi so I sang Punjabi songs day and night.
Your teenage years were spent obsessed with Bhangra music. I read that you would spend most of your money on purchasing the latest Bhangra album. What was it about the Bhangra medium?
The influence from a very young age created this love affair. I would get a pound for lunch money but save it to buy a new cassette. I understood Punjabi very deeply and probably more than English [Laughs], so I was just obsessed with Punjabi tunes. Also, back then in the ’80s, it was cool that all these bands created new age modern music to Punjabi lyrics and that fascinated me.
Who were your favourites?
Aah yes! The ’80s and ’90s saw the first Bhangra boom happen with the likes of pioneering giants like these you’ve mentioned. It was like we were finally given permission to be proud of our heritage. I remember driving down to Southall from South Wales (where we lived, where there was very little representation of our culture) to the epicenter of where it was so cool to be South Asian. Guys would drive up and down the main strip with their windows open blaring Bhangra music from their custom sound systems. Witnessing this first wave of seeing our culture emerge proud was magical for me and opened my eyes to placing an identity to my displacement up until then. The term “British Asian” was coined at that time also, to describe our identity in the mainstream, definitively determining that we had finally arrived! When this momentum began, do you recall what it meant to you to visibly see our culture’s trajectory emerge?
I remember when Apache Indian brought out his first album “No Reservations” in 1993. It was like “Wow!” The British “white” people were loving this South Asian young man singing in Patwah mixed with Punjabi lyrics. It was a like “WOW!” for us South Asians. I remember being at college and us being so proud of being Indian. Then there were shows on mainstream U.K. TV like Band Baja and Network East where all of these bands were playing live. I would go to college and my white friends would say, “Nindy we watched ‘Network East and thought of you and your (as they would say) BHUNGRA songs.” I remember that we would form small groups and go around colleges in Birmingham singing songs to raise money for Red Nose Day. I must say, the ’90s was a great time in the U.K. for cultural diversity.
How did you go from this point in your life of doing music for fun, to going professional with your debut being touring with Shezad Roy and Sukhbir?
After I married Manj in 2002, I got the ultimatum from him that, “You’re going to sing songs for us and we are going to both work together.” He insisted it would be great for us both to be in the same business and be on the road together. So the first tour I did was with Shehzad Roy and Sukhbir. We had a blast! We did a 16-city tour and created great memories together. We are all still friends and keep in touch up until today.
What did that taste of performance and public recognition do (if anything), to fuel your desire to take music as a career more seriously?
Well the first time ever on stage, I froze! The band kept on playing and all I did was stare at the crowd staring back at me! It was nerve racking but I think I finally got through it. [Laughs]
If your tour portfolio and song repertoire has anything to say about it, yes you most certainly did!
Where did it hit you that this was now a career?
When I sang two songs for the Bollywood movie Aloo Chaat back in 2009. The title track “Aloo Chaat” and “Boliyan” did amazingly well. First of all, it was such a big deal for me that an actress was going to mime and act to my voice in a Bollywood movie. The icing on the cake was that both songs were a huge hit. People loved it and I realized that “I think this may be my career now.” After that, it was a complete domino effect as we were getting offers for Bollywood song after song.
Nindy Kaur, RDB, Manj Musik …
We’ve all read and heard the stories of how Manj saw something special in your singing abilities so he brought you into the studio to put down some tracks and the rest is history as they say. But what is little known is the real back story as to how this all happened and why this felt right to you. I know you’ve already said that it made sense for you and Manj to be in the same business, but I know the story goes a lot deeper. Can you shed light on this?
After marriage, Manj and I lived in a rented basement and we had a tiny studio in the corner of a room. Kuly and Manj were the brains behind all the music when it came to RDB, so Kuly used to visit Toronto often from the U.K. to work with Manj. One time, they made a track called “Desi Fly Chick” and asked me to come and sing the hook line for the song. I refused cause as much as I loved music, I definitely didn’t want the fame part that came along with being a singer. I knew right then that if I sang a hook line, it may mean I would have to do shows. I didn’t think I could face audiences and sing with confidence. Both of them assured me that it’s going to be fine and I wouldn’t need to do shows . . . Liars! [Laughs]
[Laughing] How cheeky! Keeping your brand distinct from RDB was a conscious decision clearly by default of you not being rolled under the RDB banner, albeit being directly tied to it. Was this because RDB was positioned as a “brothers” band and marketed as such, or did the ideology go deeper in forging a brand identity for you as a singer and performer?
Once the boys decided they wanted me on board, Manj and I both sat down and had an intense deep conversation on how things will work moving forward. I explained to Manj that RDB was formed by the band brothers and is known as a three brothers band. I didn’t want to be the new interfering-in-the-business wife, as they were the creators. So, we decided that I would have my own identity as Nindy Kaur. If a director would ask for a female vocalist then the boys would use my vocals.
I see, makes sense, and a never before known public fact that this is how it all came about. You travelled and performed extensively around the world with RDB and continued thereafter once the band dismembered, as Nindy Kaur and Manj Musik. Before we talk about this recent avatar and how it’s different from the RDB connection, I want to touch base on that proverbial fork in the road that emerged in your life when Kuly passed away. I know you’re very private about this so I’m not going to delve deep into this, but just want to bring one point to the forefront, to share a certain aspect with the world, about the woman that you are, okay?
I chatted extensively with Manj about this in 2015 as part of my OPEN CHEST TV’s special series on the #ANOKHI12 awards, where he mentioned that with the devastation on his life from the impact of losing his big brother and mentor, he took a leave of absence from the band to deal with the personal stuff as well as the professional conflicts with his other brother (the third member of RDB). He shared with me that looking back, he didn’t know how he could have gotten through that period in his life without your unflinching support, advise and stepping in to take charge. He said that although he was on the fence about returning to England (from Canada where you both lived at that time), it was a no brainer to you. It was clear to you that the family needed you back in London, so you had to go back. Tell me what your mindset was at that time that this decision was definitive for you in terms of what direction you knew you needed to make as a family?
Losing Kuly shifted our worlds and shifted the family of course. As they say, either death brings you closer to one another or destroys you. Things after Kuly’s passing drastically changed.
At the time, you’re upset because you don’t want things to go in the wrong direction, but then you realize that you can’t always be the hero trying to keep all together. You have to make a choice.
What choice did you make?
I feel on my part that as a daughter to my parents and a daughter-in-law to my in-laws, I needed to go out of my way to make sure everyone was looked after, in so much that I could be of help. I have no regrets and a very clean conscious about this. I pray a lot and thank God for being by my side always.
It’s admirable! Was this a difficult decision for you, knowing that you would be taking on the bulk of this task?
I didn’t have to think twice about it. I have immense amounts of love and respect for my husband (Manj), so I definitely didn’t need to think about it. Also, being around and with Kuly so much as family and for work, I knew as his sister-in-law that I needed to be there for him. I knew my in-laws had a child who is deeply sick and they would need my support.
So you made the decision to leave Canada and go to the U.K.?
Yes. All of these things were very naturally in my head and I strongly knew that we needed to drop our lives in Canada and move back to the UK to do what’s right. I remember Kuly calling Manj that morning — the day of his pathology results. Manj was already very uneasy about the whole situation.
I can absolutely understand and sympathize Nindy. What happened next?
Kuly spoke to Manj on the phone and I just saw Manj fall to the ground.
Yes. He balled and told me that Kuly had just found out that he had a maximum of two years to live. We were sitting in the studio at the time of being giving this news, so we packed up immediately and headed home. I said to Manj, “You book the tickets and I’ll start packing. Let’s leave tonight and head to the U.K. to be there for Kuly and the family.” We grabbed Anoop from school and we left.
Whao! Hours from finding out you were gone!
What happened next?
When we got to the U.K. and sat with Kuly and told him our plans, just the smile and relief on his face was worth billions.
Of course! We always want to know that our loved ones will be there for us in time of need and challenge.
Yes and he became super positive.
Can you shed some light on what it was like during those years in terms of how life changed?
Well, first of all, Manj made sure that wherever Kuly wanted his treatment, that he would take him. Kuly opted for a specialist in Houston, U.S.A. so that’s where Manj took him each and every time for his treatment. I would always stay behind with my in-laws to support them and keep them strong and positive.
I think I totally forgot about myself in the process of looking after everyone else. My son was my priority. I always made sure he got my full love and attention throughout this hard time. As much as I juggled it all, I totally forgot about myself.
As we do as women, right?
Yes, but unfortunately, after Kuly’s passing, I fell deep into depression. [Pause]. It was a very dark place that changed my life.
I’m not surprised sweetheart. When you spend all of your energy keeping the fort together, there’s no wonder that when a chapter closes, there’s a massive shift that takes place in our psychosis. Knowing you to be the rock and pillar, how did everyone around you deal with this?
I think everyone around me didn’t take it seriously because of how strong I portray myself to be.
Aah yes. Our culture typically doesn’t recognize mental or psychological wellness as a condition in its own right, which is why there is such a prevalence of it in our community. People suffer in silence and with no resources and tools to help them through it.
That’s true Raj. Everyone kept telling me to snap out of it, but it definitely wasn’t easy at all.
Where did you get your support then?
Manj stood by me. He helped me through the toughest time of my life.
I’m fully free of depression today thanks to my wonderful husband and beautiful son.
The best therapy of all right?
Absolutely! We were always super close, but now, we are closer than ever.
Coming back to your point earlier in our chat where hard times can either make or break bonds. Thank God it made yours stronger. How did you find peace and solace through the depression?
Praying was the only way forward. I did and still do path a lot. Keeps my mind at ease. Having Manj and Anoop around also keeps me at total peace.
The ultimate place of security and safety is in the circle of love we cultivate right?
Yes Raj! I think you also need to take out all of the negativity from your life to feel that peace and solace.
Absolutely, a page out of the book of my life too! Once the dust had settled, you all returned to Canada and the Nindy Kaur & Manj Musik phase began. Tell me your take on agreeing to continue performing and keeping your brand alive, especially in light of Manj sharing with me once the dust had settled, that he wasn’t sure that he wanted or even could, continue in music after Kuly passed on?
When it came to Manj, I had full faith in him. He’s a mastermind and music runs through his veins, and yes, he did suggest starting another business because as he said, if he continued with RDB and released a song that fans didn’t like, he would be letting Kuly down. He kept on mentioning to me that it’s best that RDB be put to rest along with Kuly. He said that the memory of RDB should always be of the three brothers and I agreed.
So from that decision, Nindy Kaur and Manj Musik began a new chapter?
Well, Manj wasn’t sure about going solo. He said it would upset many family members. There was a lot running through his mind plus the emotions of losing a brother.
We had a conversation about Anoop — his future, schooling, college and university. I explained to Manj that anything we are doing is for the future of Anoop.
Manj has immense talent and I wasn’t going to let him put that to waste, so then he released his first song as Manj Musik for the Bollywood movie Heropanti’s title song “Whistle Baja” which was a huge hit and had the most views on YouTube over any other song we had made to that date. That uplifted Manj and ever since then, he has been unstoppable!
Sometimes we need a message from the universe to help us make crucial decisions in our life and this clearly is what that was! How has it been different for you as Nindy Kaur the artist in your affiliation with Manj Musik versus RDB?
When I was affiliated with RDB, I not even once got involved in the logistics of their business. I always let the three brothers do it. That was their world and I had entered later. With Manj Musik, Manj and I sat together and discussed everything from A to Z about that business. It’s definitely a lot more pressure for me, but I would call it a great challenge more so!
I love it —take the bull by its horns! Is the music you make different now versus before? If so, how?
Firstly, I think with the times, you have to change the style of your music to some extent. You have to go with the flow. Secondly, Manj and I both like to experiment with new music styles. Thirdly, RDB had its own sound, where the producers were Manj and Kuly, so the dynamics were very different from what Manj and I are doing today.
Do you feel that you have succeeded in maintaining the authenticity of your initial love affair with music, being that you’ve always maintained that you create music for your culture?
I don’t think I’m close to it. After Kuly’s passing, I had taken a back seat, but I have a lot of new things in the bag now. I’m very excited and have music releasing very soon that is completely different to what I have done in the past. I will still keep on working at it until I’m 110 per cent satisfied.
Spoken like a true artist.
Brand Diversification …
There’s no surprise that brand diversification would be a natural progression for a brand like yours with its global fan base and the fact that you’re so darn stylish (#BritStyle). You just released your cosmetics line Nindy Kaur Cosmetics in April of this year. Walk me through this brand extension.
The interest in makeup came from me getting makeup done from different MUA’s on photo and video shoots. I loved picking up techniques that I felt suited me. Then I noticed on all my social media, girls private messaging me about my lipsticks. Each and every time the question was, “Nindy, what brand and colour lipstick are you wearing?” That was it for me, I decided that I wanted to create my own lipstick line. After extensive research, I created my own lipsticks and have more colours to come out this summer too. I’m so fortunate the love and support that I get from fans, as well as my husband.
Who is the Nindy Kaur Cosmetics customer?
Anyone who wants to be full of life with vibrant coloured lips. The wow factor is my niche, and my colours are for all ethnicities!
What do you feel your brand extensions bring to the competitive marketplace that gives you a point of difference?
1) The lipsticks are made in Canada. 2) They are very smooth in texture. 3) They won’t dry up your lips. 4) They last a really long time.
You’ve gotten a lot of celebrity support in promoting your cosmetics line. What’s the feedback been from them on your products?
I would love to mention celebrity names that have been going crazy over my lipsticks, but they’re all the face of some cosmetic line or other, so I can’t mention their names. But, the feedback mostly has been: “NINDY YOU NEED TO OPEN A STORE HERE IN MUMBAI!” I’ve had major PR companies contact me, so I’m looking into a few things right now. Stay tuned!
Which fashion and cosmetics brands do you look up to in terms of their business models?
OMG, Chanel is mine too! Where can people purchase your cosmetics?
The Wife, The Mother, The Brand, The Woman …
If there’s one thing I’m abundantly clear on, it’s the juggling act I have to perform every day as an entrepreneur, mother, sister, daughter, friend and mentor. As the wife of a very visible man, the mother of a son who you want to ensure grows up normal, and a very visible brand in your own right, how do you stay on top of it all? Do you have a process or do you go with the flow?
I definitely go with the flow. I think if I had to sit and plan, I would most likely scare myself! [Laughs]
I take each day at a time, keep that positive attitude, and of course, that drive!
In an interview I read, Manj stated that the priority sequence in your life is your son, then him, then your brand. Would you agree to that? Explain.
Without a doubt. My son is my life! I would do anything for him. I feel I learn a lot from Anoop on a daily basis. Anything I am doing today in life is to secure my baby’s future.
Where in all of the hats that you wear, do you have time to be yourself for YOU?
When I sleep at night [Laughs] No, Manj always makes sure we take a family holiday once a year, which means no shows, no phones and no internet. I must say, I look forward to that time of year.
When you have the time to be you, what do you do?
A whole spa day. Just relaxing and thinking about nothing.
#HighFive. If you were to describe the woman that you are in four words, what would those words be?
I am wonder woman.
Outside of the people in your life, what are the three things you value most?
God. Trust. Loyalty. Health. (That’s four) [Laughs]
Looking back on your journey through life so far, what are the two memories you cherish the most and why?
1. The day Anoop was born my life completely changed. There is no better feeling on this universe than being a mother!
2. The day I married Manj. From the minute we married, I found my lifeline, my supporter. He encouraged me to do all that I wanted to do. I have never felt this happy in my entire life. I was blessed with an amazing soulmate.
If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be and why change it?
I wish I had more of a childhood. I really missed out on being a kid because I worked a lot. I feel that I matured way too early in life. Would have loved to have actually been a kid and experienced it.
I am (tick the most applicable one): Content, Still Searching, Unfulfilled
The Future …
I have yet to?
Conquer the world with my lipstick line.
Motto I live by:
Just be yourself.
And that’s why Nindy Kaur is an Open Chest Power Series personality: honest, authentic, strong in her vulnerabilities, secure in her priorities, and ever creating her life by design! For more on this fabulous artist and woman, be sure to check out her website at www.nindykaur.com.