The pop industry is a relentless machine, constantly chewing up artists and spitting them out. Case in point: Kashif. A Canadian singer of South Asian descent, he started Inmotion – ‘a French-language Backstreet Boys’ – when he was still in school. By the time he was 18 they had signed a record deal. By 19 he’d written a number-one song, ‘Sauve-Moi’. And, in his early 20s, he was ready to drop out of it all.
‘I was turned off by the whole thing when the group finished. It was in 2004-2005 and man, I wanted to get away from it. I was still writing songs, I just wanted to take a break from the business side of things.’ But his downtime was short-lived and the spotlight called again, this time in the form of a collaboration with fellow South Asian-Canadians Vicious and Master D, aka urban pop act The Bilz.
‘I knew Vicious from back in the day, when [Inmotion] were just starting out. We lost contact during college, but we kept an eye on each other’s music. And eventually I said to him, “Maybe we should get together and do stuff.”’ In this case, ‘stuff’ included the single ‘2Step Bhangra’, which proved a commercial hit in North America and led to the trio’s collaborations becoming a regular fixture.
It’s gone so well, in fact, that the band are now opening for the likes of Enrique Iglesias and Bobby Valentino, and are appearing alongside Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé on Canadian radio charts.
It’s the sort of success that a lot of US and Canadian artists of South Asian descent don’t achieve, as Vicious explains. ‘We call ourselves ‘North America’s Most Wanted’ because we’re representing our own territory. Most people go to India or the UK to find success, whereas we’ve captured the market here, putting in a bit of our culture while maintaining mainstream integrity.’
‘Mainstream integrity’ might sound like a contradiction in terms, but The Bilz and Kashif are under no pretensions about their position in the market. ‘We never categorise ourselves as South Asian music, we say ‘urban pop’, says Vicious. ‘Our music appeals to the masses and that’s our main goal. It doesn’t matter about the language it’s in – if the music is right, it will be globally accepted despite that. Like ‘The Macarena’, which was salsa music, but was huge globally.’ Not that they sound anything like ‘The Macarena’ (that song may have been accepted, but it was never acceptable). But achieving success on their own continent isn’t enough. While many Indian bands would eat their own hands to tour North America on a weekly basis, The Bilz And Kashif want to go beyond their shores.
‘We have pretty much dominated the North American scene, so we want to move on to the closest industry next to us, and that’s Bollywood,’ Vicious continues. ‘We’ve seen a lot of [Bollywood] actors and musicians trying to mimic the American sound, but it’s not 100 per cent, so we’re like, “Let’s introduce them to the real quality urban pop sound.”’
One of their songs has already made it onto the soundtrack of Bollywood movie, EKEH Version 2.0, and they’re looking for more exposure on the Subcontinent – at a time when the likes of 50 Cent and The Pussycat Dolls are also after a slice of the Indian market.
They may still have lofty ambitions, but the boys are very pleased with what they have right now, especially Kashif. ‘For me, it’s all about the people – they are our driving force and they’re what motivates us. I’ve had messages from all over the world, even from places we’ve never been yet, like Dubai.’ Despite the shaky line, it’s obvious that he’s fallen in love with the pop industry all over again.
The Bilz And Kashif play Kandy Club at Touch on October 23