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Remembering Taz Stereo Nation: Taking British Asian music to new heights

2022 continues to lay massive blows to the Indian music industry taking away some amazing talent. If loosing legends like Lata Mangeshkar and Bappi Lahiri this year were not enough, the most recent blow has crossed borders and taken away one of the biggest pioneers of British Asian fusion music. Tarsame Singh Saini aka Taz aka Stereo Nation aka Johnny Zee is no more, loosing a long battle with poor health on 29th April 2022. Suffering from hernia, Taz suffered liver failure and could not be revived from a coma as per recent reports. The man was only 54 and had a career spanning over 40 years in the Asian music scene from British underground to mainstream Bollywood with one of the biggest portfolio of hits for any British Asian artist.

What seems to be the current trend of blending Indian/Bollywood music with Latino, Middle Eastern or African music was something that Taz was already doing back in the 90s. Afro beats, Bashment, Reggae are the latest trend and addiction in the club scene but it was Taz and Apache Indian who combined these styles of music with their British Asian influence in the 90s to create a brand new sound that took the world by storm.

He is perhaps the only British Asian artist who could sing in English and Punjabi with his Brit desi roots but also in perfect Hindi without an accent. This aspect was instrumental in making him a major success in the mainstream world of Bollywood music. Using his British-Asian heritage and the huge reggae influence in the midlands area in the 90s, Taz pioneered the Afro-jabi sound that set the trend of Asian fusion, a sound that has evolved through the ages encompassing various cultures.

On top of his great Hindi skills, the man truly had a unique voice that even today cannot be mistaken for anyone else. There is never a case of even anyone mimicking his style as Taz truly had a clearly differentiated style and tone to his singing that helped him leave a lasting mark on the music industry.

With 17 albums in his prolific career, Taz impressed audiences’ right from his first album. ‘Hit the Deck’ released in 1989 and songs like Disco Di Rani, Ghera Dede, Ho Gayi Kuri Kharab and Hoon Ta Main Nachna were instant hits. The album was revolutionary and truly iconic for the British Asian music scene at the time keeping the album at the top of the UK Asian charts for a huge 36 weeks! He blended Punjabi with Pop and disco sounds at the time which gave the album a wide appeal with the Asian masses.

The albums kept rolling there on every year with Taz being the hot property in the Asian scene and dominated the evolving Punjabi music scene into more urban, Hip-Hop and pop cultures. Hits like Yaar Nach La from ‘Back to my roots’ (1992), Overboard from ‘From Me to You’ (1993), Larl Larl Boleeyan from ‘Spirits of Rhythm’ (1994), Ishq from ‘New Dawn’ (1995) were all big tunes. ‘Spirits of Rhythm’ was a massive album that even got popular in the Indian subcontinent and announced Taz’s arrival on the international stage.

The consistency that Taz was able to deliver with dropping an album every year loaded with hit numbers was pretty amazing for the time. Going from Punjabi Larl Larl Boleeyan to I’ve Been Waiting with a reggae twist was a piece of genius that struck Taz in the mid-90s changing the trajectory of his career. His next album ‘Jambo’ (1998) was truly iconic for the Afrojabi genre. This was also the time when that influence was rubbing off between Apache Indian and Taz to take the Asian – Jamaican fusion to new heights. This is the kind of stuff never heard in the mass Indian market before and instantly became a sensation. Songs like Oh Carol and Jambo were major hits from this album. Taz delivered Hindi in Oh Carol and that was his entry into the mass Indian market making him a household name. He even had something for his Brit-African fans with his version of D.A.Y.O (The Banana Boat Song) which had his unique touch to it with sitar sounds thrown in.

‘Nasha’ (1999) delivered one of his biggest Punjabi songs till date called Gawandiyaa (Apna Sanjeet) and the video was one of the most played tunes at the time on Channel [V] and MTV India in those days. The song had a killer beat and a tempo that worked like a charm on every dancefloor.

His new found success with Hindi fusion inspired his next album and that was his biggest hit album till date. ‘Slave II Fusion’ (2000) made Taz Stereo Nation a household name across India. Nachangeh Sari Raath was and remains a timeless hit that even plays in remixed forms in desi parties around the world. The song has been remixed, remade numerous times including by Meet Bros Anjjan in the film ‘Junooniyat’ (2016) starring Yami Gautam & Pulkit Samrat. Pyar Ho Gaya and the romantic Galan Gooriyan were other big numbers from the album.

This album gave him entry into Bollywood with singing an original Daroo Vich Pyar in the movie ‘Tum Bin’ (2001). This was yet another massive hit for him to the music of T.S. Jarnail. The movie itself did very well on the box office and with him in the video in the movie itself marked the arrival of Taz the pop star on the Indian Pop scene thriving at that time. He released his Indian pop album ‘Taz-Mania’ (2002) as a result with the opening track Ishq becoming an instant hit. A hot seductive video and a very groovy disco beat helped make this a rage. He even collaborated with Anuradha Paudhwal on this album but none of the other songs clicked with audiences making this a one hit album.

Now an established name in Bollywood, Taz got his biggest opportunity with Rakesh Roshan to voice Hrithik Roshan in the movie ‘Koi.. Mil Gaya’ (2003). It’s Magic was by far the biggest hit for Taz in his career! His voice and singing style was the perfect fit for the setting on the song and the character that this dance number truly vibed with audiences. This was the peak of his career and the highest point of success. Taz has spent years since doing live concerts, stage performances with his huge portfolio of massive hits thereon.

Taz featured in my movie soundtracks including ‘Race’ (2008), Gurinder Chadha’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Afterlife’ (2010), ‘Guest iin London’ (2017) and most recently in ‘Batla House’ (2019) with the remake of Galan Gooriyan with Dhvani Bhanushali.

His albums thereafter failed to deliver any big hits for him. ‘Jawani on the Rocks’ (2008), ‘Twist & Shout’ (2010) and ‘Desi & U know it’ (2012) were lost in the changing sound and the evolving music scene. He even tried to revive his career with a collaboration called TAB of the British Asian biggies Taz, Apache Indian and Bally Sagoo but the song Pretty Baby was a shot that didn’t connect with anyone. Punjabi music with Indo-Jamaican rap and techno music targeted at the Indian masses had a little too much going on for it to work.

His most recent piece of work released during the pandemic called Beautiful featuring Ji-Madz and this was a fairly decent song but definitely not one of his best works that he will be remembered by. But Taz has left behind a huge legacy as a game changer and pioneer who took British Asian music to the international stage. A great singer with a unique voice and a good humble person that he will be remembered as. RIP!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.