The death of a renowned musician who rose to fame in Brampton, Ont., has sent shock waves across Punjabi communities around the world.
Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, known by his stage name Sidhu Moose Wala, was shot dead in Punjab on Sunday, police in the Indian state confirmed. He was 28.
Moose Wala’s impact on Punjabi music, culture and the community at large — in Brampton and beyond — is an underdog success story, many say.
“Brampton is where he found his success,” said journalist Jaskaran Sandhu.
Sandhu, who co-founded and runs Baaz News, an outlet focused on the Sikh and Punjabi diaspora, says Moose Wala’s story is an international one. But in Brampton, it’s a story to which many can relate.
‘A very unique voice’
Moose Wala came to the city, just northwest of Toronto, in 2016 to study — as many other Punjabis have.
“This is very Brampton. You’ve come here as an international student, you found your voice, your crew, and he fulfils a long dream of becoming a popular and famous Punjabi singer,” Sandhu said.
Brampton’s Punjabi music scene is massive and growing, he says, with songs streamed by millions across the planet. Moose Wala’s uniqueness, Sandhu says, stemmed from his ability to combine classic Punjabi musical traditions with modern rap and hip hop.
But what also set Moose Wala apart from the rest were his lyrics.
“That only happened because of the kind of ecosystem that exists locally,” Sandhu said.
He would tackle several social issues facing the Punjabi community, including a song about the widespread farmers’ protests in India.
“He was a very unique voice, and the kind of outpouring, love, and condolences you’re seeing is a result of that,” Sandhu said. “I think he represented a lot of internal dialogues and struggles within the community.”
Moose Wala’s background in Brampton helped him connect with not just those born and raised in the city, but also with those who came as immigrants or students.
Sandhu says he’s heard stories of people taking a day off from work or school to mourn Moose Wala’s death, something he says is reminiscent of when Tupac Shakur was killed in 1996.
Roots in Punjab
But Canadians who have never heard of him might not recognize the significance of his death. Sandhu says the Punjabi community in Canada is more likely to be Sikh, and it’s a transnational community connecting Canada, the U.S., U.K. and India, and many more countries where Punjabi Sikhs have settled.
“You can’t disconnect us with what’s happening in Punjab and South Asia,” Sandhu said.
That’s part of why Moose Wala’s music resonated with so many.
“We listen to [Punjabi] music more than we listen to English music,” he said. “Even if you’re born and raised here, even if Punjabi has become your second language, you still listen to it more.”
Moose Wala has “left a huge impact on the community, widespread across the world.” says Rupen Bhardwaj, a music video director based in Brampton.
Bhardwaj directed many of Moose Wala’s hit videos, including Legend and B-Town, a song dedicated to Brampton. In all, he and his brother shot six music videos for the acclaimed rapper, some of them in Brampton.
When Bhardwaj learned of Moose Wala’s death, he could only think of one of his lyrics “te parallel chalda aan death de” (I walk parallel to death).
“Sidhu’s impact on Brampton is spread across the city,” Bhardwaj said.
“So many people never thought to be an artist, but they see a success story from another college student from India who came here to have a life in Canada and got so far with such acclaim,” he said.
“It’s the simple case of an underdog story,” he added.
Deepinder Singh, an international student who now calls Brampton home, said he couldn’t get over the shock of hearing the news.
“He’s like us,” Singh said. “He came here as an international student, struggled, composed his music, but now he’s not with us.”
“May God bless his soul.”