The death of a renowned musician who rose to fame in Brampton, Ontario has sent shock waves through Punjabi communities around the world.
Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, known by his stage name Sidhu Moose Wala, was shot dead in Punjab on Sunday, Indian state police confirmed. He was 28 years old.
Moose Wala’s impact on Punjabi music, culture and the wider community – in Brampton and beyond – is an underdog achievement, many say.
“Brampton is where he found his success,” said journalist Jaskaran Sandhu.
Sandhu, who co-founded and runs Baaz News, a media outlet focused on the Sikh and Punjabi diaspora, says Moose Wala’s story is international. But in Brampton, it’s a story many can relate to.
“A very unique voice”
Moose Wala came to the city, just northwest of Toronto, in 2016 to study – like many other Punjabis have.
“It’s very Brampton. You came here as an international student, you found your voice, your team, and it’s fulfilling 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 millions of songs streaming across the planet. Moose Wala’s uniqueness, says Sandhu, stems from its ability to combine classical Punjabi musical traditions with modern rap and hip hop.
But what also sets Moose Wala apart from the rest are his lyrics.
“It only happened because of the type of ecosystem that exists locally,” Sandhu said.
It would tackle several social issues facing the Punjabi community, including a song about widespread farmer protests in India.
“He had a very unique voice, and the kind of outpouring, love and condolence that you see is the result,” Sandhu said. “I think he represented a lot of internal dialogues and struggles within the community.”
Moose Wala’s background in Brampton helped him bond not only with 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 the death of Moose Wala, which he says is reminiscent of when Tupac Shakur was killed in 1996.
Roots in Punjab
But Canadians who have never heard of him may not recognize the significance of his death. Sandhu says the Punjabi community in Canada is more likely to be Sikh, and it is a transnational community linking Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and India, and many other countries where Punjabi Sikhs settled in.
“You can’t disconnect us from what’s happening in Punjab and South Asia,” Sandhu said.
This is partly why Moose Wala’s music has resonated with so many.
“We’re listening [Punjabi] music more than we listen to English music,” he said. “Even though you were born and raised here, even though Punjabi has become your second language, you still listen to it more.
Moose Wala has “left a huge impact on the community, spreading across the world”. says Rupen Bhardwaj, a Brampton-based music video maker.
Bhardwaj has directed many successful Moose Wala 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, including some in Brampton.
When Bhardwaj learned of Moose Wala’s death, he could only think of one of his words “te parallel chalda aan death de” (I walk parallel to death).
“Sidhu’s impact on Brampton spans the entire city,” Bhardwaj said.
“So many people never thought they were an artist, but they see a success story of another student from India who came here to have a life in Canada and went so far with such success,” said- he declared.
“It’s the simple case of an underdog story,” he added.
Deepinder Singh, an international student who now lives in Brampton, 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, made his music, but now he’s not with us.”
“God bless his soul.”