A Bhangra band from Canada

Bhangra band JoSH, comprising Rupinder Magon (left) and Qurram Hussain, are performing this weekend at Pakistani festival Fun Aur Funkaar.
Bhangra band JoSH, comprising Rupinder Magon (left) and Qurram Hussain, are performing this weekend at Pakistani festival Fun Aur Funkaar.PHOTO: MARAM & AABROO

When you are brown-skinned in Montreal, Canada, you tend to notice other brown-skinned people around you too, says Canadian singer Qurram Hussain in jest.

That was how he came to meet Rupinder Magon, who lived across the road from him when they were growing up. Bonded first by their skin colour and later by their mutual love of music, they went on to form a Bhangra band, JoSH.

They are here this weekend to perform at Fun Aur Funkaar festival, a seven-day celebration of Pakistan's food, art, music and fashion.

Growing up, Magon and Hussain listened to Western pop songs, along with Indian and Pakistani tunes. When it came to making music, however, they took to South Asian music more easily.

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"We tried singing in French and English when we started, but it just didn't seem as natural to us," says Hussain, 41, who is of Pakistani descent.

The band's songs are usually in Hindi or Urdu, the national languages of India and Pakistan respectively. Singing such South Asian fusion songs is also a way for them to return to their roots, says Magon, 41, a first-generation Indian Canadian. Both of them continued to pursue musicafter graduating from university, Magon with a degree in economics and Hussain in engineering.

While the Indian and Pakistani community in Canada welcomed their music when they embarked on their career, the duo still had to look to India to burnish their fame as they knew they would have a better chance of succeeding there with a larger audience for their work.

In 2001, they released their first album in India. Three years later, the band gained prominence with their second album, 2004's Kabhi, which won MTV India's Best New Non-film Artist award that year. It also bagged them the same award from MTV Pakistan in 2005.

Since their fourth album, Beyond Kismat, was released in 2010, the two have been busy pursuing their own interests, with Hussain producing music for other artists and Magon taking on supporting roles in Bollywood movies such as Speedy Singhs (2011).

Hussain says he is not bothered that the band have not found the same success in Canada as in Asia.

"When we tell people we're Canadians, they really like that we represent the multi-cultural identity of Canada," says Hussain.

"It's nice to be acknowledged that way."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'A Bhangra band from Canada'. Print Edition | Subscribe