For DJ, producer and Bombay Records honcho Nav Bhinder, music is more than a passion -- it's a calling. Whether playing records at the world's top clubs, producing his own tracks, remixing other artists, or managing and developing talent signed to his label, Nav puts full heart and soul into everything he does. That's why his moniker Awaaz is a nod to both the musical and spiritual legacies of his Indian background. In Hindi, Awaaz means "sound or voice."
"I've always been drawn to deep music," says Nav, who grew up in England, hanging out in London's acid house and indie alternative scenes before moving to Canada, where he co-founded Montreal after hours club Stereo. "I'm more attracted to music that has a special kind of vibration about it," says the 38-year old, now based in Vancouver. "Music that taps into certain energies. Music that tells a story."
As a DJ, Nav is into quality electronic music that does just that. New or old, but always organic sounding or soul influenced.
"My thing is basically pure selection," he explains of his DJ sound, which ranges from soulful New York house, afro underground, downtempo, neo-soul, R&B, hip-hop, disco and rare grooves to tech house. "Combining all that music in a way that tells a story. It's a unique way of DJing that house music DJs used to do in the '90s but don't do that much these days." An in-demand club DJ throughout not only Canada and the U.S. but France, Japan, Germany and England, Nav has shared the decks with legends who helped shape his musical direction and open his mind, including Little Louie Vega, Frankie Knuckles, Francois Kevorkian and Basement Jaxx.
These days, producing is a major focus for Nav a.k.a. Awaaz. Recent Awaaz productions reflect a fun and sexy Indian influence reminiscent of classic Bollywood. (Perhaps it's in his blood -- his uncle is celebrated bhangra singer Manak-e). In fact, he's started collaborating with Babu Kishan, a famed Indian musician who's played with George Harrison. Heavily involved in producing most of the artists he signed to Bombay, he co-produced full-length albums by Tim Fuller (with Sean Dimitri) and Daybi No Doubt. He also remixed Koyla's "Promised Land" and Harmonix's "Enjoy."
Which brings us to his label. Both Bombay Records and its sub label Manali encapsulates Nav's musical landscape and vision. Most significantly, it's a home for a musically-diverse yet like-minded community of talented artists, music lovers and industry insiders worldwide. Since the label was born a decade ago in Montreal, Nav and his crew have built a soulful brand that has reached and inspired listeners around the world -- and rocked many a dance floor.
The award-winning roster of artists who have released music on Bombay and Manali includes Roy Davis Jr., Miguel Graca, Fred Everything, Derrick Carter, and more recently, Canadian stars-to-be David Morin and Daybi No Doubt. Bombay has had its share of dance floor hits, like Fred Everything's "Next to Me," Roy Davis Jr.'s "Watch Them Come," Tim Fuller's "Show Me Right," and Peven Everett's "Heat Up."
Certainly, developing artists is an important part of Bombay's modus operandi. This goes back to the label's early years, when Nav and his friends transitioned from party kids to nightlife professionals, fueled by their passion for the music and culture and desire to put their talents together toward a collective goal.
Nav grew up in the rough London suburb of Slough, influenced by Punjabi and Indian folk music and poetry -- which quickly segued into the disco and reggae he heard in the neighbourhood, then acid house and indie alternative. He started buying records at age nine (he now has over 15,000), went to the Glastonbury Reading festival at 14, and started going to raves at 16. "In England, you'd go buy a 7-inch single every week, then go home and watch Top of the Pops. That was the culture. I still have all those records."
But just when he began DJing school dances, Nav's parents moved the clan to Toronto. "I had to hang out with kids with hockey haircuts and pickup trucks, and there was I, this indie acid house kid from England."
And so, Nav discovered Toronto's 1990s underground party scene. He met the scene's top DJs and promoters, and was soon involved in throwing the parties. As their events became more well known, Nav and his cohorts would drive to New York to go to Sound Factory and listen to Junior Vasquez.
A visit to Montreal to hang with that city's crew proved fateful, as Nav fell in love with the city that would become his home. "I identified with the vibe and the people," he says.
So at age 18, he moved there, and became an integral part of launching Montreal's "massive electronic music scene," collaborating with the community's artists and entrepreneurs, organizing innovative events. From locations to sound, lighting to music, those Montreal parties were always "next level, progressive stuff." It also taught Nav how to build a movement -- from promoting to making music, liaising with artists from other disciplines, to running businesses like record labels and nightclubs. He also began DJing more seriously, with residencies at big clubs like Metropolis, Playground and Groove Society.
"We started a community that developed into all kinds of creative things and so much growth came out of that. It was good energy, a family of people working together and making stuff happen."
In 1998, with Angel Moraes, Nav and his crew started Stereo, the after hours club featuring a sound system that remains legendary. They brought in the world's top DJs and incorporated all the diverse talents of their community, from visual arts to design.
In 2003, he moved to Vancouver to be closer to his family and connected with the who's who of that city's live music, hip-hop and neo-soul scenes, including Tim Fuller, Sean Dimitri and DJ Ali. He launched Bombay' sub label Manali, and released a variety of hit singles.
These days, from his West Coast base, Nav's soulful electronic music reaches the world.
For more information on Bombay, please visit www.bombayrecords.com