Written by: David Lawrence
Behind the signature phrase ‘Big Rich in the Pungalunks Factory’ which is heard in songs like Hunter’s ‘Jep Sting Naina’, Hunter’s and Bunji Garlin’s ‘Bring It’, and Kenneth Salick’s ‘Radica’, is an interesting story of human ingenuity that beckons to be told.
Zaheer Khan a.k.a ‘Big Rich’ was born in Princess Town, Trinidad but grew up in the village of Couva. With no formal musical training but a natural ear and a childhood love for music, this boy of humble beginnings has changed the musical landscape of Trinidad and the Caribbean diaspora immensely. Though many others have blended Trinidad’s Afro-centric music with that of Indian origins, his is a perfect marriage of the two with neither element dominating. In his creations, one can hear the harmonious interplay of Indian and African melodies, the lovemaking between the sitar and the guitar, the playful conversation between the tabla, dhol, snare, and kick-drum. The mixing of the soca rhythm with chutney’s in his production is so infectious that dance you must on hearing; you can either do a slow wine, fast wine, or ‘screw de blub’.
Caribbean Entertainment Hub recently chatted with Big Rich and was able to get him to speak about his meteoric rise to success.
“What is the meaning of Pungalunks and what is the Pungalunks Factory?”
“About 23 years ago, there was an old Lady who used to call in on the radio station (Masala 101.1fm) where I worked and call me ‘Chunkalunks’ and that name ended up sticking. I had no problem with the ladies calling me ‘Chunkalunks’ but all them fellows and them saying where’s the ‘Chunkalunks’ man! So I said you know what, I needed to put a little more zest, a little more ‘roar’ in this. And I just put the word ‘Punga’ which has that very manly kind of powerful yeah and ‘Lunks’ together. It’s a stupid combination. But somehow it worked for the last 23 years. It was strange. It was different. It was like, what is that? What’s a Pungalunks? So yeah, it really has no deep meaning. The Punalunks Factory, that’s my studio.”
“Can you give me a summary of your introduction to music and Chutney soca?
“Let me make this as short as possible, which is a very long story. I’ve always liked Indian music. I like music and watching Indian movies. Watching all those movies with Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor and all these actors. Over time, I ended up getting into ‘DJing’, playing music and doing mixed-tapes and so on. I decided to take an Indian song and put it with a dub beat. The first song I did it with was called ‘Mere Naseeb’ and a dub song called ‘Hot This Year’. I put it on a tape and the country and all over went crazy about it. So, I decided to do a full cassette tape with Indian music and dub beat which was called ‘The Ten Thousand’. I am the man who invented all these Indian dub mixes. I used some Indian dub, slow dub, and pop music with dub beat and so on. But the Indian dub is what put me on the map.”
“I started touring Toronto and then the rest of the world by doing all these cassette mixes, megamixes. First Priority Music, FPM, that was me. From that, I ended up in radio as a DJ, then an Announcer. From an Announcer to a Producer producing artists and then my own TV show (Big Rich Lime) hosting events, Carnival events, foreign, local and from there, I ended up working with all the chutney artists, all the big guns.”
Big Rich went on to changed chutney with his production of ‘Bring It’ – Hunter & Bunji Garlin, and ‘Jep Sting Naina’ – Hunter. He has taken Chutney from the backyards of Indian weddings to backyard parties and boat rides in North America and throughout the Caribbean. He is a Kingmaker who is responsible for Kenneth Salick – ‘Radica’, Ravi B – ‘Ah Drinker’, and Ricky Jai – ‘White Oak and Water’ all winning the Chutney Soca Monarch (CSM) competition. He also adds the double crown with Ricky Jai and Ravi B winning the traditional chutney and the chutney soca competition the same year. And he hasn’t stopped yet, for he is the man behind the 2020 and 2021 back-to-back CSM king GI.
Besides working in chutney soca, Big Rich has also done significant work in traditional chutney and the local cover of Bollywood music. He has done many collaborations with other artists like Kes, Bunji Galin, Allison Hinds, Nadia Batson, Destra, Iwer George, Problem Child, Skinny Fabulous, Sherwin Winchester, Cutty Ranks, Conscience, Beenie Man, Lady Shaw, and more.
In the Pungalunks Factory, Big Rich takes complete control over all phases of the production. He does the rhythm, arranges the music, records the vocals, mixes, and masters the finished product. He likes writing and has written several songs for many artists.
“So I spend a lot of time on my production. I don’t just give keyboardist music and have them do whatever they want. There may be times when I may do that, but I still need to add. So, I let them do the basics and then I add the body and the flavor of what I want. I let them put down the chord structures and then I just come in with the bass and how I want the brass and everything else. With the artists, when they sing, I may want them to sing it a certain way. I might ‘la la’ how I want them to sing it. I have a vision with each production.”
“How does your work affect your relationship with your family and friends?”
“So you know, when you’re happening, you got to do what you got to do. My family understands that I have to travel, and I travel a lot. My studio is home. So, I work from home and every free time I have I spend it with the family, which is my brother, my two sons, my mom, and my dad; that’s my crew. I cook a lot and when I’m not touring or in the studio, I’m a chef. I like to cook. Once I have time, I will cook something. I love cooking, cooking everything and anything. I have a very busy life. But I make time for family. For me, family comes first, always come first. But you know, I need to do what I have to do when I have to do it. But I try to balance it out.”
Big Rich went on to state that he did not study music production, sound engineering, or Djing.
“It was something that was just in me (laughter). I pretty much wing it through life because from being a DJ and touring and knowing what people like and liking all types of music. I’ve adapted the styles into my production. So form being a DJ is what I guess made me a successful producer. I did it all on my own and developed my own style and vibes.”
Big Rich has done extensive touring throughout Canada, the USA, England, and the Caribbean. He has recently relaunched his own TV show ‘Big Rich Lime Re-loaded’ and is the program director of Radio U97.5 FM in Trinidad. His is indeed a story of what started off as a hobby turning into a successful career.
Big Rich signature hits can be found in the video playlist below
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