History In The Making: Diljit Dosanjh Takes The Stadium Stage, Sets Records With North America Tour (Cover Story)

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(Courtesy Ripple Effect Studios)

The concert business, in recent years, has seen multiple groundbreaking firsts: Taylor Swift helming the first $1 billion tour, Madonna’s record-breaking crowd of 1.6 million fans on the beach in Rio de Janeiro, George Strait’s 110,905 tickets sold for one show at Kyle Field in Texas.

One other recent groundbreaking first, however, is a bit different from the others: a stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia, in April became the site of another historic event when Indian musician Diljit Dosanjh played before 48,000 fans at BC Place for what is being called the largest Punjabi-language concert outside of India.

These kinds of massive accomplishments take decades of work, strategic planning, maintaining a deep connection with masses of fans, years of touring working up the venue ladder, endless promotion and marketing as well as a lot of risk and nerves of steel.

“If it works, it’s amazing, but if it doesn’t work, it’s freaking terrifying,” says Baldeep Randhawa, a promoter at Live Nation, based in Canada. “Once the show happened, everybody was just happy. It was just such a positive vibe. When he was on stage, the first thing he said was, ‘We are here. We made it, we’re, we’re on stage’ and, basically we’re all on that same level now.”

As a multimedia superstar for more than 20 years and with more than a decade of worldwide touring under his belt, Dosanjh was more than qualified to accomplish the feat, but it still took some convincing.

Diljit Dosanjh Performs At BC Place
DIL-LUMINOUS: Diljit Dosanjh’s “Dil-Luminati” North America tour moved about 200,000 tickets, with first-time sellouts in many markets for an Indian artist. (Photo by Andrew Chin / Getty Images)

“It essentially took two years of convincing (Dosanjh’s team) to do a stadium. I swear I annoyed them into doing it,” says Randhawa, who also promoted the Indian star’s 2022 “Born To Shine” tour that included North American arenas. That run saw strong business in venues like Rogers Arena in Vancouver and Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, leading to discussions of the next big moment for the Indian superstar.

“I took Diljit on a tour of BC Place, trying to convince him. He literally walked into the venue and he was dead silent, just looking around, sitting in the seats.”

Initially unsure of being able to fill such a large venue, one suited for Major League Soccer matches, the 40-year-old music, film and TV star ultimately accepted the challenge. The April 27 gig was the first of the 13-date “Dil-Luminati” tour of arenas in Canada and the U.S.

“He finally said yes and then, frankly, when the onsale happened we really saw the community come together,” said Randhawa, a first-generation Canadian-Indian who speaks Punjabi and is Sikh. The BC Place show was a moment for an underserved community where even the biggest and most talented music stars previously would be relegated to playing inadequate venues produced by inexperienced promoters. “It became a historic moment where everybody was excited and proud to see the first Punjabi artist play a stadium. Even in India, Punjabi artists played outdoor venues but never a proper enclosed stadium (with modern production). So this was the first real stadium show.”

Dosanjh had success with previous dates in the U.S., UK and Australia and, while kicking off the tour with a stadium show in the nearly 50,000-capacity range was no small feat, the response to the previous tour gave Randhawa confidence to push for the historic occasion at BC Place.

“He was already the first and biggest Indian artist to sell out at Rogers Arena, and now it
was like, should we take that risk?” said Sonali Singh of Ripple Effect Studios and based in India. She’s worked with Dosanjh for the last 15 years, initially as a label A&R before managing him full time.

Manager Sonali Singh and Live Nation promoter Baldeep Randhawa pictured backstage at BC Place during the record-setting tour opener.

“There’s so much at stake, nobody has ever done this — not just any Punjabi artist but no Indian artist had ever done that,” Singh said. “Baldeep really motivated us enough to believe that we would be able to do it. We did have some data to back that up, the response previously and the kind of traffic on the website.”

The show sold out 28,000 tickets at presale, and Singh says it surely would have sold all 48,000 tickets that day if all were released during the presale.

The event was not only a moment for the superstar himself but also considered a moment for the whole South Asian community. It was a sign that the community had found its footing in the West without compromising core values and traditions, and doing so while enjoying first-class, modern production value fit for the biggest stars of any nationality. The team and Dosanjh himself considered the moment about more than one show, the music or even the artist.

“It was a landmark moment for the entire community, for the entire Indian music scene,” Singh said. “I feel this particular show was not just about this concert. It was a lot more than that. Whoever came to the show unanimously felt it was their own success. It wasn’t just Diljit’s success, it was kind of the whole community feeling a moment of pride and that they all had arrived and made it so huge and also brought some hope to a lot of youngsters, who now can also dream so big.”

While the community and artist shared in the moment as bigger than any one person, not just any artist could have pulled off the feat or been the right choice.

Charismatic, stylish and of course talented to the point of commanding large audiences, Dosanjh also resonates with fans for having a humble background, positive attitude and staying true to his values and culture — all while performing in multiple types of genres, which appeals to multiple generations over the course of his 20-year career.

BC Place, Vancouver, April 27. (Ripple Effect Studios)

“He’s really earned his way to become a star,” Randhawa says. “He’s built this
fan base that’s unlike any I’ve seen. Talking to fans, they all have different favorite songs and are all in different age groups. Grandparents love his older stuff, and my niece
and nephew like the newer stuff, collabs with Sia and all that. He’s put in some time and effort to really expand his musical influence.”

That was demonstrated in his recent performance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” where Dosanjh sang two songs and even taught the host a few phrases in Punjabi.
“Diljit deserves and is the right choice to be the first because he always made sure that he continues maintaining his own, authentic self,” said Singh, mentioning stage design and production that incorporates traditional costume, dance and handpicked touches throughout.

“He always followed whatever was true to him — his soul, his sound, his culture and his ethnicity. He did not change even a bit in order to fit in or cross over. He wanted to represent his soul, his culture, his sound on a global platform and on a global scale, and wanted that to be accepted globally. He did not want change at all, and I think his authentic self and his authenticity have contributed a lot to his stature today.”

Singh says that authentic connection with fans meant the tour was not only feasible but led to an overwhelmingly positive response and has put the wheels in motion to hit secondary and tertiary North American markets next time.

“Diljit’s fanbase is huge in those markets, and we didn’t even have to put a lot of money into promoting or pushing ticket sales,” she said.

The global appeal means that much more opportunity remains for Dosanjh.

“When we saw Diljit, we saw the potential globally for him,” said Nidhish Varughese at Live Nation Global Touring, who’s also involved with tours by artists including Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott and The Weeknd. He’s also of Indian descent and said it’s been a goal to bring South Asian music to Live Nation. “We luckily are getting the opportunity to showcase what we can do on a global basis. We’ve always planned on pushing Diljit as a global superstar, which is what we’re in the process of doing now.”

India Netflix
PUNJAB MILLIONAIRE: Diljit Dosanjh poses with composer
A. R. Rahman during the promotion of their film
“Amar Singh Chamkila” in Mumbai, India, Feb. 29.
Dosanjh is a multimedia superstar in India, appearing in movies,
TV and with high-profile brand and sponsorship deals.
Photo by AP Photo / Rafiq Maqbool

Varughese said more than 200,000 tickets have been sold for the 13-date tour.
“From a Live Nation perspective, we have the freedom if we believe in something to go after it,” Varughese said. “With the Diljit tour, it was cool to see a broad audience from younger kids to grandmothers and grandfathers. We hit the whole spectrum there with the audience. A lot of these people have never been to these professional venues, so they had a sense of pride that they were able to see shows in these kinds of venues, just legitimizing the market and the industry as well. As a leader in live concerts, it was nice to be able to show them what we can do in these kinds of large spaces. It’s building trust from a genre perspective as well because other artists see what we’ve done with this and we’ve been able to do other successful South Asian tours in the arena space as well.”

The “Dil-Luminati Tour” hit arenas including Oakland Arena, Allstate Arena near Chicago, Kia Center in Orlando, Capital One Arena in D.C., and Prudential Center in New Jersey into June, and will wrap with two high-profile dates in July – Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles and Rogers Centre in Toronto, another stadium show.

Varughese adds, “We’ve sold out in almost every market. Traditionally South Asian music is a late-buying crowd, but we’ve seen a pattern here where people are actually buying at the presale and leading into the onsale. It’s the excitement for the music and the fan base here wants to get it right away. Traditionally, people wait to the last minute — ‘Is the artist gonna show up? Is this real?’ People are realizing with an A-level show in production and marketing that this is really selling accordingly.”

Dosanjh was heavily involved in all aspects of the tour production, creatively working closely with Singh on minute details of the performances and with Live Nation to help connect the dots on production and local suppliers.

“We feel honored that Live Nation had enough trust in him and put in the investment in him and took the risk of entering into a completely new territory, not only geographically, but also in terms of the diaspora,” Singh said, adding that plans are in the works to hit new markets in Europe and the Middle East. “It was the first time that a company like Live Nation had invested in and trusted an Indian artist, and I am very confident and very happy and proud to say his tour was such a massive success and the response was so huge. Revenues were really good and it was a really successful collaboration, not just for Diljit but also for the entire Indian music scene and the Punjabi music scene.”

Through an interpreter, Dosanjh shared with Pollstar, “With every tour, our mission is to elevate both the scale and quality of our productions, striving to create an unforgettable experience for our audiences. My goal is always to enhance their enjoyment and ensure they have the time of their lives. The BC Place concert was a testament to this commitment, with our team delivering a phenomenal show through cutting-edge design and technology, amplifying the viewer experience to new heights.”

With a major production necessary to meet demand, the promoter was instrumental in helping bring the vision to life with experienced production partners and suppliers, while working closely with Dosanjh and his creative team.

Diljit Dosanjh Performs At BC Place
Diljit Dosanjh’s “Dil-Luminati” tour
ends at another stadium, the recently renovated Rogers Centre,
home to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Photo by Getty Images

“They had a vision from a design standpoint that we helped execute and amplify,” Varughese said, noting that Dosanjh referenced and was inspired by blockbuster tours by artists like Beyoncé and Coldplay.

“A lot of the production that we’re doing is in line with some of the top pop and hip-hop acts, whether it’s pyro, automation, lifts, etcetera. We brought on a production team to help execute that vision and really stay close from a step-by-step basis to make sure that their vision is fully executed the way they wanted it.”

The cultural moment means a lot to Randhawa personally, whose father came to Canada in the 1970s and, finding it difficult to get work, shaved his beard and took an anglicized name in order to assimilate and provide for his family.

“There’s a moment there, now seeing a guy with a turban on stage — to go from that in the ‘70s to seeing a sold-out venue by someone like that on stage, it meant something very deep and great,” said Randhawa, who jokes that promoting South Asian music started as a “side hustle that became a full hustle” for him at Live Nation. “Frankly, I think a lot of people share that story. There were a ton of people crying in the room, and it was all crying of joy.”

Varughese can relate.

“I’m from India as well, from the southern state called Kerala, and I’m actually an immigrant,” he said. “I never thought to myself that I would actually be working with South Asian music in a corporate company that mainly does Western music, and pushing it around the world globally, right? It’s really a moment for me to reflect as well, to know that we’re in a position now, starting as an immigrant, to be able to help push my own culture around the world.”

Singh stresses Dosanjh’s connection with music fans and on a larger cultural level is genuine, which makes the impact even greater.

“What Diljit is as a human being also does a lot to contribute to his success because he’s genuinely a great human being,” Singh said. “He’s very kind, very spiritual, very honest and innocent. You are able to see that reflected in his performance. He genuinely does that from the bottom of his heart because he truly feels that emotion towards his people. I’ve never seen him talking badly about anyone ever. I’ve never seen him taking a day off. He’s consistently working, dedicatedly working towards his craft with huge persistence. He’s very dedicated and committed to his work and what he does. He’s very passionate about making his sound global.”