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Viral fever!

YouTube sensation Wilbur Sargunaraj says simplicity rules

Photo: R. Ravindran

WORD SMITH Wilbur Sargunaraj

In his signature white shirt and black trousers, longish hair and neutral-accented English, he seems exactly like his online persona, but you soon realise there's more to this YouTube sensation. With over three million views and 2,800 subscribers to his channel, Wilbur Sargunaraj is among India's biggest YouTube stars.

This Madurai-born, living in Canada, is a ‘global ambassador' for cultural intelligence, and travels around the world, doing what he does best — talking to people. “My passion is to make the common, extraordinary. This is how the Wilbur World Wide project began — to give voice to the common people,” he says.

All too soon

Wilbur's first video on YouTube was ‘Blog Song', a parody he never expected to become popular. “There was this whole phase where people kept asking others to check their blog. I made a parody of this, and circulated it among friends. And before I knew it, the video went viral,” he says.

The drummer-musician thinks India's music scene is dominated by Bollywood glamour, and there must be space for the common man also.

“I chose ‘Love Marriage' as a theme for one of my songs because it's topical. No matter where Indians are, there is still this question about love or arranged marriage. Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun started talking about the video, then it caught on in the U.S., and Indians began to notice it. I think the video became popular because of its simplicity,” he explains.

About the three women featured in the video, Wilbur says: “So many people have asked me who they were. They're women from a destitute centre where I often go. One day, I just asked them to dance. We don't always do such things, but they had a good time, and I saw them smile.”

But, how does he get talking to these people? “It's not tough. We need to get away from ourselves and learn to turn the spotlight on others. We were in Kenya once, and I wanted to meet the Masai. Usually, tourists only take a picture with them, but never interact. I started talking to one of them, and two others got excited. After all, everyone loves to tell his or her story,” he smiles.

A How To series

Apart from parodies, Wilbur has launched his ‘How To' series — short clips on how to use various things, “It's an educational series, where I teach Westerners how to use Indian stuff and vice versa. I even got mails from people saying they've forwarded it to people travelling and that they found it useful.”

After the success of his eponymous debut album, Wilbur is all set to launch his second — ‘Simple Superstar', with nine tracks (one bonus track).

“It has a title track. I've sung the others — such as Annie Rose (a dappankuthu), First Class Bangra, and Vaigai Express (the train I'd take from Madurai to Chennai when I was young). A part of the proceeds from album sales will go to charity.”

So what does he think makes his songs tick? “The fact that anyone can relate to them or sing along. Also, there's nothing glamourous about it,” he says.

(‘Simple Superstar', launched by Purplenote and Think Music, will hit the market on March 15, and is priced at Rs. 150. Other Wilbur merchandise will be available at this audio's launch at Satyam Cinemas today at 10 a.m.)

ANUSHA PARTHASARATHY

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