Saskatchewan musician Tesher launches music video with Jason Derulo as 'Bollywood Hollywood duo'
After going viral on TikTok in 2020, Regina rapper breaks into the mainstream
Back in March, Hitesh Sharma, who goes by the stage name Tesher, was sitting in his parents' basement as he tracked the surprise online viral success of two of his songs.
Four months later, Sharma, a 25-year-old South Asian-Canadian rapper, producer and musician, is back in the basement in Regina, Sask., watching as his music video with American R&B artist Jason Derulo launches.
The song is Sharma's own Jalebi Baby, and it's an international hit.
The self-styled "Bollywood Hollywood duo" even performed the track live on NBC's The Today Show on July 7, marking Sharma's first ever televised live performance.
"Honestly, I love the fact that I'm in this part of my career, a music video with Jason Derulo, Top 40 record. But I'm here in Regina in my basement and my mom is, like, giving me breakfast before she leaves for work," said Sharma.
These are the moments he says he'll remember forever. "When I had that first breakthrough record I was home with my entire family together, and they were supporting me all through it."
Sharma first gained international recognition in 2020 when his remix of Old Town Road by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, with Ramta Jogi from the Bollywood film Taal, went viral on TikTok.
Shortly after, his song Young Shahrukh also went viral.
WATCH | Saskatchewan rapper Tesher breaks down his viral hit Young Shahrukh:
Sharma released his second single Jalebi Baby at the end of 2020. In the song he raps in both English and Punjabi.
It began to chart in a slew of countries including Turkey, Egypt and Algeria on social media apps like Shazam, Instagram Reels and TikTok. Then the song made its way into Europe.
Once the track hit Germany, record labels started calling.
"I think they saw that if a record can work there, it can work everywhere," said Sharma. "The world was taking notice."
In late March Derulo heard the song on Shazam and contacted Sharma. Calling Jalebi Baby a kind of song he'd never heard before, he asked to get involved.
"I think he kind of keeps his ear to the streets and sees what's hot internationally," said Sharma. "And Jalebi Baby was hitting number one in a lot of countries on Shazam."
Bringing Jalebi Baby to the mainstream
In true pandemic style, the two musicians began collaborating over Zoom — Sharma in his Regina basement and Derulo at his home studio in Los Angeles.
The new version of the song with Derulo's vocals launched in May.
Once COVID-19 cases started to decrease in late May, Sharma headed to California to meet Derulo and shoot the music video.
"It was so meant to happen, because I don't even know if I would be able to achieve the vision that I had in my mind if I didn't have Jason Derulo on board," he said.
"Because with him on board, there's dancing and lights on the set. It's so beautiful and intricate."
The video's director, Gil Green — a star in his own right, having taken on multiple videos for Derulo and other artists including DJ Khaled, Lil Wayne and Drake — is someone Sharma says he's admired for years.
He described his time collaborating with Derulo in L.A. as a crash course on today's pop music industry — from auditioning dancers, to managing social media, rehearsing and setting up interviews with international news outlets.
"A lot of people think that it's like, 'OK, you made it. You got your big record and now you're just a superstar. Absolutely not. This is when the work starts."
It often means long hours and pushing through exhaustion, but Sharma says he wouldn't change any of it, because all that work helped him realize his dream for Jalebi Baby.
When he saw the first shot of the music video, Sharma says it was exactly as he'd imagined it. Watching his dreams come to fruition right before his eyes was "an emotional experience."
His Despacito moment
When Jalebi Baby was first blowing up around the globe, Sharma had swarms of offers coming his way.
But he didn't take the first one that crossed his path — he had bigger things in mind.
"I was like 'OK, if we've hit this point, we might as well try to go for gold. Let's make the push for mainstream radio.' "
The key was sticking to that goal, and with patience and the right people, "I was able to make that happen."
Sharma hopes this early success will inspire other South Asian artists to keep their options open and chase down big opportunities as well.
He considers his and Derulo's collaboration to be similar to the massive hit Despacito, Justin Bieber's remix of the song by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.
"I'm hoping that this is like that Despacito moment," where the song goes on to be wildly successful and inspires others to make music.
The same thing happened with the Latin music community after Despacito, he reasoned.
"So why not South Asian music?"
Savouring time at home
Back in Regina, relatives, old principals and teachers, friends and members of the community are constantly calling the Sharma household.
The young artist is savouring this time home with his family. He knows his life is about to shift into a much faster pace. Sharma says he'll be living out of a suitcase for the next few years, following the direction his art takes him.
But he says Regina grounds him.
"Because it's home. I love being home. I think it's so good for my mental health."
All those calls coming into the Sharma household? They drip with pride and joy for the Saskatchewan boy dead-set on taking his goals as far as he can. Sharma says Saskatchewan people are fiercely loyal to their own.
"Why people from Saskatchewan are proud of people that make it out and start to do crazy things and extraordinary things outside of the province is because this province feels like a community."
Because he's often felt like his journey has been a solo mission, Sharma doesn't take support coming from his home town for granted.
"From Regina to the world, baby!"