Bhangra (ਭੰਗੜਾ بھنگڑا, pə̀ŋgɽäː) is a lively form of music and dance that originated in the Punjab region of Pakistan and India. Bhangra began as a folk dance conducted by farmers to celebrate the coming of Spring and the Sikh holiday, a time known as Vaisakhi. Today, bhangra survives in different forms and styles all over the globe – including pop music, film soundtracks, and even collegiate competitions. The recent interest in bhangra in the West has arisen from Indian artists predominantly. The vibrant colors and props used and worn by men and women during the dance is specific to Indian Punjab.
Traditional Bhangra is a fusion of music, singing and the beat of the dhol drum, a single stringed instrument called the iktar (ektara), the tumbi and the chimta. The accompanying songs are small couplets written in the Punjabi language called bolis. They relate to current issues faced by the singers and (dil the gal) what they truly want to say. In Punjabi folk music, the dhol's smaller cousin, the dholki, was nearly always used to provide the main beat. Nowadays the dhol is used more frequently, with and without the dholki. Additional percussion, including tabla, is less frequently used in bhangra as a solo instrument but is sometimes used to accompany the dhol and dholki. The dholki drum patterns in Bhangra music bear an intimate similarity to the rhythms in Reggae music. This rhythm serves as a common thread which allows for easy commingling between Bhangra and Reggae as demonstrated by such artists as the UK's Apache Indian.
As many Bhangra lyrics reflect the long and often tumultuous history of the Punjab, knowledge of Punjabi history offers important insights into the meaning of the music. During the last thirty years, Bhangra has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide, both in traditional form and as a fusion with genres such as hip-hop, house, and reggae.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, several Punjabi singers from the United Kingdom set the stage for Bhangra to become a mass phenomenon. The success of many Punjabi artists based in the United Kingdom, created a fan-base, inspired new artists, and found large amounts of support in both East and West Punjab. These singers/bands/artists, some of whom are still active today, include Jatinder Dhol Group,Kuldip Manak,the band heera, the band Alaap, A.S. Kang
Bhangra dancing was originally perceived as a male dance, a "man's song", with strong, intense movements. However, "Second-generation South Asian American women are increasingly turning to bhangra as a way of defining cultural identity.
In the 1980’s Bhangra artists were selling over 30,000 cassettes a week, but not one artist made their way onto the top 40 in the U.K., despite these artists outselling popular British ones.
The 1980s is also what is commonly known as the golden age or the Punkra era. It lasted roughly from 1985-1993, the primary emphasis during these times was on the melody/riff (played out usually on a synthesizer/harmonium/accordian or a guitar), the musician/composer received as much fanfare if not more, than the vocalist.
One of the biggest Bhangra stars of the last several decades is Malkit Singh - known as "the golden voice of the Punjab" - and his group, Golden Star. Malkit was born in June 1963, in the village Hussainpur, in Punjab. He attended the Khalsa College, Jalandhar, in the Punjab, in 1980 to study for a B.A. in Arts. Here he met his mentor, Professor Inderjit Singh, who nurtured his skills in Punjabi folk singing and Bhangra dancing. Thanks to Singh's tutelage, Malkit entered and won many song contests during this time. In 1983 he won a gold medal at the Guru Nanak Dev University, in Amritsar, Punjab, for performing his hit song Gurh Naloo Ishq Mitha, which later featured on his first album, Nach Gidhe Wich, released in 1984. The album was a strong hit among South Asians worldwide, and after its release Malkit and his band moved to the United Kingdom to continue their work. Malkit has now produced 16 albums and has toured 27 countries in his Bhangra career. Malkit has been awarded the prestigious MBE by the British Queen for his services to Bhangra music.
Gurdas Mann, a multi-talented Punjabi singer from the Punjab region, had a huge impact on Bhangra music. He started his career in 1980 with his first album, Dil Da Mamla, followed by his huge hit Masti, musically directed by Charanjit Ahuja, the man who changed the sound of Punjabi music in India with the use of non-ethnic instruments such as Spanish guitars, saxophone and trumpet (punkra). Since then Gurdas Maan has become an idol for many, not only for his lyrical and musical talent, but also his acting ability. He appeared in the Punjabi film Long Da Lishkara, which included the mega hit Challa (remixed in 1999 by Punjabi MC on his album Legalised). Since 1982 Gurdass Mann has released a number of hit albums, performed at sold-out concerts around the world and released many popular singles, including Apna Punjab.
The group Alaap, fronted by Channi Singh, the man made famous by his white scarf, hails from Southall, a Punjabi area in London. Their album Teri Chunni De Sitaray, released in 1982 by Multitone, created quite a stir at a time when Bhangra was still in its early days in the UK. This album played a critical role in creating an interest in Bhangra among Asian university students in Britain. Alaap were unique with a live-set that was the best ever to play on the Bhangra stage. Their music oozed perfection especially the rhythm section. The music produced for Alaap included the pioneering sounds by Deepak Khazanchi.
Heera, formed by Bhupinder Bhindi and fronted by Kumar and Dhami, was one of the most popular bands of the eighties. Fans were known to gatecrash weddings where they played. The group established itself with the albums Jag Wala Mela, produced by music maestro of the time Kuljit Bhamra and Diamonds from Heera, produced the Deepak Khazanchi the man behind the new sound of UK Bhangra, on Arishma records. These albums are notable for being amongst the first Bhangra albums to successfully create mix Western drums and synthesizers with traditional Punjabi instruments.
Bands such as “Alaap” and “Heera” incorporated Rock influenced beats into Bhangra because it enabled the "Asian youth to affirm their identities positively" within the larger venue of alternative Rock as an alternative way of expression. However, Some believe that the progression of Bhangra music created an "intermezzo culture" post-India's Partition, within the unitary definitions of Southeast Asians within the diaspora. Thus, “establishing a brand new community in their home away from home".
Several other influential groups appeared around the same time, including The Saathies, Bhujungy Group, and Apna Sangeet. Apna Sangeet, most famously known for their hit Mera Yaar Vajavey Dhol, are still performing and are known as one of the best live acts in Bhangra.
When bhangra and Indian sounds and lyrics were brought to, British-Asian artists began incorporating them in their music. Certain Asian artists, such as Bally Sagoo, Talvin Singh, Badmarsh, Black Star Liner, and State of Bengal are creating their own form of British hip-hop.
Even more well established groups like Cornershop, Fun-Da-Mental, and Asian Dub Foundation are finding different means and methods to create new sounds that other Asian groups have never formed. By mixing the sounds of bhangra with the popular sounds of hard rock and heavy metal, Asians are able to stay true to their own culture, while being open to a world of change. British-Asians have to be conscious of both cultures in their everyday life and now are doing so in their music as well.
This era saw the very first boy band called the Sahotas, a band made up of five brothers from Wolverhampton, UK. Their music is a fusion Reggae, Rock, Dance fused with their very own distinctive sound.
beginning around 1994, their was a discernible trend towards the use of samples (often sampled from mainstream hip hop) mixed in with traditional rhythm instruments such as tumbi and dhol (folkhop). This can be seen in the move away from live music and the virtual death of the orchestra and original compositions in the Punjabi sound.
The most influential champion of the new "folk hop" was the "Canadian folkster", Jazzy Bains. Originally from Namasher in Punjab, "Jazzy B", as he is commonly referred to, has become one of the preeminent Bhangra artists in the world after his debut in 1992. Having sold over 55,000 copies of his second album, Folk and Funky, he is now one of the best-selling Bhangra artists in the world, with a vocal style likened to that of Kuldip Manak. Although much of his music has a traditional Punjabi beat, he is known for having songs that incorporate a hip-hop style such as "Romeo." Jazzy Bains has taken up a particularly modern, hip-hop image for himself, perhaps helping his popularity within the folk hop genre in the process. Jazzy Bains give's wide recognition to the success of his many hits to Sukshinder Shinda who has produced his music.
Bhangra is also heavily influenced by Hustlers HC. This rap group combines some guitar with hip hop beats. The Asian group raps about politics, capitalism, racial oppression, and the Asian cultural and political stance in Britain. Each of their songs relates to some importance in the world of the Asian culture. "Big Trouble in Little Asia" is a giant hit for this rap group, speaking mostly about the Asian life in Britain. This group influences the Bhangra genre, as well as the people and youth of the Asian culture. One of the members of the group stated that reggae music contains Bhangra rhythm, related to the dholak drum patterns in the music.
Other influential Bhangra artists include Surinder Shinda - famous for his Putt Jattan De - Harbhajan Mann, Manmohan Waris, Meshi Eshara, Sarbjit Cheema, Hans Raj Hans, Sardool Sikander, Sahotas, Geet the MegaBand, Anakhi, Sat Rang, XLNC, B21, Shaktee, Intermix, Sahara, Paaras, PDM, DCS, Amar Group, Sangeet Group, and Bombay Talkie. Another artist to rise to stardom with many successful hits was Punjabi MC.
In modern times, men also wear turla - the fan attached to the pugdee. Colorful vest are worn above the kurta. Fumans - small balls attached to ropes - are worn on each arm.
Women wear a traditional Punjabi dress known as a ghagra. A ghagra is a long colorful skirt which fans out into a gaint disk as a woman twirls. Women also wear duppattas, colorful pieces of cloth wrapped around their neck. Many Bhangra songs make references to the duppatta. Also, women wear suits called salwars kamiz; long baggy pants tight at the ankle (salwars) and a long colorful shirt (kamiz).
These items are all very colorful and vibrant, representing the rich rural colors of Punjab. Referring to some sources, Besides the above, the Bhangra dress has different parts that are listed below in detail:
According to Sanjay Sharma, in her article, she explains/points out the fact that Bhangra represents Asians and is referred to today as Asian music which accounts for the vast existence of Asian wear and not to mention symbols as part of their traditional dress/costumes.
Bhangra singers do not sing in the same tone of voice as their Southeast Asian counterparts. Rather, they employ a high, energetic tone of voice. Singing fiercely, and with great pride, they typically add nonsensical, random noises to their singing. Likewise, often people dancing to Bhangra will yell phrases such as hey hey hey, balle balle,, oye oye, buurrraaa, haripa or ch-ch to the music.
The primary and most important instrument that defines Bhangra is the dhol. The dhol is a large, high-bass drum, played by beating it with two sticks - known as daggah (bass end) and tilli (treble end). The width of a dhol skin is about fifteen inches in general, and the dhol player holds his instrument with a strap around his neck.
The string instruments include the tumbi, sarangi, sapera, supp, and chimta. The dhad, dafli, dholki, and damru are the other drums. The tumbi, originally played by legends such as Lalchand Yamla Jatt and Kuldip Manak in true folk recordings and then famously mastered by chamkila, a famous Punjabi singer, is a high-tone, single-string instrument. it has only one string, and is relatively easy to master. The sarangi is a multi-stringed instrument, somewhat similar to the violin and is played using meends. The sapera produces a beautiful, high-pitched stringy beat, while the supp and chimta add an extra, light sound to Bhangra music. Finally, the dhad, dafli, dholki, and damru are instruments that produce more drum beats, but with much less bass than the dhol drum.
A talented 15 year old percussionist called Bhupinder Singh Kullar, aka 'Tubsy' of Handsworth, Birmingham created a more contemporary style and groove that seemed to fuse more naturally with western music. Songs such as Dhola veh Dhola (Satrang) and albums such as Bomb the Tumbi (Safri Boyz) contained this new style and were very successful. He was probably the best dholki percussionist in UK Bhangra.
Then came Sunil Kalyan of Southall, London who also sessioned on many songs and albums. He added a smoothness and sweetness never heard before on the tabla, hailing him as probably the best tabla percussionist in UK Bhangra.
Sukhshinder Shinda later introduced his unique style of dhol playing with the album 'Dhol Beat.' He added a very clean style of dhol playing and helped create the sound for artists such as Jazzy B and Bhinda Jatt. He was regarded at the time as the best Dhol player in UK Bhangra.
Other important percussionists include Juggy Rihal of Coventry, Aman Hayer and Billy Sandher of Gravesend.
Of particular note among remix artists is Bally Sagoo, a Punjabi-Sikh, Anglo-Indian raised in Birmingham, England. Sagoo described his music as "a bit of tablas, a bit of the Indian sound. But bring on the bass lines, bring on the funky-drummer beat, bring on the James Brown samples", to Time magazine in 1997. He was recently signed by Sony as the flagship artist for a new . The most popular of these is Daler Mehndi, a Punjabi singer from India, and his music, known as "Bhangra Pop". Mehndi has become a major name not just in Punjab, but also all over India, with tracks such as Bolo Ta Ra Ra and Ho Jayegee Balle Balle. He has made the sound of Bhangra-pop a craze amongst many non-Punjabis in India, selling many millions of albums. Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment is the selling of 250,000 albums in Kerela, a state in the South of India where Punjabi is not spoken.
Toward the end of the decade, Bhangra continued reaching out to mainstream culture, with Sikh artists like Bally Sagoo and Apache Indian signing with international recording labels Sony and Island. Moreover, Multitone Records, one of the major recording labels associated with Bhangra in Britain in the eighties and nineties, was bought by BMG. Finally, a recent Pepsi commercial launched in Britain featured South Asian actors and Bhangra music. This, perhaps more than anything else, is a true sign of the emergence of Bhangra into popular culture.
Post-Bhangra continues to gain popularity in both the UK and US. As mentioned above, artists such as Bally Sagoo offer what was referred to as "Bollywood remixes". This is just one result of the fusion the traditional Bhangra beats and South Asian instruments with that of other contemporary music genres. Other lesser popular offshoots include "Bhangramuffin" and Acid Bhangra. Bhangramuffin mixes traditional Bhangra backgrounds are combined with Ragga; one famous band from this genre is Apache Indian. As the title suggests, Acid Bhangra combines acid music with Bhangra. An interesting result of its popularity was that post-Bhangra gave rise to a new wave of club culture (ie. Hot 'n Spicy at London's Limelight nightclub and Manchester's Shankeys Soap). Although much of the popularity was centered around South Asian participation, post-Bhangra expressed a "process of musical cultural hybridization and syncretism that moved beyond a straightforward juxtaposition of dance music genres."
Although it sounds like a musical form that would follow the original Bhangra, post-Bhangra most specifically refers to a similar musical form with a greater emphasis on inter-dance-genre dialogues. In this way, post-Bhangra has an element of remixing and fusing Black and Asian styles of dance that is not as prevalent in traditional Bhangra. According to Sanjay Sharma, "just as Bhangra has been in constant dialogue with other (black) dance genres, post-Bhangra carries this through more incisively and intentionally." At the same time though, post-Bhangra contains the same components of racial and cultural affirmation that have been seen in Bhangra before it. In fact, with a larger focus on the dance fusion style and post-Bhangra "[operating] musically more in terms of other genres, of Ragga, Rap or Jungle music," it is very easy to see how this music attacks the essentialism that lay at the heart of the British Empire. Indeed, by fusing such starkly contrasting dance genres, post-Bhangra artists subject racial signifiers such as "Asianness" or "Blackness" to immense scrutiny. While these notions of racial and cultural essentialism can produce national pride and a finite sense of identity, they can also be highly detrimental to society at large. Since essentialism claims that people can be categorized according to some definite essence, it often leads to civil disputes and factionalism and places social boundaries between different groups of people, preventing cultural diffusion. On the flip side, post-Bhangra offers these displaced Asians in the UK an avenue for expressing their condemnation of the rigid essentialism which questions their participation in a black-dominated music scene in the first place. Not only this, but Asian artists address the issue that they too have faced social difficulties in the UK and that their music is truly authentic.
Post-bhangra has been described as a tool for strategic identity politics, presenting itself as a medium for protest against colonialism and racism. By raising awareness to problems of racism within Asian contexts, post-bhangra ventures to model movements created by organizations that have engendered a sense of unique identity for their constituents, such as the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party. Furthermore, it allows for the expression of frustration related to racial tension that has been blanketed by social apathy. Post-bhangra music has created "new ethnicities" that are pertinent to the historical ties of the Indian subcontinent whilst remaining independent of the region itself. The formation of this new sense of Asian identity has been a leading proponent of post-bhangra, providing Asian youth with a feeling of belonging despite having to struggle to identify with a new culture that is not confined to the cultural norms of their roots nor completely assimilated with any existing culture .
Somewhere between mimicry and appropriation, post-Bhangra manages to feed off of mainstream black dance genres and then flourish in a more localized context, giving it the local importance it has to Asian and Black Britons. Rupa Huq says with respect to post-Bhangra's mainstream popularity that "spring 1998 saw the number one hit 'Brimful of Asha' from Cornershop, indicating that post-Bhangra is gaining the global attention it needs. As this musical form finds its way into mainstream styles and media, the British faces behind it hope to endorse the fight against "white racial terror, neo-colonialism/ imperialism and global racial subjugation." Therefore, post-Bhangra is an important musical form both because it defies essentialism by mixing and clashing seemingly incommensurbale sounds and cultures and because it provides Asian youth in the UK with a vehicle for self-expression as part of a musical scene with which they would otherwise be discoruaged from associating.
It is important to note that recently their has been a severe backlash against the remixing and sampling that came about in bhangra after the early 1990s with a trend towards live music that is not based on rhythms but complex eastern riffs. Sadly, these disagreements have often led to violent clashes between the punkra and folkhop competing camps.
The interpretation of Bhangra must exist in the space where Asian, UK and hip hop cultures meet. Oversimplification of the genre by outsiders is detrimental to the music’s message, but artists are responsible for how they express their music’s content as well. In "Bhangra's Ambassador, Keeping the Party Spinning" from the New York Times, DJ Rekha is conscious of her cultural accountability to her music. She suggests that "because I'm working with my culture, and it's being accessed or consumed by other cultures, then I have a strong responsibility to how that message is made. ”
Bhangra followers often feel that the music is an expression of identity. As the movement gains momentum, Bhangra music has also gained international recognition. "Asian fusion is a melding of the sounds of the sub-continent with hip hop beats and R&B influences, and it's no longer destined to be tucked away in the World Music section of your record store." (Mehta, Ashta).
Punjabi immigrants have encouraged the growth of bhangra in the western hemisphere. However the bhangra industry has not grown in North America nearly as much as it has grown in the United Kingdom. Indian Lion, a UK Bhangra artist explains why:
However, with the emergence of North American bhangra artists such as Manmohan Waris, Jazzy Bains, Kamal Heer, Harbhanjan Maan, Sarabjit Cheema, and Debi Makhsoospuri, and the growth of the remix market, the future of bhangra in North America looks good.
Sanjay Sharma argues in "Noisy Asians or 'Asian Noise'?" that in the case of bhangra, musical exchanges have not been unidirectional but that in fact, a constant dialogue with other musical sources has taken place. One of those musical sources is North America. More specifically, bhangra and reggae rhythms, stemming from Jamaica, have been easily fused. While black dance music beats have proved to mesh well with the fast-paced tempo of bhangra, Sharma notes reggae music also contains a bhangara rhythm related to the dhol drum. According to an article published on SikhSpectrum.com, the dhol drum has even been involved in the appropriation of bhangra in North American culture during Britain's neocolonial period. The arrival of bhangra in North America carries not only sonic importance, but also social and anthropological significance as it represents group cooperation and universal exchange between races, nations, and identities.
However, Sharma also notes the difficulty of bhangra's acceptance in the UK. Bhangra has been seen to be an 'otherness' of a British/South Asian experience. It has also been seen that British culture mostly negates and derides this Asian expression.
In 2001, bhangra began to exert an influence over U.S. R&B music, when Missy Elliott released the bhangra-influenced song "Get Ur Freak On." In 2003, Punjabi MC's "Mundian To Bach Ke" (Beware of the Boys) was covered by the U.S. rapper Jay-Z. The great popularity of these two tracks led to an even greater usage of bhangra in American music. Additionally, American rapper Pras of The Fugees has recorded tracks with British alternative bhangra band Swami. Because the original bhangra beat is different from the commercialized version we see today, the use of bhangra beats shows the complexity and ingenuity of hip-hop in North America and how artists gain inspiration from all different genres of music. The commercialization of bhangra and the way it has traveled around the world speaks to the versatility and longevity of the musical style.
In the UK, the first ever major Bhangra Competition "The Bhangra Showdown" was organised by students from Imperial College London and held on the 1st of December 2008. The competition was held at Indigo2 in the O2 in Greenwich, and was attended by over 1000 people. All proceeds from this show were donated to two charities, in Wateraid and The Child Welfare Trust, and the show looks to continue on an annual basis.