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Trends: Going Bhangra

November 2006
Trends: Going Bhangra

From farms of Punjab to a place in the American pop scene

What possibly could an increasing number of collegians in the U.S have in common with farmers from Punjab? More intriguingly, what could the former group, given its attraction to the high tech and the cutting edge, absorb from the latter with its folksy, traditional culture?

Such is the vigor and allure of bhangra—the high energy exuberant dance form that has for generations symbolized the joie de vivre of Punjabis—that it is now gaining a foothold in the global and American pop scene. Starting with colleges and universities, bhangra is now making inroads into the club scene. The same dance (only with stylized differences) that was a striking part of the festivities surrounding the rich harvests of Punjabi farmers is increasingly exciting the youth at the forefront of pop culture.

From Old World to the in-thing

Bhangra's roots may be as far back as 300 BC, but it definitely existed about 500 years ago. With its lively music, singing, and beats from the dhol, a two headed drum dating back to the 15th century, it has been extremely popular, with a variety of styles of dance, instruments, and occasions for participating.

From traditional bhangra to more modern, popular artists from South Asia include, for example, Manmohan Warris, A.S. Kang, Jagmohan Kaur, Hans Raj Hans, Kuldip Manak, and Daler Mehndi. From England, where the bhangra industry is huge, there are DCS, Malkit Singh, B21, Safri Boyz, and Dippa. And now from the United States and Canada, there are artists such as Sangeet Group of California, Jazzy Bains and Bhinda Jatt.

Bhangra music now combines the dhol with guitar and keyboards to create a new sound. This contemporary bhangra is increasingly finding a place amongst homegrown American forms such as rap and hip-hop, as well as with other forms such as reggae, house, and drum-and-bass. Its vivid elements such as the upbeat music and high energy levels lend it a lot of similarity to hip-hop, and in the youthful diaspora, collaborations were bound to happen. In England, Coventry-born bhangra fusion pioneer Punjabi MC made history with his very popular Knight Rider remix (theme music from the Knight Rider TV series fused with bhangra), which was later remade with American rapper Jay-Z. Bhangra has moved from the Indian market into the mainstream so that now we have, for example, American Missy Elliot's "Move Your Body" with pronounced bhangra beats. This integration has made it common for bhangra to be played at clubs, college parties, and high school dances. In April this year, the legendary Sounds of Brazil Club in New York City celebrated nine years of monthly bhangra nights, and the event was broadcast all over the world by WorldSpace Satellite Radio.

Passionate Stars and Passionate Participants

Who are the bhangra pilgrims conquering this new land? Many mentioned above were born in the Punjab but are now living outside, such as Bikram Singh, who came to the States as a teen and is now a 21-year-old star with one foot in the past and one in the future. A lover of traditional, passionate bhangra, he also wants his music to be loved by the new generation, so he writes his own lyrics and incorporates elements of reggae and hip-hop. Then there is the second generation youth with heritage from the Indian sub-continent. Today in America, Canada, and England, it is the vogue to create a bhangra team on your college campus and participate in bhangra competitions. According to the Punjab-on-line website there are over 100 universities and colleges with such teams and over 30 bhangra competitions! Teams travel the United States to competitions ranging from Bhangra Blowout at George Washington University in Washington D.C. to South Beach Bhangra in Miami to Bruin Bhangra in Los Angeles.

So, one may ask, what does bhangra do for the Indian youth? Roshen Patel, a sophomore at Drexel University says, "Bhangra is important to me because even though it isn't from my parent's region in India, it is a way of representing my Indian heritage to the masses." Rahul Kataria of the Northwestern University Bhangra Team takes part in the activity to maintain his Indian identity and Punjabi roots. Bhangra is also "easy to learn," as Anjan Deka, a senior at UGA Honors, and Chirag Madnani, a member of the University of Florida Bhangra Team, claim. According to Radhika Nataraj, an alumna of Georgia Tech, the mood of the music lends itself to celebration, excitement, and happiness, which is what people want to see. This dance form is something everybody can do and at the same time, it unites people from backgrounds of different races. African Americans, Caucasians, and Oriental students have all become very active in the bhangra community.

One Example of a Vigorous Role for Second-Gens

Our American society is very adaptive to change. As the populace becomes accustomed to elements of different cultures, society is enriched. Disco replaced ballroom dancing. Now hip hop has become mainstream. Will bhangra be next? The most interesting thing about bhangra being the next wave in the US is that it isn't coming only from the Americans picking up on Indian ideas nor from Indians born in India branching out, but also to a great extent from second generation Indian-Americans! This is something that the youth here can be proud of: they don't have to be just Americans with a different heritage, or Indians living elsewhere, they can carve out their individual niches as active, creative individuals fully participating in a world that is made richer by the crossing of boudaries! Right on, second-gens!

Now the intriguing question is whether the bhangra wave will leave its impact in America. Will it simply be a tidal wave and rim the coast or will it become a part of our cultural ocean? As bhangra music is fusing with western hip-hop, Indian culture is getting respect among mainstream American youth. If you ask me, bhangra, like yoga, is here to stay! Happy bhangra surfing!!

[ Romeen Sheth is a senior at Northview High School in Duluth, Georgia where he is the choreographer for the school Bhangra Team]

Bhangra Side Bar

Popular Bhangra Websites

http://www.punjabonline.com/ - A forum to discuss different topics, from bhangra competitions to the origins of bhangra.

http://www.bhangra.org/ - A website with the latest bhangra tunes, from traditional to modern hip-hop remixes.

http://www.rhythmsoftheglobe.com/ - A website for music/art (including bhangra), spirituality, health, books, and global news on issues of significance for the future

Popular Bhangra Artists

1.Jassi Sidhu

2.Jassi Sohal

3.Lehmber Hussainpuri

4.Lil' Sach


6.Ranjit Mani

Bhangra/Hip-Hop Remixes

1.Beware of the Boys – Punjabi MC ft. Jay-Z

2.Next Episode – DJ Sanj

3.Mohabatain – DJ Intense

4.Dilbar Jani – DJ Intense

5.Bad Boy Bhangra – DJ APS

6.Kudiyan Tho – Amar Arshi

7.Vang – Adh

8.Ranjana – RDB ft. 50 Cent

9.Dance With You – Rishi Rich ft. Jay Sean & Juggy D

10.Dil Sada Lutaygiya – RDB

Historically Most Successful Bhangra Teams

1.Khalsa Junction (Los Angeles, CA)

2.V.I.B.E (Vancouver, Canada)

3.Cornell Bhangra (Ithaca, New York)

4.UBC Girlz Bhangra (British Columbia, Canada)

5.Rutgers Bhangra (New Jersey)


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