The west London Mela which takes abode every August is the British-Asian Glastonbury and the absolute abode to bolt up with the heroes of acquaintance bhangra, the top singers from the sub-continent, and new faces on the UK-Asian ball music scene: Panjabi MC, the Panjabi Hit Squad, Jazzy B and the blow of the clan. Amid the funfair, back-scratch and samosa stalls, sari kiosks and kofi ice-cream sellers, are several stages and music tents. Ancestors groups barbecue on the grass while their austere baby assemblage the stages to dance, affectation and flirt.
At the London Flavas stage, breadth the Sony-award-winning BBC Radio 1 DJ, Bobby Friction, and his DJ partner, Nihal, are geeing up the army as if alive a bells party, I’m bound in with a accumulation of 19- and 20-somethings from Southall and east London. The parents are ‘over there’. Aback Birmingham’s superstar bhangra singer, Sukshinder Shinda, now in his mid-forties, fills the air with the sharp, clap rhythms from two dhol drums (the apparatus alike with bhangra) and his cinematically ballsy voice, the acclaim are deafening. Aback he bursts into ‘Par Linghade’, an old Punjabi folk tune accustomed the bhangra treatment, the girls squeal. Nineteen-year-old Sheena from Chiswick, whispers: ‘This has been about for years – it’s the Indian adaptation of the Romeo and Juliet story, and we all adulation it.’ Their blowing friends, in turbans and baseball hats, cast up their accoutrements and amplitude like addled cobras, and anybody sings along.
This cross-generational acknowledgment to bhangra has helped accumulate it affective and developing for about three decades – but surely, I suggest, this is their parents’ music? ‘Oh, no,’ the aerial artery contemporary girls and the girls in chichi hijabs, insist, ‘we still adulation the old songs, alike admitting bhangra’s got added modernised with the remixes and rapping.’ Sheena’s friend, Manjit, interrupts, ‘It’s not aloof for our parents’ generation,’ and Kuldeep, 22, in hip hop stripes, adds, ‘Everything that’s advancing up now is old-school songs remixed.’ They’ve already apparent British bhangra pioneers, Southall-based Heera, with their paunches and complete choir and still acute hits, and Kuldeep says: ‘Our parents adulation Heera’s old songs and so do we – decidedly the remixes.’
When I acquaint Bobby Friction this afterwards one of his nightly BBC Asian Network shows, he’s blessed to apprehend that the music is actuality enjoyed bottomward the generations, but sad because he thinks the adolescent musicians are lazy. ‘They’re aloof arena the old songs, not autograph their own.’ None the less, he concedes: ‘The aboriginal clue on every one of my shows for the Asian Network has to be bhangra; that ticks every box for the accomplished all-embracing audience.’
From apprehensive ancestry as the music of poor Punjabi farmers to the Eighties ‘Golden Age’ and British bands such as Alaap and Heera to today’s fusions with hip hop and grime, bhangra has travelled far over the accomplished 30 years. Cast aback to the bells affair in Bend it Like Beckham aback the heroine, Jess Bhamra, tries badly to blooper out of her sari and into football shorts, while the grannies from No.42 and hunky men in turbans beachcomber their accoutrements in the air and acclamation to the rhythms of drummers in blatant apparel and analogous turbans: that’s bhangra. And at Live8, 2006, aback UB40 played with the clap boot of the Dhol Blasters – anfractuous changeable dancers and men in ablaze turbans with fan-shaped coxcombs, directed by the arch UK bhangra drummer, Gurcharan Mall: that’s bhangra. The aboriginal bhangramuffin, Handsworth’s Apache Indian, fabricated his career afterward the Jamaican line, but still has bhangra abounding through his claret and helped put it in the UK archive and on the all-embracing map in the aboriginal Nineties.
Bhangra is allotment of every Punjabi Briton’s life, behindhand of whether they accustomed in the 1960s beachcomber which accustomed the UK’s better community, in Birmingham, or in drifts from post-Amin Uganda, or – like Bobby Friction and best bhangra artists – were British born. ‘I didn’t accept a militantly Punjabi accomplishments with an alone bhangra soundtrack,’ says Friction. ‘We had Bollywood at home too. The bodies I grew up with in Hounslow were additionally into body and alarm and I was into Madness and Prince, as able-bodied as Alaap and Heera’s new appearance Punjabi songs. And our parents listened to the originals of those songs on annal at home.’
For the Sikh families absorbed to Britain in the Sixties by jobs in London or in Birmingham’s crumbling animate industry, the acceptable songs and dances were a basal consolation. These aloft farmers came from abundant agronomical valleys in the arctic west, the belly of India, and their music and dances accompanying to the crop seasons and celebrations centred on the anniversary autumn festival, Vaisakhi (13 April, still a acute date on the now burghal community’s calendar).
Bhangra was commonly a men’s dance, accompanied by activation rhythms created by the double-headed barrel-drums, the dhol, baffled at anniversary end with a stick. The UB40 dholi Gurcharan Mall accustomed in Birmingham in 1963, and was in at the bearing of the UK scene. Sitting in his front-room in Handsworth, amidst by cabinets awash with trophies, Gurcharan tells a adventure archetypal of his generation. He served an apprenticeship in automated engineering but, he says: ‘I was consistently banging on the machines and accepting on people’s nerves! So I got calm with workmates to practise; there were no agents again and no drums, aggregate was imported; we had to accompany in the dupe banknote [for drum-heads] from India, captivated in blankets!’ Nowadays, he makes admirable drums in the garden shed.
Gurcharan’s achievement at Live8 able the attendance of bhangra on the British music landscape. Ammo Talwar, administrator of Punch annal in Birmingham, recalls the acknowledgment of friends: ‘It was actual emotional: the alone Asian actuality on Live8. Then, typically, no ligging backstage with McCartney or Geldof or Madonna; he collection beeline to Birmingham for a gig!’
During a mini-tour of Birmingham’s bhangra landmarks, Talwar drives forth the arterial Soho Road, the Midlands’ agnate of Brick Lane. It cuts through the Sikh community, accomplished the arresting temple, into the bhangra-zone, and adjoining reggae-lands of Handsworth; crossover musicians such as UB40 and Apache Indian were assured accustomed such proximity. The alley was abnormally Punjabi for decades and while it is now additionally home to Kurdish and Eastern European arrivals, the sari shops, candied shops, cafes and music food are carefully Asian. The latter, arranged with acquaintance and alien CDs and videos, acknowledge the acceptance of bhangra on home turf. The breadth still houses abounding musicians and studios, which allure performers from India and the US. Shopkeeper Ravi Singh says: ‘If you go to India and say Soho Road, they still apperceive our music today.’
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In a bistro off Soho Road, we accommodated Gursharan Chana, aka Boy Chana, a neatly dressed Sikh with a affection for atramentous turbans and suits. A arch bhangra DJ and aloft music announcer for the Asian account Eastern Eye, Chana’s accurate athenaeum anatomy a key allotment of a accepted touring exhibition, ‘From Soho Alley to the Punjab’, and accompanying book, Bhangra: Birmingham and Beyond, by Dr Rajinder Dudrah of the University of Manchester. The boxes labelled ‘Daytimers’ accommodate a amusing history of the UK bhangra scene, while addition holds images from the 1985 Handsworth riots which helped barrage Gursharan’s career as a columnist afterwards journalists acclimated his ancestors home as a abject to awning the trouble.
In the Eighties, Punjabi folk music adapted into a British-based original, with its stars actuality Alaap and Heera, both from Southall in west London, who added bang kits and synthesisers. Ball with Alaap (1981) stands as one of the key annal in British bhangra. Both bands became so accepted that admirers would gatecrash weddings at which they were playing. Crucially, a alive arena began to develop, with Birmingham’s Oriental Ablaze arising as both a characterization and a apostle of bhangra gigs. Gurcharan Mall remembers that the music advance afterwards the Asian cinemas were dead off by alien home videos from India, aback able entrepreneurs re-opened the aforementioned venues during the daytime for gigs and, in one swoop, adapted the amusing activity of adolescent Asians and launched the bhangra boom.
Bobby Friction’s memories of those exciting canicule are typical: ‘I angry 15 in 1986,’ he says, ‘and I’d go from academy to the aboriginal Daytimers, at the Empire, Leicester Square, in the afternoons. The girls went into McDonalds’ toilets to change and put on their make-up. There was annihilation alfresco our advanced doors again for adolescent Punjabis and British Asians; it was like actuality Azerbaijani in London today. We had a adventitious to go to a bistro in the West End during the daytime – white and atramentous kids couldn’t do that!’
I stumbled into a Daytimer at the Astoria on Charing Cross Alley in London in the backward Eighties and bumped beeline into a animated Andy Kershaw, who – with John Peel – was the aboriginal non-Asian DJ to comedy bhangra on BBC radio. Two thousand auspicious and dancing adolescent Asian kids, dressed to the nines in the bathed heat, in turbans and shalwar kameez, 501 jeans and flares, were absorption by clap dhol beats and disco-inspired keyboard melodies. The singer’s high, adamantine (macho) choir were backed by repetitive choruses and the athrill drums. I adeptness accept apparent Alaap or Heera, but sadly, the capacity are bound in a aside Travolta-ish memory. I affliction accepting absent the all-girl leash Saffron, who included Meera Syal (their Farrah Fawcett hairdos and ablaze apparel didn’t save them from their bedevilled music), and the adolescent tabla amateur Talvin Singh, antic a bouffant hair-do in a photograph of Alaap from 1987.
The accompanist accepted as Shin, who still leads the Eighties bandage DCS, remembers girls abrogation home in academy compatible and transforming themselves at the clubs. ‘Their mums and dads never knew,’ he says, now absolute affectionate concern. ‘And eventually, there was a lot of hoo-hah because associates of religious organisations approached the bands who they said were ‘corrupting’ the kids. It was actual innocent aback it started but afterwards a brace of years, aback the booze and again the drugs came in, we took a aback step.’
Ammo Talwar sees the amusing acceptation of those sessions: ‘Asian girls couldn’t go out at night, for cultural reasons, but we created the little spaces in the daytime. It was a meeting-ground, about like a abstruse underground at a time aback there was a lot of racism. The angle of administration with your white European counterparts didn’t abide until the aboriginal Nineties. It became actual agnate to babble culture, with advocacy involved, money to be made, kids bunking off. But from that, a new bearing was liberated.’
In the Eighties, DCS followed in the deathwatch of Heera and Alaap, demography the music advanced by accumulation influences from the Beatles and Led Zeppelin to what accompanist Shin calls ‘the big synth complete of Duran Duran and the Thompson Twins’. Shin describes their style: ‘The bang is massive and loud, and the tumbi [the acceptable one-stringed apparatus with a twangy guitar-like sound] works with the dhol to aftermath the basal bhangra complete and emphasis – which charge be in 4/4 which came from disco; we started out aback disco was massive in Asian films.’ Their 1991 12-inch, ‘Rule Britannia’, a alarm for civic accord in the face of architecture racism, is remembered abnormally for its cover: a amusing bluff of the Lord Kitchener Aboriginal Apple War call-up poster, his ascetic face now affected by a Union Jack turban and the Indian tricolor.
The sharp, repetitive little melodies of the tumbi adumbrated themselves central the infectious, aboriginal remixes by Birmingham’s abstracted producer, Bally Sagoo. The Quincy Jones of British-Asian music, Sagoo already declared his compound to Time magazine: ‘A bit of tablas and a bit of the Indian sound, but arena on the bass lines, the blue bang (dhol) exhausted and the James Brown samples.’ His 1991 accumulation Ablaze Crazy helped shoot bhangra about the world, and includes a remix of the Pakistani qawwali (Sufi songs) virtuoso accompanist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose abstract articulation fits calmly into the bhangra rhythms, Hollywood strings and Latin vibes. Sagoo’s ‘Dil Cheez’ (‘My Heart’) accomplished cardinal 12 in the UK archive in 1996, and its success took him to Mumbai to accessible for Michael Jackson.
Star Crazy additionally includes ‘the Golden Articulation of the Punjab’, Indian-trained Malkit Singh, who still performs in the acceptable anecdotal boliyan style, and whose Eighties hits accept become remixers’ favourites. Sagoo’s abstracts advisedly included some of the attenuate changeable bhangra singers: Rama Mohinder Kaur Bhamra, andSangeeta.
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Meanwhile, Apache Indian – Steven Kapoor – followed his Afro-Caribbean academy accompany into reggae. ‘Steel Pulse were actual inspirational,’ he says, lounging in the bar of Handsworth’s Bang association centre. In a rasta-striped tracksuit, his locks angry up in a bundle, he explains his access to recording. ‘When I aboriginal went into the studio,’ he says in a decidedly soft, un-Jamaican accent, ‘I didn’t appetite it to be aloof reggae, so we put a bit of the Punjabi emphasis in there – the aboriginal time bhangra was actuality alloyed musically, aloof like our lifestyles.’ Today, Apache, 40, is an all-embracing agent for bhangra, but the years spent on the reggae ambit accept amount him some success at home, abnormally amid adolescent British Asians. Shin recalls Apache’s aboriginal mixes as ‘very desi [Punjabi] and ragga’ but as his ablaze waned, Panjabi MC stepped up to booty his abode and set bhangra beats on a advance appear the boilerplate with his hit ‘Mundian To Bach Ke’ (Beware of the Boys) – which was after remixed by Jay-Z.
Apache’s 2005 album, Time for Change (Revolver), apparent his acknowledgment to the bend with the dhol bagman Bubzy. It appearance a attractive bhangra-ragga-ska re-make of ‘Israelites’ with Desmond Dekker, and contributions from the adolescent US-based changeable bhangra accompanist Gunjan (a Bally Sagoo discovery), who adds her alluringly sugar-and-lime articulate textures to ‘Prayer for Change’.
Soho Alley is now home to addition bearing of arguable artists. Adamantine Kaur is not carefully bhangra but she has never able its influence. Living aloft her adorableness salon (speciality, Asian brides’ make-up), the 28-year-old’s angel varies amid annoying jailbait and Bollywood charlatan while her sharp, abysmal voice, heard on new anthology Supawoman (Saregama Rec), is acclimatized to her adopted average of hip hop and rap. Adamantine Kaur’s lyrics are allotment of the address – and a antecedent of friction: a tough, absolute woman, she criticises British racism, relishes the adeptness to comedy with her culture’s animal rules and roles, and encourages women to accomplish their own choices.
Parallel belief of bhangra existed in Birmingham and London, as Bobby Friction notes: ‘The Eighties London complete was a bit added innovative, accessible to Hindi and added Asian music, admitting Birmingham was desi because the association was solid, Punjabi and Sikh. It had an accurate bite admitting London’s was added poppy popular. Today, a lot added kids in London are sampling crud and hip hop and accomplishing remixes of bhangra abstract than in the Midlands.’
Bhangra’s access is extensive anytime wider. The XBox hit ‘Project Gotham Racing 3’ is the aboriginal computer bold with a bhangra soundtrack; the 2012 Olympics arts supremo, Jude Kelly, is rumoured to be planning a behemothic 350-strong dhol bang chase at the aperture ceremony; bhangra beats, address of the UK’s Rishi Rich Project, accept been anchored to R&B advance by Missy Elliott, Britney Spears and Craig David.
Bobby Friction’s tastes roam the spectrum and fly into the future. He acclaim about Word is Built-in and Reprazent by Specialist N Tru-Skool from Coventry and Derby: ‘Straight up hip-hop bhangra albums with adamantine crud influences. And still Punjabi.’ He adds to the account Tru-Skool’s new abandoned album, Raw as Folk – ‘the best desi, best Asian, best sub-continent, best Punjabi album: brilliant.’
Friction says 90 per cent of his playlist is ‘bedroom stuff’ beatific anon to him as MP3s that accept been fabricated on laptops at the artist’s or producer’s home. ‘Sharma Ji from New York sends me remixes of UK bhangra with abode alloyed in, and plays dhol drum.’ On the added hand, DJ Swami’s new anthology is ‘without a distinct acceptable bhangra clue on it – one clue actually begrimed house, addition candied R&B funk, New York-style. But all in Punjabi!’ he roars.
Ammo Talwar says: ‘There will consistently be abounding sub-genres about Bhangra and it’s consistently metamorphosing into new genres, but while agreeable trends appear and go, bhangra is absolutely actuality to stay.’ Again he shouts out the bhangra bolt phrase, which says it all: ‘Chak de Pattey! (tear up the floorboards!) – Rock the House!’
Veteran Brit-Bhangra bandage led by the absorbing Channi Singh. The soundtrack to my adolescence and a actor and one weddings in baby boondocks halls beyond the UK.
· Bobby Friction and Nihal’s Radio 1 show, midnight-2am on Tuesdays. The exhibition ‘From Soho Alley to the Punjab’ is at ExploreMusic at the Sage Centre, Gateshead, throughout October, and again touring the UK. ‘Bhangra: Birmingham and Beyond’, is appear by Birmingham City Council. For added information, appointment www.sohoroadtothepunjab.org
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