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Bhangra Now

But how about musical integrity and keeping one's identity I argue. A hot topic for Jay Sean in particular, who's had to deal with a lot of criticism and envy, so he says, from others in the business, ever since his R&B number Dance With You/ Naachna Tere Naal rose to number 6 in the national charts. "One thing that is really important to me is that I want everyone to know where I come from and who I am as a person. I am a British Asian, speak English, but at the end of the day I live a very Asian lifestyle. I still go to the temple with my parents, eat Indian food and dance bhangra at weddings."

The new stars continue relying on music to maintain and pass on their Asian culture, and for many this means creating their very own music, often far removed from bhangra. Sampled bhangra beats, tumbi licks, tabla loops and Punjabi lyrics dip in and out of what sounds like hip-hop on the whole. Street-level hip-hop gangsta-type talk is actually quite similar to the recurrent boy-meets-girl themes in bhangra music and may possibly be one of the reasons why both styles are converging so easily. Yet, this does not explain why only a handful of the new stars have managed to rap or write their own lyrics, about their personal experiences as British Asians. To understand why the current bhangra tracks often lack something of a message, we need to look back two decades, explains Markie Mark.

"First of all, the population that came here was mainly male, workers who'd left their families back home. Initially it was a way of making them feel at home here by reminiscing about how life was. When the families came over, it was about keeping the traditions alive. It's like a siege mentality. You have got all these Western influences coming at you at the same time, and you want to keep your tradition strong. And as a result they wouldn't talk about the issues that they faced here. I think it's changing a little bit. You get some songs which feature Punjabi lyrics alongside English... young Bhangra artists like Juggy D, but on the whole everybody is scared to break the mould."

Why I wonder? "Bhangra isn't really political whereas hip-hop is. There are some songs which are political and which sing about major events in the political calendar like the partition or about the martyrs of Sikh culture, but most talk about family, special occasions, wedding topics, love songs, how great and colourful Punjab is. It is a celebratory music and was originally born to celebrate the harvest."

This feature first appeared in fRoots 264, June 2005


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