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Bhangra Now

Bobby Friction
Photo: ©BBC
Bobby Friction
The DJs and producers, however, seem to hold a more cynical view. Bobby Friction says, "I don't think that is ever going to happen again. I think you are going to get a lot of Asian music but something as roots, street level and alternative as bhangra... it won't happen. World music is really popular, but how many tracks have ever gotten into the top 10... And bhangra is a kind of world music, it is a dialect after all."

Markie argues about whether it is important at all. "Personally I don't think it has broken into the mainstream and I don't think it will. When that track went into the charts everyone in the country was thinking 'If we get our act together we too could be in the charts'. And we were even considering to see bhangra in the charts, on a weekly basis. But that wasn't going to happen. MTB has still been the only bhangra track that has been in the charts. Rishi Rich and Jay Sean are basically British Asian acts, sure, but they are not bhangra."

Lack of recognition by the mainstream music industry is also creating problems. Although bhangra albums sell a lot of units throughout the country (a hit can sell over 150,000 copies) on Asian high streets, those sales aren't actually registered by the mainstream music business, which bases its figures on the number of CDs sold in big shops such as HMV. If sales in Asian music shops and corner shops were counted, you'd probably see more Asian albums and singles reaching the mainstream charts. For now, it is a hidden market.

Bhangra has changed a lot since it started a new life in the UK in the 1950s. Since then it has incorporated a number of musical styles and its one-time trademarks, the two-headed dhol drum and tumbis, are often hardly recognisable as they are being sampled, chewed up and thrown back at us by young emerging DJs/ producers such as Rishi Rich, Dr Zeus, DJ Sanj, Tygerstyle and J Skills, who are all enjoying the freedom and opportunities that new technologies provide. It's a golden age for radio DJs. Adil Ray presents a five-nights-a-week show for young British Asians on the BBC Asian Network. He explains that while it is only normal and "healthy" to promote all the new British Asian music acts on his show, he is convinced that, "We as radio DJs do have a level of responsibility to bhangra. The people of the '70s and '80s achieved so much. We have live bands now but I don't think we have developed that much further. We suffer from a very bad infrastructure within the bhangra industry and that's a catch-22 situation. But I believe that if we champion these artists and support them, they will eventually improve their game."

This feature first appeared in fRoots 264, June 2005


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