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Bhangra Now

Panjabi Hit Squad
Photo: ©BBC
Panjabi Hit Squad
The current lack of bhangra singers and songwriters in the UK also poses the question as to who will carry the bhangra movement forward. Markie's view is, "I am going to be honest with you. Rishi Rich etc., it's great what they are doing, but they are not really carrying the bhangra movement forward. It's probably down to us DJs. I don't see Shin and the bands (as much as I love them) taking it into the charts. The dynamics of the groups are often wrong, or their image is a problem or they just don't understand the mainstream market. I've seen groups try it but I am not sure the way they package themselves is right for the mainstream. There are very few people that can really take bhangra music into the charts. You can count them on one hand really."

Bhangra still needs to address a lot of issues if ever it wants to break free from its Asian environment and acquire and sustain a bigger audience. The lack of singers and songwriters, its discrimination against female artists and its internal struggles are just a few of the stumbling blocks - but one thing which it has achieved is to attract the attention of Asians across the globe, including their homeland India. The young audience in India is now looking towards Britain for musical inspiration and Bobby Friction even goes as far as to compare the new bhangra movement with its cutting-edge remixes and fusions to 1950s' America in the rock 'n' roll days.

Markie: "What you've seen in the last year is the way that British Asian music has travelled back. For a long time, the Indian channels such as MTV almost ignored UK-made music. But what you see now is that bhangra is almost the national music of India. Bhangra is listened to throughout the whole country, and Bombay now is really embracing bhangra music. They've always had a diluted form of it in films but now they are actually picking up on artists like Jay Sean, Rishi Rich, Raghev, Panjabi MC, Panjabi Hit Squad, because India is looking for something new and they are realising now that there is a lot of inventive music being made on this side, from the UK. And because there is a gap in the market, at the moment the whole buzz in India is about British Asian music, almost about bringing back their non-resident Indians to India to perform. Other than India, we played in Dubai, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada and the States. Emigration to there was a bit later, so they are no longer looking to India for their music."

And if some bhangra may be going hip-hop, then according to DJs such as Bobby, "That's just evolution for you". It is a case of adapt or die. Any music that doesn't change or adapt just atrophies and dies. But that doesn't mean to say the whole genre is in jeopardy. The UK may be at the forefront of the new bhangra fusion movement but, quite ironically, it is also here on UK soil that the old bhangra classics are being preserved. As Markie points out: "From a Punjabi perspective the music here in the UK is almost more traditional than it is in India... it's like a time warp. People that came over here from the '50s and '60s tried so hard to preserve their culture, they've actually kept it almost as it was from when they came over. People are singing newer songs back in India, but in the UK they are still singing those songs from the '60s and '70s."

This feature first appeared in fRoots 264, June 2005


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