“Bhangra, if one would technically break it down, it is a male folk dance. It is a very specific rhythm, actually. So what is considered bhangra today is one of many rhythms, not exactly the bhangra rhythm. But as language evolves, culture moves forward, things start to mean other things. So bhangra has become sort of a ubiquitous term to describe a certain style of music and it’s definitely a battleground for tradition versus modernity.” ~Rekha Malhotra, New York-based DJ
Master world music syncretist Greg Herriges once confessed to me that bhangra was one of his “guilty pleasures,’’ guilty I’m assuming because it’s a very popular musical and dance form that doesn’t demand a great deal of musical or dance expertise to create, play, boogey down to, or just plain adore. If you love music and haven’t heard of Indian bhangra, this will be a changing day for you.
Weirdly enough, some claim that bhangra as such doesn’t exist in India, although it was inspired by a longstanding tradition of male harvest dancing in the Punjab. It was a kind of musical experiment carried out by a number of Punjab immigrants to Britain in the eighties, musicians who had the amazing good fortune of living in a country where distance between gigs was minimal, Indian weddings were a steady recurrence, and everyone was hiring musicians to play live at their weddings. Because of this the genre enjoyed a success in Britain which wasn’t possible in the vast stretches between North American communities of Indians, even though bhangra still won a large following in Canada and the United States due to airplay.
Bhangra is deliciously difficult to define. It’s still a tradition in flux, and developments are still being added, making it a very creative syncretism both as music and dance.
And before you folk nazis start dismissing it as ‘’not really folk’’ because it was developed outside India, let me remind you that, immigration being a salient aspect of Indian life today, bhangra is the best evidence that a culture can thrive by seizing on any circumstances and making the most of available conditions to meet its own creative necessity.
Angrej is actually the soundtrack to a film of the same name (the word means ‘’good man’’) starring Amrinder Gill, about a rural family in the Punjab in the 1940’s.The album starts out with a beautifully tender song, ‘’Mil Ke Baithrange;’’ not knowing Punjabi, I have no idea what it’s about, but I remember hearing Stacey Kent saying how much she’d enjoyed listening to Brazilian songs even before she’d studied Portugese and knew what the words were saying. The same holds true here; ‘’Mil Ke Baithrange’’ is so full of the assurance of grace and a sense of ‘’God’s-in-His-heaven’’ that it can draw you out of a slump quicker than strawberry shortcake, even if you don’t know its subject matter.
The dance pieces, especially ‘’Chete Kar Kar Ke,’’ sometimes sound like Egyptian chaabi and Maghrebian mezwed music in that they start out slow and even ominous and build in intensity until you sense the need for dance catharsis.
The demand for the bhangra genre has been usurped to some degree by the more recently popularised Punjab folk music, a sound whose tradition and purity has its merits but which— sorry— can’t really supplant the joyful expression of urban Indian immigrant identity that we find in bhangra. If you’re an artist looking for creative inspiration, a lift, an emotional high, or just a regenerative escape, I can’t recommend bhangra more.
And if you’re looking for a fun fitness routine, just type ‘’bhangra dance’’ into Youtube and look up some lessons. Your booty will thank you.
Angrej manifests three of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen.
- It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
- It provides respite from a cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavor.
- It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.