Traditional bhangra originated in the Punjab region of North India, hundreds of years ago, and was a group dance used to celebrate harvests and other occasions such as weddings. The music came from traditional instruments such as harmonium, tumbi, sarangy, algozy and mandolin, with the Dhol drum providing the rhythm. The singing was raw and high pitched, almost like a rock singer on the limit, just what’s needed to compete with the sound of the musicians.
In the modern era, unsurprisingly, it was India who provided the finest Punjabi folk singers such as Kuldeep Manak, Bhindarakia and Chamkilla.
In the UK in the 1980s, traditional bhangra was influenced by popular and electronic music to create modern bhangra. And by adding bass guitar, drums and keyboards the bhangra bands were able to update their sound, and started to gain a much younger, urban following. Particularly so as it transitioned into the 90’s, moving away from the bhangra bands and towards more western influenced artists like Johnny Zee, and the reggae/ragga/dub beats and baselines of Bally Sagoo. It sparked a massive rise in popularity of the genre, and the live scene, with club nights, student nights and college events all over the UK, including “day timers” (for teenagers to beat the parental night time curfew).
During the 90’s, and the noughties the UK became the primary creative hub for worldwide desi music. We were able to make a big impression on the scene with our work on albums by Jazzy B, Shinda, Stereo Nation, B21, Bally Jagpal, Aman Hayer, Amar, Mika and many others.
As for the last decade, it has become a more global game with the emergence of India’s Dijit Dosanjh and Canada’s Sidhu Moose Wala, along with the UK’s Dr Zeus and Tru-Skool, going more urban in the process by blending with hip hop, rnb, dubstep and trap.
One thing has remained the same over the years though… when people hear that infectious bhangra beat, that’s when the party starts!