British Bhangra music is a product based on the fusion of Asian (specifically Punjabi), western and broader styles of music (such as ragga, reggae, soul, jazz funk, rock, hip-hop, pop).
Bhangra has come a long way in the 21st Century and has recently taken the entertainment industry by storm. In the 1970s and 1980s, many Punjabi singers from Southeast Asia and the United Kingdom emerged, setting the stage for Bhangra to become a hot new trend in dance music. Modern Bhangra artists, in addition to recording and performing traditional Bhangra, have also fused Bhangra with other music genres, such as hip-hop, reggae, house, and drum-and-bass.
This is now so popular within Birmingham that the city is recognised as the centre for Bhangra music in Britain. Although this music genre is enjoyed by numerous British South Asians in other cities (especially London), Birmingham is by far the cultural capital for Bhangra music. This can be seen in terms of the
large number of bands in the city, several recording and distribution companies (such as Oriental Star Agency on Moseley Road, Nachural records at Ladypool Road, Roma Music Bank in Handsworth), the steady production of new albums, and the growing number of live DJs.
It was not until the early eighties that Bhangra moved from “secluded halls and venues to the bright lights of the clubs and cities of England.” First generation Asians were intrigued by their musical heritage, and helped bring Bhangra to the mainstream in their new country.
Bhangra took massive steps toward mainstream credibility in the 1990s, especially among youths. At the beginning of the nineties, many artists returned to the original, folk beats of Bhangra, often incorporating more dhol drum beats and tumbi. This time also saw the rise of several young Punjabi bands and DJs. Bhangra music has been remixed with house, reggae, and hip-hop to add a different flavour and these remixes continued to gain popularity as the nineties came to an end. During this time the popularity of Bhangra music has also spawned new genres of music and style such as The Asian Underground.
Local entrepreneurs such as Oriental Star seized the opportunity to produce – rather than import – bhangra music. Tapes and records by local bands – Bhujangy and Anari Sangeet amongst others – found a thriving market through a network of high street electronics shops across the country. Initially, Handsworth bhangra musicians were enthusiastic amateurs. They strove to integrate European instruments into the music they played. They were the first generation of Punjabis to grow up in the UK who succeeded in this: Chirag Pehchan and other bands worked guitars and keyboards smoothly into their sound.
By the early 1980s, British Asians were a confident visible community in Handsworth, and bhangra made them an audible one too. With an implicit understanding of Western popular music forms, the next generation of bands such as DCS, Pardesi and Achanak provided the soundtrack to college life – at the ‘daytimers’ (clubbing during the day) and other events which became an expression of cultural identity by British Asian youth.
In the 1990s, it was the accessible blend of musical cultures around the Soho Road that inspired Apache Indian to make music which crossed over to mainstream UK audiences for the first time. Now in the 21st century, bhangra has found worldwide audience as samples in the music of Timbaland, Dr. Dre and others.
Copyright of text and images, Punch Records and individual authors who worked on the Soho Road to the Punjab project, as listed on the Punch website (in particular Simon Redgrave and Dr Rajinder Dudrah).
Also see our ‘Punch Records’ page in relation to Bhangra music in Birmingham.