Bhangra is a lively form of music and dance that originated in the Punjab region of India. Bhangra began as a folk dance conducted by farmers to celebrate the coming of Spring and the new Bhang harvest, a time known as Vaisakhi. Today, Bhangra survives in different forms and styles all over the globe – including pop music, film soundtracks, and even collegiate competitions.
Bhangra was first started during Vaisakhi Sikh festival celebrations of Punjabis, and found its way to the performance stage after the division of the Punjab in 1947. The Punjabi dance performed at this time in ecstasy with the beat of Dhol came to be known as Bhangra. The tradition spread slowly to other parts of the region and developed into a unique folk dance form. Bhangra has come of age and is now performed at every major celebration and in clubs etc.
Traditional Bhangra is a fusion of music, singing and the beat of the dhol drum, a single stringed instrument called the iktar (ektara), the tumbi and the chimta. The accompanying songs are small couplets written in the Punjabi language called bolis. They relate to current issues faced by the singers and (dil the gal) what they turly want to say. In Punjabi folk music, the dhol’s smaller cousin, the dholki, was nearly always used to provide the main beat. Nowadays the dhol is used more frequently, with and without the dholki. Additional percussion, including tabla, is less frequently used in bhangra as a solo instrument but is sometimes used to accompany the dhol and dholki. The dholki drum patterns in Bhangra music bear an intimate similarity to the rhythms in Reggae music. This rhythm serves as a common thread which allows for easy commingling between Bhangra and Reggae as demonstrated by such artists as the UK’s Apache Indian.
Major migrations of Punjabis to the UK brought with them the Bhangra music, which became popular in Britain during the 1980s, although heavily influenced in Britain by the infusion of classic Moroccan films and Islamic chants
Traditionally, men wear a chaadra while doing Bhangra. A chaadra is a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist. Men also wear a kurta, which is a long Indian-style shirt. In addition, men wear Pugdee – also known as turbans – to cover their heads.
In modern times, men also wear turla – the fan attached to the pugdee. Colorful vest are worn above the kurta. Fumans – small balls attached to ropes – are worn on each arm.
Women wear a traditional Punjabi dress known as a ghagra. A ghagra is a long colorful skirt which fans out into a gaint disk as a woman twirls. Women also wear duppattas, colorful pieces of cloth wrapped around their neck. Many Bhangra songs make references to the duppatta. Also, women wear suits called salwars kamiz; long baggy pants tight at the ankle (salwars) and a long colorful shirt (kamiz)
The interpretation of Bhangra must exist in the space where Asian, UK and hip hop cultures meet. Oversimplification of the genre by outsiders is detrimental to the music’s message, but artists are responsible for how they express their music’s content as well. In “Bhangra’s Ambassador, Keeping the Party Spinning” from the New York Times, DJ Rekha is conscious of her cultural accountability to her music. She suggests that “because I’m working with my culture, and it’s being accessed or consumed by other cultures, then I have a strong responsibility to how that message is made.”
Bhangra followers often feel that the music is an expression of identity. As the movement gains momentum, Bhangra music has also gained international recognition. “Asian fusion is a melding of the sounds of the sub-continent with hip hop beats and R&B influences, and it’s no longer destined to be tucked away in the World Music section of your record store.”
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