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Bhangra Now

The role that the bhangra bands used to play, maintaining language and cultural values and bringing together different generations, seems less evident in the current Asian club environment. Yet Bobby argues: "You can't say: 'How dare you bhangra, you have a social role to play...', these kids are only doing what the whites and the blacks are doing. Secondly, we are second generation Indians and our parents didn't want us to become musicians... this isn't India where you were born into a musician caste. We are the kids of economic migrants. Economic migrants don't give their kids piano lessons, though I might do it to my kids. Basically they want their children to be doctors, lawyers. This attitude and the electronic musical production both met in the mid-nineties and that's why there are no more live bhangra bands in the UK. I don't think it's that bad. But I think if bhangra lives through the producer, through the DJ, through the gigs, then that live bhangra element is going to come back with a younger generation."

Most contemporary bhangra lyrics are still composed by singers and songwriters in India. This, coupled with the mainstream success of the new bhangra beats, is causing concern within traditional bhangra circles where they claim the new bhangra beats have more to do with 'bling' than the social realism which Indian bhangra artists such as Gurdas Man are keeping up. I spoke to the Rishi Rich Project who are at the forefront of the new bhangra/ R&B/ hip-hop sound. All three - Jay Sean, Juggy D and Rishi Rich - were born and brought up in West London, and between them have brought different skills to the studio.

Juggy D sings in Punjabi and is the one whose musical background is firmly rooted in bhangra. Jay Sean is a rapper and R&B singer, and Rishi is a producer who, at 26 years old, has already secured his place on the remixing scene. The success of these young stars has led to a debate as to whether bhangra music is being watered down. I asked Juggy D if this is something he feels concerned about at all. "We don't try to change what we do, because it's what people want to hear. We make music that we want to make." Jay Sean, who is the lead singer of the band, reiterates: "Musically, lots of young Asians have grown up listening to R&B and hip-hop, including ourselves. I am an R&B artist. I am an Asian R&B artist."

Bobby Friction comes to the defence of this new generation: "Why should we put those dreams that we have for music and politics and culture on the shoulders of these young guys who've wanted to be pop stars since they were young. They don't want to be political revolutionaries..."

This feature first appeared in fRoots 264, June 2005


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