Bhangra Moves: From Ludhiana to London and Beyond

Author:   Anjali Gera Roy
Publisher:   Ashgate
Reviewer:   Monika Bisht

Roy, Anjali Gera (2010). Bhangra Moves: From Ludhiana to London and Beyond. Ashgate Publication ISBN: 9780754658238, 2010.

Bhangra is a very popular Punjabi performing art which has ruled over pop music industry in India and abroad. Since 1990s, the effects of globalization have been seen in the expansion of music industry across border. The digital version of advanced technology has resulted cross border flows of Bhangra’s production, distribution and consumption. Bhangra has become a global music which has been playing a significant role in connecting Punjabi Diaspora communities in host countries. The central argument of the book is to analyse cross-border transmission of Bhangra and discusses that how global pop music is intruding into the folk culture of Bhangra music in the globalization. It also evaluates how the legitimacy of traditional Punjabi culture has been struggling into the hybridization of Bhangra with urban western culture.

The book titled ‘Bhangra Moves: From Ludhiana to London and beyond’ is written by Anjali Gera Roy in 2010. The title is clearly providing message of the book which studies the transmission of Bhangra from Ludhiana, Punjab which is an origin of Bhangra to host country London and beyond where Panjabi diaspora is prevalent. Based on the information gathered from music survey between 2000 and 2006 and excerpt from Marketing study on Panjabi music conducted by IIT Kharagpur, the author has examined the gathered information to identify the changes in lyrics, music, trends of Bhangra music. The book comprises ten chapters which critically evaluate how Bhangra is reinvented themselves within or across national boundaries.

In first chapter, the author has discussed the origin and importance of Bhangra in Panjab and the way it plays a significant role in the cultural identity as well as celebration in the marriage, festival and auspicious occasions in the family. The various dance forms of Bhangra namely; giddha, jhummar, luddi, dhamal, julli were integral part of the ethno-cultural identity of Punjab. However, Bhangra is popularized with its celebratory and joyful dance steps as well as cultural grit in its lyrics and music. During 1990s, Bhangra has successfully entered into Bollywood and dominated in the music industry. Few years later, the Panjabi pop songs became important in almost every Bollywood films. However, the author did not discuss the typicality in accepting ‘Bhangra’ as professional dance forms by Panjabis in India.

The second chapter discussed the purification and hybridization of Bhangra in the era of global pop music. In the contemporary era of globalization, the popular music is intruding into the folk music but it raised the discussion of real and hybrid forms of cultural music. The author has discussed how the Bhangra become debatable under the concept of purity and pollution among local folklorists. They have classified it into ‘old Bhangra’ and ‘new Bhangra’ where former one is real, clean and pure whereas later one is obscure, dirty (ganda) and impure. This debate goes further on gender sensitization where nudity and sexuality is prohibited and there is no place for sexual desire, lust and seduction between male and female. The metaphors such as Brahmanical setting, Varna system has been used to discuss color politics in the cultural domain. Under Brahmanical setting, Brahmans denoted as white color has been considered as clean, pure and great as compare to other colors likewise, red, yellow and black subsequently denoted for Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras respectively.

In order to discuss the reshaping and restructuring of Bhangra music, the author expressed her ideas from the songs of most popular Bhangra singers right from the reign of Harbhajan Mann, to Daler Mehndi. In third chapter, the contribution of three Ms- Malkit, Mann and Mehndi has been discussed who have fabricated Bhangra through their own styles while preserving authenticity. The role of Bhangra singers has influenced the lyrics, styles, music as well as dance forms of Bhangra songs. During 1980s, Gurdas Mann evolved as fun loving youth to a somber, serious, reflective man who appealed children, youth, women and elders of Panjab. His deep, throaty voice and desi style made him popular among millions of people in Panjab. He did not modernize Bhangra but identified traditional fabric in the Bhangra which would be perceived as ‘kool’ among youths. Malkit tried to revive Bhangra and represented the diasporic preferences which made him a signifier of rural Panjabi identity. He is the voice of large rural migrants from Panjab in the United Kingdom. However, Paramjit Siddhu alias Pammi Bai emerged as a voice of folk culture and represented the lyrics simple and minimal and emphasized on boli of the lyrics.

Taking this discussion further, the author has discussed the naqqal as a legitimate Panjabi metaphor for disrupting political and cultural authority through examining two new Bhangra mutants, namely Bhangrapop and Bollywood Bhangra in chapter 4. In the globalization, Bhangrapop has emerged in the Indian music industry which was invented by Daler Mehndi by mixing Bhangra with popular western and non-western sounds. Bhangrapop represents naqqal-rustic repetitions of western pop and urban/western simulations of Bhangra. It is therefore, considered as naqqal or mimicry of western culture and music in Bhangra. On the other hand, Bhangra is considered as Bollywood Bhangra everywhere. The lyrical content of Bollywood Bhangra is determined on the basis of target audience. For instance, the Hinglish loops of ‘Shava Shava’ and hindi mixed Panjabi in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and the traditional bolian format of ‘Nach baliye’ in a mix of Panjabi and English but is positioned as ‘club music’. The transformation of Bhangra from Dhol to DJ version is actually mimicry of western pop music culture.

In fifth chapter, the author has discussed the incorporation of the Bhangra in the global competition of music industries. The global music companies including T-series and Saregama HMV vary from each other in terms of business philosophies. The pro-capitalist business model of T-series reveals a sophisticated management of price, inventory, stock movement, distribution and market research on music. On the other hand, Saregama HMV focused on high musical genres but it could not feel the pulse of the masses. Despite based on middle class consumption model, HMV’s low cost of investment and simple technologies could not appeal to the masses. The author tried to trace the role of the global music companies has evolved the local taste and choice of music into the global market.

In a similar line of discussion, the role of music channels has put forth the Bhangra into the music hits. In sixth chapter, the author has provided the difference of MTV and ETC Punjabi in popularizing Bhangra in varied approaches. Despite having White American capitalist ideology, MTV forced to change its business philosophy as ‘Think globally, act locally’. MTV has a greater role in cross-border flows of Bhangra from regional Panjab to UK, US and Canada via television connecting the Punjabi diaspora. The commercial approach led Bhangra music to the international level where it found large consumers having huge business profits. ETC Punjabi, however, has played significant role in disseminating traditional Punjabi values representing youth programmes like ‘Dil Diyan Gallan’, ‘Sadda Top 10’, ‘Ridka’ and so on. ETC Punjabi is completely family channel which telecast the religious bhajans, ‘gurbani’ from Golden temple, katha as well as Punjabi cultural programmes focusing the emancipation of Punjabi culture.

In seventh chapter, the concept of youth or munde has been discussed under the ‘Brahmcharya’ notion of chaturashram of varna system. It was argued that how the image of cool guys and desi boys emerged in the western pop Bhangra music today. The chapter traced the emergence of jat subculture in relation to Bhangra in late 1980s, which is appropriated both in elite cultures western English speaking class as well as non-elite multilingual desi class. Since late 1980s, the terms such as ‘Punjabi munde’, ‘desi munde’, ‘jat Punjabi’ has been used in the Bhangra songs showing the youth masculinity or desipan as a sense of pride.

The eighth chapter conceptualized the significance of Sikh body as strong and brave for fighting and bleeding during 1984 and tall and handsome during laughing and dancing Bhangra in late 1990s.  In this context, it represented the image of ‘Brave Sikh’ and ‘Jolly Sikh’ in Punjabi songs. Today, media has represented the image of Sikh – dancing, joking, braving and celebrating happily in Bhangra songs. As a result of changing demand of Bhangra pop, the dance style also changes in the Bollywood Bhangra. The author has discussed that how the body, height, movements, pagdi, veshbhoosha appeal to the mass viewers in Bhangra performance.

The ninth chapter discussed the formation of nation identity through Bhangra both in India as well as abroad. The author has articulated the new global imaginings of ‘Panjabiyat’ and ethno-cultural dimension of Panjabi nation by examining the new meanings of Panjabiyat and communities produced in relation to Bhangra performance. Basically, Bhangra generates a feeling of Indianness to other Indian Diasporic communities namely, Gujarati diaspora, Marathi diaspora, Keralite diaspora and so on. In the tenth chapter, the author has discussed the importance of cultural nationalism in the existence of global monoculture in the era of telecommunication technologies.  In this context, the author interrogated that who will discuss the marginalized communities in the dominant global monoculture. The author was curious to know about that emergence of Jat identity in the new form of Bhangra music.

The systematic, continuous and thematic approach is the strength of this book. The arguments have been arranged logically in synchronized manner connecting one chapter to another. The author demonstrated the lyrics of hit Bhangra songs which enable readers to understand the context of the discussion. However, she did not discuss the significance of female Bhangra pop singers who were also emerged as Bhangra super star as well as Bollywood Bhangra songs. Such female Bhangra pop singers include Jaspinder Narula, Rajeshwari Sachdev, Surinder kaur, Hard Kaur, Farida Khanum, Sunidhi Chauhan and so on who have gave super hit songs in last two decades. In addition to this, Bhangra is representing mixing with Saalsa, Jazz, freestyle, disco and so on which are not discussed in this book.

The book, however, does justice in discussing the main idea of hybridization of Bhangra focusing on lyrics, beats, music in the Bhangra music. The author has articulated the changing gender sensitive lyrics and symbols in view of changing youth fashion style. In order to discuss its scope, the author has used the term hybridization of Bhangra music which is itself a vast concept. Therefore, the importance of this book lies in bringing the attention towards the hybridization of Bhangra songs in the era of technological advancement and changing consumer market.  


Reviewed by Monika Bisht, PhD Research Scholar, National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), New Delhi.

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