Bank­ing on Bhangra

In­dian farm­ers seek fame and for­tune through Bhangra beat.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - R.AGE - By RU­PAM JAIN NAIR By TOM EWING

AS Bal­bir Jagga drives a trac­tor around his farm in north-western In­dia, he dreams that the fields he tills will pro­pel him to in­ter­na­tional mu­sic star­dom.

Jagga, like thou­sands of other am­a­teur singers in Pun­jab, sees Bhangra mu­sic as a route out of ru­ral life – and he is sav­ing all his in­come, and even sell­ing off a small plot of land, to make his de­but mu­sic video and al­bum.

“For years, I have been a mun­dane farmer, buy­ing seeds, wait­ing for the rains, har­vest­ing crops, sea­son af­ter sea­son,” says Jagga at his farm in Pathankot, 240km from Pun­jab’s state cap­i­tal Chandi­garh. “But in the evenings, I am a su­per Bhangra mu­sic star, record­ing songs for my al­bum and plan­ning a video shoot,” he adds with a smile.

Jagga, 30, is one of many Pun­jabi vil­lagers try­ing to re­peat the suc­cess of Jas­bir Jassi, Mika Singh and other big names as Bhangra dance mu­sic has be­come a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional mu­sic trend over the last 15 years.

He has penned more than a dozen songs in the Gu­ru­muki script used to write the Pun­jabi lan­guage and now he hopes his mu­sic video will be the next step to star­dom.

Jagga ad­mits that he is tak­ing a big gam­ble in­vest­ing all his sav­ings in the video, which will cost more than US$10,000 (RM31,000).

“You may laugh at my ven­ture but for the peo­ple of Pun­jab, mu­sic is the biggest high and I am ad­dicted to it,” he says.

Bhangra orig­i­nally be­gan with Sikh farm­ers like Jagga sing­ing folk songs to cel­e­brate the ar­rival of the har­vest sea­son, be­fore de­vel­op­ing into pop­u­lar mu­sic.

It spread across In­dia via Bol­ly­wood, where ac­tors like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan have of­ten danced to its en­er­getic beat, and has gained pop­u­lar­ity in many other coun­tries where In­di­ans have em­i­grated.

To­day it of­ten sym­bol­ises the ex­tro­vert, party-lov­ing side of South Asian cul­ture and at­tracts an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence with dance com­pe­ti­tions and ra­dio sta­tions in Bri­tain, the United States and Canada.

“Bhangra is an in­te­gral part of Pun­jab’s ev­ery­day life,” says one of Jagga’s he­roes, Jas­bir Jassi. “We are crazy for our mu­sic and we have made the world go crazy for it too.”

In Pun­jab it­self, at least 45 chan­nels play non-stop Bhangra mu­sic – of­ten with videos from am­a­teur singers hop­ing to make it big. MY first re­union gig was the Vel­vet Un­der­ground in 1993. At the time, bands didn’t re­unite much; le­gendary bands cer­tainly didn’t. And af­ter the gig I glumly wished they hadn’t.

It wasn’t just the well-lit lager’n’hot dogs am­bi­ence of Wem­b­ley Arena in London. Or the sole “new track”, some­thing called Coy­ote, which in­volved Lou Reed do­ing wolf noises. Ul­ti­mately, it was the massed lighter-wav­ing dur­ing Heroin that made me write re­unions off as a bad idea.

It’s been hard to sus­tain that feel­ing – ei­ther I’m less snob­bish these days or re­unions are just a lot more com­mon. Pulp’s an­nounce­ment last week of a se­ries of gigs next year with their de­fin­i­tive mid-90s lineup was met with de­light but not any par­tic­u­lar shock.

When bands split now they en­ter the re­volv­ing-door af­ter­life fa­mil­iar to su­per­heroes and soap vil­lains – it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore they’re back.

Not that all re­unions work. Here’s my five-point plan for any band think­ing of

Pun­jabi singer Jas­bir Jassi pos­ing with a model dur­ing the shoot­ing of a mu­sic video for his new al­bum on the out­skirts of Pathankot, Pun­jab. The singers’ tele­phone num­bers are flashed on the bot­tom of the screen to al­low view­ers – or per­haps even pro­fes­sional agents – to book them for wed­dings and other fes­tiv­i­ties.

“I have de­cided to get out of my Pun­jabi at­tire, wear a three-piece suit and shoot the mu­sic video in my vil­lage,” says Jagga. “My songs por­tray my love for Pun­jab.”

In­dus­try ex­perts and own­ers of record­ing stu­dios es­ti­mate that more than 10,000 Pun­jabi mu­sic al­bums are pro­duced ev­ery year. “It is a mad race among farm­ers, A cus­tomer look­ing through CDs and DVDs at a mu­sic store in Am­rit­sar, Pun­jab. Bhangra is big in Pun­jab. stu­dents and even housewives to es­tab­lish them­selves as a singer. Ev­ery­body here wants to be sign­ing au­to­graphs for fans,” says Ra­man­deep Singh, man­ager at Josh, a 24-hour mu­sic chan­nel in Chandi­garh.

Ra­man­deep says many artists cur­rently rul­ing the Bhangra scene in In­dia such as Satin­der Sar­taj were once farm­ers. “Some clicked and be­came stars, but most have been for­got­ten and faded away,” he says.

Ra­man­deep is now pro­duc­ing an al­bum which will fea­ture 12 farm­ers sing­ing about the strug­gle and dis­tress of am­a­teur per­form­ers who can­not break into the glam­our world they crave.

Deepak Bali, owner of Plasma Records pro­duc­tion com­pany, ad­mits that the mu­sic in­dus­try has given a false hope to many Pun­jabis. “All the hype and over-ex­po­sure sur­round­ing the bil­lion-dol­lar mar­ket has the po­ten­tial to kill the craze for Bhangra,” he says. “The qual­ity tal­ent has gone missing. Ev­ery vil­lage seems to boast three singers and four lyri­cists.”

But the dream lives on for many, in­clud­ing Sukhdev Kaur, a house­wife and a mother of two who is due to re­lease her al­bum Ad­ven­ture Meri Life (My Life Is An Ad­ven­ture) next year. She sold her gold jew­ellery to pro­duce the al­bum, on which she sings love duets with her neigh­bour’s son.

“My hus­band is a farmer, he re­fused to help me so I de­cided to sell the gold,” she says. “We are farm­ers but that does not mean we can­not be Bhangra stars.” – AFP least make your re­turn an event. This is where Pulp – like Blur be­fore them – are scor­ing well, sug­gest­ing a hand­ful of spe­cialoc­ca­sion gigs rather than a whole­sale re­turn to ac­tion.

And fi­nally, don’t jump the gun. Bands stop be­cause they get sick of each other or an au­di­ence gets sick of them. Those con­di­tions take time to heal – the best part of a decade in most suc­cess­ful re­union cases.

Even if you check all these boxes you might find lin­ger­ing op­po­si­tion to the idea. When bands get back to­gether they can kill the ro­mance of a group by over­writ­ing pre­cious mem­o­ries.

Re­unions can also im­ply that an in­di­vid­ual’s artis­tic growth since a band split isn’t worth very much – it’s no­tice­able that Da­mon Al­barn has been very keen to counter that no­tion by po­si­tion­ing the re­vived Blur as sim­ply an­other project, rather than any kind of home­com­ing.

Re­vivals add to a con­ser­va­tive streak in pop cul­ture, the sense you get when scan­ning mu­sic mag­a­zine racks that the past is more worth cel­e­brat­ing than the now. – Guardian News & Me­dia 2010

Fame:

Jas­siBack­WithBang

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