Songlines, June 08
“How UK Asian dance first got its groove”
This is a comprehensive overview of the UK’s bhangra music scene, born in Birmingham soon after the first wave of post-war immigration from the Indian subcontinent. The three CDs are divided chronologically: the early Punjabi folk-influenced roots of the scene; its evolution in the last decades of the 20th century; and finally its mutation in the last few years into a broader dance genre. Compiler Toby Shergold recently put together the album Urban Asian, which illustrated the broader, more globalised sound of contemporary Indian dance music. On the third disc here, he covers similar ground – kicking off with the track that brought bhangra into the mainstream: Panjabi MC’s ‘Mundian To Bach Ke’, with its Knight Rider sample. It also includes fusions of bhangra with techno and house music by Swami, Jas and Fusing Naked Beats, and the hip-hop-infused bhangra of DJ Sanj and Dr Zeus. The evolution of bhangra charted by the second disc owes a debt to Birmingham’s Nachural Records, who are behind six of the 11 tracks. This evolutionary stage saw new blood entering the scene from the Scottish Asian and US Asian communities – represented here by Bombay Talkie and Bikram Singh respectively – alongside towering giants of the period such as Balwinder Safri and his Safri Boys. But it’s the first CD that’s perhaps the most intriguing. Alongside raw Punjabi folk song from the 1950s and 60s, from Surinder Kaur and Kuldip Manak, are pioneer bhangra band Achanak and bhangra king Malkit Singh. The latter pair both emerged in the late 80s and their songs still sound surprisingly contemporary.