The popularity of the pulsating, foot-tapping music of rural Punjab has been charted by a Manchester-based academic of Indian origin in the first book on British bhangra that traces its origins and spread across the country.
The book, titled Bhangra: Birmingham and Beyond, is written by Rajinder Dudrah, head of the Department of Drama and senior lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of Manchester. The book was launched at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) here.
The book tracks the British bhangra phenomenon since the 1970s to the present time when bhangra artistes from Birmingham and other places in Britain figure prominently in Indian films.
Speaking to IANS, Dudrah said: "The book is an introduction to British bhangra music, using the city of Birmingham as a starting point to map out the journey that UK bhangra has travelled, from its folk beginnings in the Punjab, to a fusion-based music in Post-war Britain, to now in the 2000s having crossed over into the mainstream through American hip hop artistes and others using the Bhangra beat and sounds."
The book draws on interviews with artistes, lyricists and promoters of the scene, including analysis of lyrics and some album covers to provide an insight into the industry.
People from Punjab have been one of the largest groups that migrated to Britain. They brought with them the beats of bhangra, which over the years, has grown into a distinct genre on the British music scene. It continues to have close links with Bhangra artistes in India.
Dudrah said: "British bhangra has now come full circle. Whereas it started off in the post-war period as folk dance and music from the Punjab, in the present it has forged a path for itself, making it quite fashionable.
"British bhangra owes its roots and developments, initially, to the folk dances and music from the Punjab, not least the sound of the dhol. Punjabi folk music was used and transformed by the early pioneer bands and artists in Britain in the 1970s such as Anari Sangeet Party and Bhujangy Group both from Birmingham, and the female singer Mohinder Kaur Bhamra.
"They laid the foundation for the folk music and lyrics to be developed further and fused with rock and pop, disco, soul, RNB, and dance music from around the world in the eighties and onwards.
"Now British bhangra can be heard on the streets of India - the GT Road in the Punjab is often alive with the sounds from British bhangra artistes who have also toured India, and the racy and fusion British bhangra beats and lyrics have been borrowed by artists in the Punjab too".
There are instances of British bhangra influencing Hindi music back in India. Dudrah cited the example in the late 1990s of Sonu Nigam singing in and producing a bhangra album with Amarjit Sidhu from Birmingham.
Then, Channi Singh from Alaap produced the music for Feroz Khan's Yalgaar, Bally Sagoo (also from Birmingham) has worked with Bollywood music producers bringing in his fusion influences in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Earlier this year, the three Brit-Bhangra singers RDB from Yorkshire collaborated on and sang a track Rabba, Rabba for the film Namastey London starring Akshay Kumar.
Bhangra has made it to the mainstream music scene in the west as well.
Dudrah added: "Thanks to the global success of the track Mundian to bach ke (beware of the boys) by Coventry-based Panjabi MC, especially after it was remixed with rapping by the US artist JayZ, British Bhangra music can now be heard in mainstream film soundtracks, in global advertising, the catwalks of major international fashion shows, and even in the multi-million dollar US rap and hip hop music industry sectors.
"This truly is testimony to the staying power of a Punjabi folk dance and music which has undergone transformations via British Asians who have helped to re-circulate it around the world. The beats of the dhol can only get louder".
Dudrah collaborated on the book with Ammo Talwar of the Midlands-based Punch Records and photographer-writer Boy Chana. The book, Dudrah said, partly evolved out of the images, memorabilia and stories from the Soho Road to Punjab exhibition, which has been touring the country since 2005.
The book, Dudrah said, would appeal to a variety of audiences.
"For one, the retro audience who are now in their 30s and 40s and were the youth who were present at the live music events during the heydays of Bhangra in the 1980s would like it.
"Young people who are into British Asian music but might not know the history and importance of Bhangra music since the 60 and 70s too," he said.