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Rishi Rich's bhangra

Britain is increasingly going balley, balley over the foot-tapping bhangra music.

india Updated: Aug 15, 2003 20:04 IST

After chicken tikka masala was declared Britain's national dish by Prince Charles, can bhangra be far behind?

Britain is increasingly going 'balley, balley' over the foot-tapping music from rural Punjab, with several mainstream singers and musicians seeking to give a Punjabi twist to their output.

Britney Spears and Ricky Martin are just two of the major figures in the pop scene to beat a track to Punjabi musicians based in Britain.

Bringing the two worlds of Western and Punjabi music together is Rishi Rich and his two-man team of Juggy D. and Jay Sean, who work from a corner of the industrial estate in Perivale in west London.

The team is already popular within the Asian community, performing at large fairs before crowds of over 50,000. In keeping with the craze for remix, they have begun adding Punjabi spice to singles produced by some of the West's leading pop stars.

All three young Asians were born and brought up in west London.

Twenty-two-year-old Juggy D. is more in the mould of a traditional Punjabi vocalist, while Sean, also 22, is a rapper. Bringing their sound and talent together is Rich, something of a veteran of the British Asian music scene at a mere 26 years.

Rich has spent the best part of his career mixing traditional Asian music with soul, hip-hop and R&B and, until now, getting little notice or praise for it.

Rich and Juggy D. recently finished "tickling up" Ricky Martin's new single "Juramento". Craig David has been to Rishi's studio giving his single "Spanish" a bhangra touch, even managing to sing a verse in Punjabi.

"Everyone, it seems, wants to jump on the bhangra bandwagon," according to The Guardian.

"His Punjabi wasn't that bad, but it took him a bit of time to get the hang of it," says Rich of David. "We had him in the studio for quite a while until he managed to get the Punjabi phrase right. It was good working with him."

The buzz in the music industry is that bhangra and indeed other forms of Asian music are hot and, at last, record executives and non-Asian music fans are waking up to the potential of the music.

Panjabi M.C. managed to have a top-five hit with "Beware of the Boys", a song he first released five years ago when it was ignored outside the Asian community.

The irony is that 90 per cent of those who bought the record did not even understand the lyrics, but leading artists, particularly from the world of hip-hop and R&B have been queuing up to work with Panjabi MC.

Rishi Rich has been attracting similar interest. Not only has he been asked to produce Britney and Ricky Martin, but also Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez, and Mis-Teeq.

Not many record executives were keen on non-English music, until recently. Rich recalls meetings with executives who told him that songs in languages other than English would not sell, while Jay Sean recalls not being taken seriously because he is an Asian who raps.

Says Rich: "The irony is that some of the people that rejected me a few years ago, claiming that Asian music would never make it, are now working with me. For me as a producer, I make music. I have taken my Asian culture and fused it with other types of music that have been part of my upbringing such as hip-hop and R&B.

"There were a lot of people in the music industry who said that it wouldn't work, that White people would not listen to or buy bhangra but now everybody wants to get in on the act."

Bhangra music has been the vanguard for Asian culture's crossover into the British mainstream. The music has traditionally been used by the community as a way of maintaining cultural links and has been an established feature of the British Asian music scene for more than 30 years, particularly in the suburbs of west London which are home to one of the biggest Punjabi communities outside India.

First Published: Aug 15, 2003 00:00 IST