As distinct from Bollywood pop music, the Panjabi music of Northwestern India (the land of five rivers, homeland of the Sikhs) has become a global favourite, due to its use in samples by UK rappers, its adoption in Bhangra, but above all its mix of rootsy sounds, flute and hand drums like the dhol and simple percussion, with some high-tech production. Plus there's the infectious good humour of the singers. There's husband-and-wife bantering in the opening track but it is not translated, sadly. In fact this CD sets a record for text is set in 4 point type, dropped-out white on an orange background. With glasses and a magnifying glass I attempted to read it, so deep is my love for Panjabi roots music! One of the great features of this music is the Boliyaan, or bawdy lyrics, where good-humoured insults are traded back and forth as in a cutting contest. Some of the folk songs are centuries old and are not so much reinterpreted as simply handed on, from generation to generation. The rhythms are bouncy and the little interjections shrill and exciting. It's relentlessly upbeat and when you see it in a Bollywood film, it is usually during a wedding number with lots of turbaned guests acting daft and bouncing up and down. Gurdas Mann is here, and so is Mohammed Rafi, who went on to stardom as a Bollywood playback singer but often returned to his native songs.


There's an old adage: If it aint broke, dont fix it! But the Rough Guide folks have revamped their serviceable & distinctive package design into a generic void. It's one thing to have a good record label, but another to be able to market your product through brand identity. Sometimes a poor identity (e.g. Original Music, RetroAfric) suggests the compilers are focused on the music and have no spare cash for frills like design. However, something as corporate looking as the Rough Guides that have four colours on each page of their booklets, suggest confidence and a budget. But their new look is poverty-stricken. The generic columns of justified sans suggest a medical textbook more than an inviting article on cutting-edge music.

DJ Ritu has put together this new BHANGRA DANCE compilation and it is mostly excellent. She attempts to show all the influences that have swept over Bhangra so there is Bhangra-muffin, Bhangra-house, Bhangra-hiphop, etc, and this musical smorgasbord approach does get overwhelming. There are two tracks with rapping in English (Soni Pabla's "Dil Tera," which otherwise has some nice touches, and Veronica's "Sajna," which is totally egregious and vile) that I have to skip, but otherwise it's everything you expect: high-energy folksy root-stomping intensity. As usual, there's a swash of studio effects over the dhol and harmonium/synth. Dalkit Mattu & Ravi Bal are outstanding with a traditionally derived groover that is contagious on their three-year-old hit "Captain Bhangre Da." The distinguished Malkit Singh does "Chal Hun (Get up fix)," another waist-winding, booty-wagging rocker. Yorkshireman Binder proffers nothing new but nevertheless makes an interesting addition to the line-up. The dancehall element is quite distinct in his "Billo Raneeay." Things wind down to a ballad with Juggy D, a nice break, and also a lovely song with sarangi (bowed like a violin) and proof that the lad can sign. Things get interesting with the "heavy-metal meets disco in a fiery collision" contribution from Manak-E. Imagine Aerosmith and the BeeGees jamming in turbans. Next up is a mehndi, a traditional song performed by women at a wedding. It is singing with just hand-claps and dholki (tubular drum with goatskin heads) accompaniment. This particular one, by Madan Bata Sindhu, was heard in Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding." Manak-E returns in a more pensive mode with that haunting fiddle on Echoplex set at max. Otherwise there is minimal studio processing on this, and the harmonium and tabla player are virtuosi. This must be fabulous live. Taz has been around for 15 years, starting (I bet) as a lad at the "Go as you please" in the pubs of England's Midlands. Now he has an urbane crust plus a band to match with heavy bass, crunchy percussion, brittle samples. The set winds up with another crowd-pleaser, Panjabi by Nature. All in all the best Bhangra sampler since the last Rough Guide (2000), and up there with WHAT IS BHANGRA? (Nachural Records 1993; I.R.S. 1994)

NACHNA AAJ NACHNA (Universal India 06024 982 8063)

Malkit Singh's latest album (his 21st according to the cover), NACHNA AAJ NACHNA, is another triumph for the King of Desi Bhangra. Born in India, Malkit formed the band Golden Star in Birmingham in 1986 and has had a string of smash hits and performed all over the world, including Lincoln Center, New York, Royal Albert Hall, Kensington, and Andheri Stadium, Mumbai. For twenty years he has put out an album a year with a hit single and remains a clean-living icon to Indian youth all over the globe. I found this on the counter of my Indian video store -- a better place to look than a record store. Plus it was only 125 rupees!! Such a bargain. The title track is generic Malkit, but then he opens up with a speedy dancefloor charge and a rap by Cheshire Cat. "Doriya" is a solid head-banger with the right number of beats-per-minute to sustain a five-minute workout. By track six, "Mittar te ki beet di," we are definitely in a trance. Assuming that's where we want to be, this is a wonderful time-stopping musical pulse that takes control of your senses. The last cut "Sarhade (Border)" is very Filmi, I don't know if it was written with a soundtrack in mind but it has a cinematic quality that is very engaging. Malkit Singh still has what it takes: there's nothing really unexpected but this is a well-crafted and varied album.

BAR BHANGRA (GlobeSonic ESC6512-2)

It must be bhangra season because I was looking for a fix of inanely repetitious music with a heavy bottom & this presented itself. DJ Fabian Alsultany of GlobeSonic has put together a nice slice of bhangra that wears out before it's through but hits the ground running and has some surprises. This continues the tradition of pretending the compilation is for a locale, like a Cafe, Lounge or Bar, but this is more dancefloor-oriented. Achanak, Saqi and Panjabi MC are still around but most of the other names are new. However the music is the same, I might say monotonously so, but it is the mad insistence that makes it compelling. The drums pound relentlessly and every now and then a sample of flute floats over like a butterfly finding an air current on a swelteringly hot day. The good part of that is it all flows together in a dhol drum-driven continuum. There are inevitably overlaps with my 14 other Bhangra compilations: "Saqi da dhol" by Saqi recurs from IMMORTAL BHANGRA; T.J. Rehmi's "Who killed Bhangra" returns from INDESTRUCTIBLE ASIAN BEATS. Intermix's "Bat phar nee" was on WHAT IS BHANGRA? EWC's "Sun Mundeya" uses the same Studio One riffs, with a different title from their other song ("Paiya") on another compilation I can't locate right now. It's one of the best things on here, and makes me consider getting a whole album by them, surely the point of any compilation. So is it worth buying, given that I can only stand to listen to about half of it? I find it very useful around the Rhythmic homestead for such tasks as vacuuming, doing the dishes, or pissing off the neighbours. Actually for the purposes of writing a review I did listen to it all the way through and thought the last track was great. It's a straight dancehall deejay toast over a reggae rhythm (Chaka Demus & Pliers' famous "Murder she wrote") but rendered (in Hindi) by Canadian-born Raghav. "Teri Baaton (Your words)" makes a fitting capper to this little excursion to Brum & all points NorthWest and SouthEast.


Panjabi MC the rapper from Birmingham made it to Top of the Pops on BBC tv with "Mundian to bach ke," from LEGALISED (included on the ROUGH GUIDE TO BHANGRA.) That song came out in 1998 and was a club hit. (You can hear it on his website.) Panjabi MC has finally crossed over, due to the goofy high-pitched string lead (sampled from Busta Rhymes' "Knightrider") on ektar, and the exceedingly phat bass which comes in ominously from time to time, on two notes (like "Another One Bites the Dust")! It's wonderful to see him getting mainstream attention. I bought DESI for a song: the insanely catchy "Good morrnning," that sounds remarkably like "Mundian to bach ke". However, the rest of the CD is rather slight with a couple of quite awful Hip-hop songs in English, a Gnawan-sounding track with a monotonous singer, and an old-style reggae number with Hindi vocals. There are good samples on here, and Punjabi's scratching is worth checking out, but it's basically a one-song album (even the slight return at the end is too slight).


Rough Guide can be relied on to give a thorough tour of a musical genre. From Bally Sagoo's early dancehall mixes with Apache Indian through Nusrat rambles to Baldip Jabble and back again to Bally Sagoo, the Rough Guide is a classic. You need it. Among other Bhangra compilations there are good and bad: Earthworks' DESI NATION is so-so; Star Vibes' ROOTS OF BHANGRA is obscure; the Pulse double-CD BHANGRA FEVER is overlong and could easily have been compressed to a single disc. The best of the rest are WHAT IS BHANGRA? (I.R.S. 7243 8 29242 27) which heavily features Achanak and Anakhi. A must-have is THE ULTIMATE WEDDING COLLECTION (Nachural records CDNR0277 2001) with Achanak, Saki, Panjabi MC & Maniac. There are several back-to-back versions of "Viah de Viah" on here that are crucial.

KHICH KANDA (Universal India PCDNF 751)

I looked hard for a Malkit Singh release in London early in 2003. KHICH KANDA has a 2002 copyright date so there may be one more recent, but this one is a gem. It's bhangra, so a lot harder than the filmi stuff. In fact there is a dancehall edge to several tracks and some nicely done dubbing, rewinding tape during playback, & good use of studio effects. There's a couple of "Boliyans" and a Ragamuffin mix with Apache Indian impersonating Shaggy: everything you'd expect from one of the top Bhangrists. The opening cut was mixed by Bally Sagoo. The second track was the hit pick from the BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM soundtrack (Heard in the wedding party scene). Then there's the title song which he has released before, on the PAARO album. In fact, looking at the PAARO album, there are four duplications on there. This was also a Universal India release in 2002, so what's he doing? I guess one may be a bootleg, or the fact that the retail price is 99 rupees means you get some filler for your two bucks. There's a great bagpipe outro to "Mar jaava Gudhkhaake." He also does a cover of "Guru Nalon Ishq Mitha," mixed by Bally Sagoo. It's attributed to "traditional Punjabi," and it's another one I know and love from the Bollywood Brass remix, so I don't mind the dancehall slackness that follows. In fact a little Shaggy goes down quite well at this point.

KHICH KANDA is an improvement over PAARO, but I'm still looking for the "new" Malkit Singh.


As opposed to ragas (the classical music of India played in concert halls), bhangra is simple folk music, played on a double-headed dhol drum and accompanied by singing at weddings and parties. (But you won't be in the doldrums when you hear it!) It has emigrated to other parts of the world, particularly England, and is one of the oldest folk musics extant. I hadn't heard of any of the artists on this compilation drawn from the archives of Oldham-based Kiss Records. It doesn't have the range of the ROUGH GUIDE TO BHANGRA, but the Naxos sampler hits hard and works great as a party disk. Balbir Bittu highlights Punjabi folk music against a simple double-headed drum and throbbing bass riff which has been part of the traditional Bhangra sound for the last 500 years. His song "Meri Maa Boli Punjabi" tells Punjabis they should never forget their roots and culture no matter where they are.

BHANGRA: The Best Asian Beats from the Streets (Manteca CD041)

All my attempts to stay current with Bhangra, Bollywood and Indian pop prove, again, that the wagon train takes a year to get here (longer if it goes via the Caucasus Mtns -- with a stop to visit your cistern in the Urals -- and via the backroom of a Balti shop in Brum, en route to a US Customs shed in Gawdfasawken, Minnesota).

However, Bhangra is about to become the next world music to cross over to the mainstream. This is thanks to American rapper "JZ", who sampled Panjabi MC on his newest hit. (Since Panjabi MC sampled the theme from the TV show about the talking car ("Knight Rider"), this makes it a very derivative borrowing!) Bethatasitmay, Bhangra is coming to take you away and here's yet another introduction if you haven't jumped on the Bhangrawagon yet. This one has Panjabi MC and a host of lesser-known British dhol-bangers serving up some familiar grooves. One track that pops up on all these compilations is called "Boliyan," which is a traditional wedding song -- there's even a whole album of "Boliyans," a bit like the "Louie Louie" compilations, what? There are three "Boliyans" on this compilation. The way it works is there's a pre-wedding event in Indian society in which the bride and groom and their families get together and take turns improvising couplets about the prospects for the marriage. This can drag on for hours, much to the chagrin of the betrothed who have to sit patiently through it, smiling the while! There are good examples in some Bollywood movies (where it's more apparent what's going on if there are subtitles!).

Fiery dhol playing highlights this Bhangra compilation from Manteca. Obvious stand-outs include Panjabi MC with "Jatt Ho Gaya Sharabi" -- the Jatt or Panjabi male goes on a drinking binge and his exploits upset the whole village. Heavy dubby reggae sets up "Paiya" by EWC. They rip-off the famous "Throw me Corn" rhythm from Studio One, a synth throws in the hook of Nana McLean's "NoNoNo" (also Studio One) and they even do the famous minor key snake-charmer riff from the old Music Hall called, I believe, "The Egyptian Sand Dance." Rhythm is also provided by a slapped water jug. Avtar Maniac's "Boliyan" reminds me of his great "Veer da Viah," a highlight on the must-have ULTIMATE WEDDING COLLECTION (On the Nachural records label). He uses a vocal technique called "throw of voice" which is a bit like shouting, then he uses an effect to make his voice stutter. Sahar use a Vocoder on "Dhol Punjabian Da" -- it's one of my least favourite sounds, but works ok in the techno-bag they've adopted for this remix. Achanak returns for more serious dhol bashing to close out the procedings. There are three or four outstanding tracks on this compilation.


I now have fourteen Bhangra compilations so I have started making my own compilations out of them. Another entry from Manteca is more widely cast, spanning Asian music "from Bollywood to Bhangra, Asian chill to Panjabi party music." Panjabi MC is the reliable opener, followed by a dancehall track. "Yaar dha" by Major Mehran may be called "generic" bhangra at this point (the sleeve notes say it is "Asian chill") but it does have a way of making the subwoofer kick with its slow insidiousness. We then get to a track everyone knows, "Aaj Mera Jee Kardaa (Today my heart desires)" by Sukhwinder Singh, because it's the best track on the MONSOON WEDDING soundtrack. British Asian artists suffer from poor influences, like Gang of Four and Steel Pulse, though it's a change from the surfeit of James Brown or Graham Central Station we hear in West African bands. (Somehow that reminds me of the great Joe Orton line: "You had every advantange: no circumcision, breastfeeding, and atheism!") The "Ishq Bina" remix of Bollywood Brass Band had to find its place, and this compilation is it, though I wish they'd left it off RAHMANIA! Up next --- ay-yi-yi, as if to prove me right, we get a chorus of "Get up, get on up" that merges JB with Steel Pulse from the forgettable Badmarsh and Shri.

If the record industry had not been in such a rush to kill Napster we might now have a way to make our own compilations from the wealth of tracks out there. As it stands I don't recommend this volume.


According to the Indian press, Sukhwinder Singh has been arrested for immigration fraud after selling forged documents to people trying to get into the UK. I suppose after hearing that Papa Wemba and Koffi Olomide were busted on the same charge he felt he needed a little of that international popstar attention. Now I reckon his new album is on hold. I was beginning to think I was going off Bhangra because this collection has nothing really new to offer, but the Duchess insists it's just not a great set. In fact there's some bad stuff on here, requiring you to hit the "next" button. "Bhangra Garage" by Singh MC is one of those, as it has a vocoder used to distraction along with some crappy rap (they obviously learned from white boys). Vocodor also scuttles another potential decent track by Tarli Digital.

I thought all those things were recalled after P. Frampton's "Show me the way," but a friend just brought me a cassette, hot off the streets of Delhi, of Indian bhangra (ten times better than this) and it too has Vocoder.

The Achanak cut was on another recent Bhangra compilation. Mac G starts out exactly like Panjabi MC (unless it is him and they mislabelled the tracks). The first good track is number 6, "Hasde Hasde" by Nav Sarao from Canada, backed by UK's Panjabi Hit Squad. It's an old Punjabi folk song with acoustic guitar and monstrous bass rattling your fillings, but it ends too soon.

"I need some money" from Panjabi MC is an oldie but goldie from the depths of Coventry. It too shows the worst rap influences and requires a quick exit. Heavy (i.e. monotonous) drum-n-bass influences permeate DJ Stin's track which also samples some instantly recognized funk. Kuldeep Manak's "Haar" is another of the tracks worth hearing as it samples some legendary (unidentified) Indian singer. Gubi Sandhu's track sounds like Kingston dancehall translated into Hindi. The last track, Major Mehram's "Yaar Dah," which ends abruptly, is also worth hearing. In short this album is for people who are curious to what extent Bhangra intersects urban dance styles like garage, attic, deep house, and, more likely, shallow house.