Photos courtesy of Odell Hussey.
a 500+ year old folk form of music and dance of the Punjab region in
India, has been dominating dancefloors from New York City to San
Francisco with its infectious syncopated rhythms and moves for the past
two decades. On the west coast, San Francisco’s Non Stop Bhangra (NSB)
has grown as the popularity of the musical/dance style rises to a fever
pitch. Mr. Hyphen 2006 Robin Sukhadia caught up with NSB co-founders
Vicki Virk and DJ Jimmy Love as they prepare for this week’s massive
relaunch of Non Stop Bhangra at Public Works in San Francisco. Legendary
DJ Rekha of Basement Bhangra joins them on stage.
How has the bhangra scene in NYC influenced and inspired NSB on the west coast?
NYC is the gateway from the UK bhangra scene, and in extension the
corridor for music from India into the US as well. DJ Rekha and Basement
Bhangra has been at the heart of this, being the longest running
bhangra monthly party in the US and the unofficial ambassador of Punjabi
music in the USA. New York is a hot bed for music, and integration of
musical styles like hip hop and reggae into bhangra were able to take
what the UK was already pushing in the 90's and translate that
consistently to the US dance floor. More importantly, Basement Bhangra
shared the music from the Punjabi community with a diverse audience.
Why is bhangra relevent now? How is it being shaped by dubstep and other influences?
Though it is an older folk music, bhangra has become more and more
relevant due to the rise of club nights across America. Punjabi music
has been sampled for decades, however the rise of bhangra based parties
in different cities has allowed a more western audience to actually
absorb the sound and understand it. As the parties in the states have
developed, so has the level of the young producers and performers, and
with it a growing new take on what works for more eclectic audiences.
There is a growing number of producers with Punjabi background bringing
the music into the under ground culture in the states like Sub Swara,
David Starfire and Kush Arora. These producers understand the core of
Indian music and are able to properly experiment and break new ground.
Where do you see NSB going over the next 5 years?
Our goal is to continue doing our monthly Non Stop Bhangra event, and
hopefully grow out the experience to a point where it becomes one of the
largest world music events here in SF. Our goal is to collaborate more
with headlining artists from USA, UK, and India. We want to be able to
take NSB to other cities in the US and beyond to share the night and
experience. We would also like to work on producing original music and
eventually putting out an album to reflect our take on the sound.
Why has bhangra been so successful at reaching non-Asian American audiences?
The biggest reason might be that its rhythm and beats are contagious.
Regardless of the fact that people may not understand the lyrics, they
can still resonate with the beat which can move even the most dedicated
of wallflowers onto the floor. Bhangra is a dance form and music that
echoes celebration, so its easy to relate to for most people.
Jimmy, what was that first experience like listening to bhangra? When/how did it happen?
Before moving to the Bay almost 15 years ago I flew to San Francisco to
find a DJ to book for a rave I was throwing in Arizona at the time. I
scoured Haight Street picking up DJ mixes and I came across one by a guy
named DJ Radley. Back then, trance was at a high point in the desert of
Arizona, but for some reason the mix on repeat for me was his mix of
Asian underground and bhangra which I had never heard put together like
this. The mid to late 90s had built an amazing underground South Asian
scene, and my mind was blown opened by Talvin Singh and Bally Sagoo.
Bally had found the perfect line between dub and bhangra and from there I
went down the rabbit hole.
DJ Jimmy Love.
As a producer working on new Bhangra tracks, what are you listening to now? Who is your inspiration?
I am personally a big fan of Tigerstyle and think, as far as
production level, they are out in front of everyone. I have watched
their production skills grow by the album and I appreciate how they
reach out to other musical communities like dancehall and electronic
artists choosing quality people to work with. I love all kinds of music,
so my inspiration comes from everywhere. The more I develop as a
producer, I know feel I am able to learn more about music with every
song that I hear. I love a good traditional song, but I am also
fascinated with bringing different cultures together so I also love acts
like Delhi 2 Dublin or Sub Swara who are real trailblazers.
Check out Non Stop Bhangra this Saturday, February 11 in San Francisco at Public Works, 9:00 pm to 3:00 am. NSB was founded in 2004 by Vicki Virk, Suman Raj, and DJ Jimmy Love. More info on Non Stop Bhangra at www.nonstopbhangra.com.
Master in Fine Arts graduate from the World Music program at the
California Institute of the Arts, Robin Sukhadia has been studying tabla
(classical north Indian drums) under Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri at
the California Institute of the Arts and the Ali Akbar College of Music
in San Rafael, CA for the past nine years. For the past seven
years, Robin has traveled internationally on behalf of Project Ahimsa,
an organization committed to empowering impoverished youth through
music education. In 2010, Robin was awarded a Fulbright Senior Research
Award to expand his work with music education in India.