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Last Updated: Monday, 27 October, 2003, 15:43 GMT
The man with the diamond in his turban
By Neil Arun
BBC News Online

To his fans, Daler Mehndi is the bhangra messiah - the man who made the MTV generation sit up and take notice of a traditional dance from India's Punjab state.

Daler Mehndi
Fans say Daler Mehndi's singing and dancing skills revived bhangra

But police in India say he is more than just a musician, and have accused him of trafficking illegal immigrants to the West, disguised as dancers in his ensemble.

The 36-year-old Sikh singer, who denies the charges, certainly knows about living and working abroad - during the 1980s, he drove a taxi in New York.

A string of hits in the mid-1990s means he now owns a fleet of fast cars.

With his diamond-studded turban and ostentatious overcoats, Daler Mehndi's persona mixes the homely appeal of a Sikh lad-done-good, with the "bling-bling" trappings of a gangster rapper.

According to his website, he was named after a fictitious robber from a vintage Bollywood film, Daku Daler Singh.

His second name is taken from the legendary Pakistani singer, Pervez Mehdi.

Although India remains the biggest market for bhangra, Mr Mehndi has spent a lot of time promoting his song and dance numbers on foreign tours.

The new reggae?

His audience is made up, in part, of the children of Punjabi migrants who are rediscovering the music their parents might have heard at harvest festivals back home.

Britney Spears
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Recently, however, interest in bhangra has spread beyond the Punjabi diaspora.

Its boisterous beats have migrated from agrarian Punjab and can be heard spicing up new releases by mainstream dance and pop acts.

Like reggae many years before it, critics now talk of bhangra making the leap from its minority ethnic following to reach a massive Western audience.

All of which is good news for Daler Mehndi, whose brand of bhangra already incorporates many of the electronic flourishes associated with chart music in the West.

His new releases are accompanied by colourful video clips, so they can be readily used by broadcasters such as MTV.

Musical peacemaker

Inevitably, Bollywood has also drawn on his talents and film legend Amitabh Bachchan has danced with him.

Mr Mehndi donates some of his money to charitable causes and has started a campaign to reduce traffic pollution levels in the Indian capital, Delhi.

Earlier ventures include making large donations to the families of Indian soldiers killed in the Kargil conflict with Pakistan in 1999.

But his website also reveals he is keen to promote peace between India and Pakistan - the Pakistani cities of Karachi and Islamabad feature on his tour itinerary.

Police question Punjabi pop star
27 Oct 03  |  South Asia
Arrest warrant for Indian pop star
15 Oct 03  |  South Asia

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