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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September, 2003, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
Bhangra fusion gathers support
By Martha Dixon

Fusion has meant chart success
Bhangra - the traditional folk music from India - has been enjoying a new wave of success in western music charts.

Rhythms which originated from the Punjab region are now being sampled by popular international singers like Craig David and Missy Elliot.

But western artists are fusing the Bhangra tunes with R+B, rap and hip hop - something that has incensed purists, who say it is no longer true to its cultural roots .

The birthplace of Bhangra, the Punjab is a region extending over part of Northern India and North eastern Pakistan. Translated, the name "Punjab" means the "Land of Five Rivers."

Bhangra is all about the beat- you fuse it with R+B, rap, hip hop or reggae- and that's what makes people want to dance
Rishi Rich
Bhangra is a lively form of folk music and dance which started as long ago as 300 BC, traditionally used to celebrate the harvest.

During Bhangra, people sing Punjabi Boliyaan lyrics, at least one person plays the dhol drum, and other people may play the flute, dholak drum, or other musical instruments. Bhangra fusion - is now one of Punjab's best exports.

Stars rising in the west

Rishi Rich is one of Bhangra's brightest young stars.

He is number 12 in the British charts with his latest Bhangra fusion project. It is sung in both English and Punjabi.

His video shows the traditional Bhangra dancing on the streets of London.

Channi Singh and his group Alaap
Authentic instruments - the charm of Bhangra
Rishi says he loves bringing his culture to the masses.

"Bhangra is all about the beat- you fuse it with R+B, rap, hip hop or reggae- and that's what makes people want to dance.

"I'm so excited about bringing my culture into the mainstream because I can show people where we come from and what our culture is about and what our music is about. It's all about dancing and having a good time."

Much of Rishi's support comes from young second generation Asians.

He has been mobbed all around Britain at record signings to promote his latest tune. In Southall - an Asian area west of London, the fans went wild.

One fan said: " I love Bhangra because of the beat and the drums, all Indians love their Bhangra - especially if you are Punjabi.

"This whole thing with Rishi Rich is brilliant, it's bringing Bhangra to the mainstream and us Indians are going to be at the top soon!"

Another said: "Bhangra's been at our parties and our weddings for all our lives. it's something that we dance to and chill out to.

"Now it's great that everyone can appreciate it!"

And another added: "Bhangra's so great because it's east meets west- and I love Rishi Rich!."

The popularity of this mix of traditional Asian music and modern dance beats is clear but there are some who feel it is betraying the origins of Bhangra.

Cultural division

Traditionalists say Bhangra needs to stick to the original instruments with no synthesized beat.

Channi Singh and his group Alaap have been a big name in the Asian charts on and off for 26 years.

He says he is trying to preserve Punjabi culture and Bhangra fusion is not doing this.

" I think if we take this music to the extreme, if we lose the authenticity of Bhangra and the authentic instruments then we will lose the charm of Bhangra and we won't be able to call it Bhangra music anymore."

"If we are starting to rapping with the modern beat behind it then it will be black or white music which is already prevailing in the market. This new music has very little to do with Bhangra so we can't call it Bhangra," he said.

Bhangra began as a part of harvest celebrations, but it eventually became a part of a wide range of occasions such as weddings and New Year parties.

Now is it just moving with the times - a celebration of the youth culture of a multicultural Britain - or do we believe the traditionalists who say it is now something completely different.

Those buying the records do not appear to hold those purist fears.

Second generation Asians seem determined to keep moving to the Bhangra beat.


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