With her debut mix tape DJ Rekha is bringing the beats of Bhangra beyond the walls of her monthly installment at the New York club, Sounds of Brazil. As her first recorded version of a style she’s been perfecting for the last ten years, Basement Bhangra’s (the same name as the club shows) 17 tracks will add even more momentum to her multi-dimensional quest to immerse the listener in a world of Punjabi inspired beats, Jamaican reggae rhythms and hip-hop’s old and new school style.
With Basement Bhangra, DJ Rekha adds to the celebratory history of an Indian style of music called Punjabi, a folk-based musical form originating in regions of South Asia that is comprised of key instruments; the dhol two-side drum, and stringed ektara, among others. The British born and New York-based DJ Rekha has spearheaded the proliferation of Bhangra music by filtering the Punjabi-influenced sound through turntables and pumping it from speakers thus creating throngs of swirling night clubbers and music fans from all races and colors at the monthly Sounds of Brazil shows.
With Basement Bhangra DJ Rekha lets the music do the talking but she’s also an outspoken advocate for the Bhangra movement. As a lecturer, activist and owner of her own production company she adamantly educates listeners about the culture that Bhangra has evolved from. She explains how, like most musical forms, there’s a history behind Bhangra that can be traced all the way back to southern Asia where the Punjabi peasants celebrated the cultivation of the bhrang crop, an Indian word for hemp. From South Asia the music moved to England via the incorporation of guitars and it’s further use in celebrations like weddings and festivals.
So here in 2007 DJ Rekha sits at the forefront of the growing influence in the underground club scene as she continues to celebrate Bhangra by further exploring it’s possibilities when fused with hip-hop, dance hall and reggae, making it more accessible to English and US audiences.
The album begins with the exclusive album track “Basement Bhangra Anthem” which surges on the strength of DJ Rehka’s production and the inclusion of Wyclef Jean and Bhangra artists Sunil Shegal and Bikram Singh. It’s a perfect club track saturated in a dense mix of thumping drohls, intermittent and trance-inducing ektras.
Six tracks in, the Bhangra beat is a backdrop for a fiercely entertaining lyrical battle done in classic dozens style on “Tere Toro” as emcees Sub and Apache Indian square off. This is one of many examples of how DJ Rekha never puts her own production over the performance and has few miscues mixing in the numerous artists featured. The focus is always on the song as she creates myriad moments of tremendous tribal anthems, giving you a rapid sonic taste test of what it is like to get lost in the club during one of her sets amidst the bottomless Bhangra drohl drum beats.
The only two missteps are the club-cliche and juvenile “Glassy” and “Sexy Boy.” Even if they do bridge the gap between American style club-banging hip-hop and Bhangra, up against the rest of the album these tracks don’t work and make you wonder why DJ Rekha decided to include them.
But the unnecessary silliness is quickly forgotten as the final two tracks “Bhanghall” and “Gur Nal Ishq Mitha” synchs Punjabi with dancehall, tossing in hip-hop’s lyrical deft and a dose of dub. Basement Bhangra succeeds in giving the newcomer an alluring threshold into Bhangra and gives converts something to bounce to between shows.
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