Various Artists: Bhangra Beatz: A Naxos World Collection

Matt Cibula

Various Artists

Bhangra Beatz: a Naxos World Collection

Label: Naxos World
US Release Date: 2002-04-16
UK Release Date: 2000-09-26
[Banished words/phrases in this review: Bollywood, India/Pakistan conflict, "gang-bhangers".]

Double-headed drums dominate the two main strains of Indian-derived dance music floating around these days. One branch of the tree is focused on the tabla, the smaller conga-like drums played with the hands and fingers; this branch has played up the tabla's similarities to the frantic skitterings of drum'n'bass, and includes such devotees as the Asian Dub Foundation, Tabla Beat Science, and Karsh Kale, whose work incorporates the intensely mathematical calculations of Indian sitar ragas (the Indian "classical" music) as well as the craziness of the best techno jams. It's great stuff, and I love it, but we're not talking about it here.

The other branch focuses on the dhol, the larger drums worn around the neck and played with hands or with curved drumsticks. The dhol is more closely associated with Indian folk-dances than with ragas, and the main way that the dhol is used in modern music is in the dance form called bhangra. This music, which has been filling clubs from New Delhi to London to New York for more than 10 years, relies on the dhol to function as a huge bass tone, thumping out a heartbeat that shakes dancers to their very souls while Indian folk- and film-derived melodies and vocal lines float above it. It's exotic, it's familiar, it's the best of both worlds.

But most of the people shaking their asses to this cool sound have little or no idea that bhangra as a musical and dance form has existed in the Indian/Pakistani territory of Punjab for centuries. Farmers have celebrated the harvest of "bhang", or hemp, for 600 years with this dance, so it is really no surprise that it can be updated (and boogied to). This compilation collects some of the best bhangra tracks from Kiss Records, one of the UK's most prominent labels of South Asian music; it was originally released in 2000, but has now been re-released with a "nicer"-looking cover, which means I can stop kicking myself for not grabbing it back when I had the chance.

And it's kickin'. You drop this disc in the player, pump up the bass, and you immediately feel the impact of the dhol on the first track, Anakhi's "Lok Boliyan". This medley of traditional bhangra tunes is pumped up with vocal samples and guitar bits and something that sounds a lot like an electronic jaw harp sample, sweetened with some intricate string/synth arrangements, and filled out with ululating call and response vocals…but you can't get away from the dhol. Its insistent lower-register thumping strikes right to the gut, and suddenly all the modern stuff is so much window dressing. That drum hits and we're back in the Punjab.

There are some great dance songs on this disc. Jassi Premi's "Ludiane Nachdi Nu" sounds like an amped-up version of a Bombay musical number, but its bigger dhol-driven low-end and its nutty "hey hey" chanting mark it as club material. "Nachde Punjabi", by K.B. and the Gang, is slower and less Westernized but derives its considerable momentum from the combination of live drums and supporting electronic bass tones. And I'd love to hear "Sahotas Boliyan" by the Sahotas down at the teen center dance, sandwiched in between "Hot in Herre" and "Grindin'". Give those kids some perspective for real.

But this disc isn't entirely focused on the politics of dancing. Bhinda Jatt's "Putt Sardaran Da" is almost power-pop, as is "Lak De Hulareh" by Canadian Jazzy B. "Dhamiwala Da Dhol" is the CD's most reactionary/ambitious piece, a simple demonstration of dhol drumming in all its variety, with accompanying "Hoy!" chanting. And "Sounds from the Des" by Balbur Bittu is, according to the liner notes, tour of all the varied glory of Punjabi culture and its people; to me, it just sounds like a six-and-a-half-minute slice of heaven, jam-packed with hooks and interweaving lines and, undergirding it all, that wonderful booming drum called the dhol.

This is by no means a survey of all that bhangra music has to offer (I've heard rumors of a three-CD set out there somewhere that would probably fill that bill), but it is a great one-hour compilation of songs from one label. I recommend this, as well as last year's album by The Dhol Foundation called Big Drum Small World, wherein Afro-Celt Sound System drummer Johnny Kalsi (who got his start with a bhangra group in the first place) weds new-age washes and lively techno beats to layers and layers of dhol drumming by all his students in Great Britain. Between these two albums, you will hear the future of the dhol -- this sound is gonna be everywhere in a year or two. Don't miss the boat, okay?

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.