The bhangra is a folk dance that has its roots in the region of Punjab in northwest India.Unlike other folk dances which usually fail to catch the interest of the masses outside their particular community or geographical region, bhangra has managed to transcend its label as being merely a folk dance to be performed by Punjabi sons of the soil. Bhangra has developed as a combination of dances from different parts of the Punjab region. The term "Bhangra" now refers to several kinds of dances and arts, including Jhumar, Luddi, Giddha, Julli, Daankara, Dhamal, Saami, Kikli, and Gatka. Jhumar, originally from Sandalbar, Punjab, comprises an important part of Punjab folk heritage.
Bhangra began as a dance to celebrate the harvest and was usually performed at the time of Baisakhi (the harvest festival). It was traditionally the domain of males, though today it is open to dancers of both sexes. The dancers' costumes comprised colourful lungis, waistcoats and turbans. The dance movements were supposed to depict the cycle of plouging, sowing and reaping.It is an energetic dance involving vigorous movements of the shoulder and hips. The beat is heavy and hypnotic. The accompaniment is in the form of singing, clapping and the beat of the drum. The main instrument is called the dhol. It is a large barrel-shaped drum that provides the rhythm and the beat. A drum roll often marks the end of each line of the song and the last line is repeated by the dancers like a chorus. Dancers often form a circle with pairs of dancers periodically taking centrestage to give solo performances that showcase their prowess, virility and acrobatic ability. Getting into the festive mood, dancers often punctuate each beat with an exuberant shout and may even be moved to recite witty couplets.The accompanying songs are small couplets written in the Punjabi language called bolis. They relate to current issues faced by the singers and (dil the gal) what they truly want to say. In Punjabi folk music, the dhol's smaller cousin, the dholki, was nearly always used to provide the main beat. Nowadays the dhol is used more frequently, with and without the dholki. Additional percussion, including tabla, is less frequently used in bhangra as a solo instrument but is sometimes used to accompany the dhol and dholki. The dholki drum patterns in Bhangra music bear an intimate similarity to the rhythms in Reggae music.Bhangra lyrics, always sung in the Punjabi language, generally cover social issues such as love, relationships, money, dancing, getting drunk and marriage. Additionally, there are countless Bhangra songs devoted to Punjabi pride themes and Punjabi heroes. The lyrics are tributes to the rich cultural traditions of the Punjabis. In particular, many Bhangra tracks have been written about Udham Singh and Bhagat Singh. Less serious topics include beautiful ladies with their colorful duppattas, and dancing and drinking in the fields of the Punjab.Traditionally, men wear a chaadra while doing Bhangra. A chaadra is a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist. Men also wear a kurta, which is a long Indian-style shirt. In addition, men wear Pugdee - also known as turbans - to cover their heads.
The female version of the bhangra is known as the gidha.It is performed by a group of female dancers, but like in the bhangra, pairs of dancers or individual dancers break away to show off their skill while the rest of the dancers clap in rhythm. The gidha is performed at the time of the festival of Teeyan to welcome the monsoon.
One of the biggest Bhangra stars of the last several decades is Malkit Singh - known as "the golden voice of the Punjab" - and his group, Golden Star. Malkit was born in June 1963, in the village Hussainpur, in Punjab. He attended the Khalsa College, Jalandhar, in Punjab, in 1980 to study for a B.A. in Arts. Here he met his mentor, Professor Inderjit Singh, who nurtured his skills in Punjabi folk singing and Bhangra dancing. Thanks to Singh's tutelage, Malkit entered and won many song contests during this time. In 1983 he won a gold medal at the Guru Nanak Dev University, in Amritsar, Punjab, for performing his hit song Gurh Naloo Ishq Mitha, which later featured on his first album, Nach Gidhe Wich, released in 1984. The album was a strong hit among South Asians worldwide, and after its release Malkit and his band moved to the United Kingdom to continue their work. Malkit has now produced 16 albums and has toured 27 countries in his Bhangra career. Malkit has been awarded the prestigious MBE by the British Queen for his services to Bhangra music.
As many Bhangra lyrics reflect the long and often tumultuous history of the Punjab, knowledge of Punjabi history offers important insights into the meaning of the music. During the last thirty years, Bhangra has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide, both in traditional form and as a fusion with genres such as hip-hop, house, and reggae.Bhangra took large steps toward mainstream credibility in the 1990s, especially among youths. At the beginning of the nineties, many artists returned to the original, folk beats of Bhangra, often incorporating more dhol drum beats and tumbi. This time also saw the rise of several young Punjabi singers.Today bhangra is not just a dance form, but a term that embraces a new form of music. Initially it was a dance performed to celebrate a good harvest. Soon it was not just confined to the harvest time but found its place at weddings and almost all other celebratory occasions. It looked beyond the boundaries of Punjab with its inclusion in innumerable Bollywood films. Performers like Daler Mehndi, Bhuppi, Jassi, etc. have taken it to the top of the Indipop charts. Finally, it crossed the seas to become the most 'happening' thing on the Asian club scene in London. Modern disc jockeys found that the foot-tapping rhythms of bhangra were almost begging to be remixed. Today, you can't escape it. It's on television; you hear it in cabs and discos alike. It has crossed all boundaries of religion, caste, community and country. Bhangra has gone international.