JK – The Key to the Future of Bhangra (By Anisha Kaur Johal)
Bhangra – a genre of music originating from the Panjab region of India – is the very essence of Panjab reflecting its rich, vibrant and dynamic culture. Throughout the decades Bhangra has undergone many transformations: starting off as boliyan, then incorporating instruments such as the dhol, dholki, tabla, tumbi and vaja bringing, a vivid surge of energy to the melody. The likes of Amar Chamkila, Kuldeep Manak and Surinder Shinda added to its vibrancy. Then Bhangra became popular in England as a result of emigration, with the emergence of Achanak, Alaap, Apna Sangeet, Azaad, Bhujangy, Heera, Pardesi, Premi and the Safri Boys. Recently Bhangra has been influenced by the western music scene with artists such as B21, Dr Zeus and Jazzy B adding an R&B twist to it. Therefore, it is clear that Bhangra has changed, evolved and been revived over time. Those in the West are spoilt for choice with the emergence, prevalence and predominance of other genres of music such as R&B, hip-hop, house, rap, grime and metal. So will there be another revolution of Bhangra? What is the future of Bhangra looking like? Does Bhangra even have a future at all? Simply put, the answer has got to be JK.
Jatinder Kumar (JK), a Derby born and bred Bhangra artist, has flourished since starting his musical career with the release of his revolutionary, raw, folk inspired album, Gabru Panjab Dha. This British Asian star’s success has been made possible and catalysed by Sukhjit Singh Olk, most commonly known as Tru Skool, who trained, taught and supported him to become a vocalist. The raw folk vocals prevalent in each and every one of JK’s tracks bring echoes from the roots of Panjab, making western Panjabi’s feel a strong connection with their homeland, heritage and culture. His music videos have Panjab embedded in the heart of them, which radiate with power and ooze with energy, especially as he begins his mighty hik. JK’s passion, dedication and yearning to keep traditional Panjabi Bhangra alive, is illustrated by the fact that he has won many awards: Asian Music Award Best Newcomer 2010, Brit Asia Best Album Award 2011, Lebara Mobile Asian Music Awards Best Album 2012. He was also a nominee for the Brit Asia Awards 2011 Best Male Act and PTC Punjabi Music Awards 2013 nominee for Best Non Resident Punjabi Album, Best Non Resident Punjabi Vocalist, Best Folk Orientated Vocalist and Best Bhangra Song of the Year (Jija Saali).
Despite JK’s songs being heavily influenced by old skool Bhangra, they still contain a hint of westernisation, which is essential in attracting and engaging British born Panjabi youth with their roots. The song England Nachda joins Bhangra and the UK together, conveying the immense impact that Bhangra can have on people, even if they’re not in India. The music video for Challeh Mundhia was set in New York and fuses together traditional Bhangra (dhol players, Bhangra dancers, Panjabi attire), with western influences (urban scenes, western clothing, multicultural dancers in the background), showing how anyone can feel the power, energy and impact of Bhangra wherever you are. He has even created two documentaries which enable viewers to obtain a deeper insight into the story behind JK.
It had been five years since the release of his much loved album, and then he dropped a hit that created waves – Baghi Tera Yaar. Every aspect of the song and video from the vocals, music and beat to the setting, story and visual effects, screamed Panjab and has a movie like feel to it. Despite the track captivating a substantial proportion of listeners, it also highlights current social and political issues present in Panjab, with some aspects resonating with the myths of Heer & Ranjha and Mirza & Sahiba. In a nutshell, the basic story line is that a male and female are in love, but the girl’s brother finds out and pays a police officer to arrest him. After taking him to custody he manages to escape, only to find that his lover has been engaged to another male so he disrupts the family ceremony and takes the girl away. Ultimately, it symbolises the victory of good over evil in a ‘modern day’ (for Panjab) context. The fact that people can bribe police officers with money to commit unlawful acts reflects the corruptive, unjust and demoralising nature of the legal system of India. Those who have money ultimately possess power, leaving the male protagonist in the story to retaliate against this corruption and fend for himself. Another problem that arises is gender hierarchy; the male relative controls the female and she is unable to express her views and feelings about her own marriage and is manipulated by force into marrying someone who her family approves of. Some people may be unaware or out of touch with such issues taking place in their homeland, and by conveying them through music ensures that more individuals become aware of them. What is commendable about JK’s music video is the traditional, meaningful approach rather than selecting the easy option of setting it in the UK and depicting youths drinking and females dancing in a derogatory manner – something which has become all too common nowadays.
Not only does JK care about the preservation of raw, traditional, folk Bhangra, he also has a passion for ensuring that the upcoming generations are aware of their cultural and religious history. He has utilised social media in order to commemorate religious events such as Gurpurabs and Vaisakhi, as well as heroes such as Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh, highlighting the necessity to ‘never forget the truth and always tell and educate the young ones’. He also sent a tweet promoting the film Chaar Sahibzaade and assisted with the event ‘What Does Being A Sikh Mean To Me?’ that took place at a Derby Gurdwara in February 2013. He even supports a local talented and enthusiastic Bhangra team – Punjab Bhangra Crew Derby (PBC) – often performing at events with them. Unlike some artists who get too engrossed in the fame and cater to the interests of the masses in order to fuel their musical career, JK is not afraid of diversifying the Bhangra scene whilst staying true to his roots. This is one of the reasons why he is my favourite artist. His track JK Boliyan has got to be the best, as it helps to preserve the dying art of boliyan that people, especially British Asians, don’t feel a strong connection with.
It is important to appreciate the role that Tru Skool has played in JK’s success story. After all, he was the key to JK’s success and without JK the future of Bhangra would be looking rather commercialised. The JK/Tru Skool combination has proven to be a major success, reviving, revamping and regenerating the Bhangra scene. We now await in anticipation for the new album to be released!
JK’s social media:
Tru Skool’s social media:
By Anisha Kaur Johal