Monday, 13 February 2012

‘Banger’: Taking Bhangra to its roots

The evolutionary nature of music has long been held to be its’ most endearing quality enabling music – irrespective of the genre – to cross boundaries and be the one true universal language.  That universality has also meant that music is eternally malleable, able to take on different guises to become the currently de rigeur, in particular with Eastern music or at least music inspired by the East.  
Bhangra is as good an example as any; born in Britain in the 1980’s a serendipitous marriage of Punjabi folk and western riffs and sensibilities.  Like all long-standing marriages however, Bhangra’s essence has been diluted somewhat with the ‘traditional’ folksy bit increasingly overshadowed by the ‘pop’ bit.
Now however, a young musician born and raised in the West Midlands – the spiritual home of Bhangra – aims to arrest slide of the genre, and with a name like Banger, you just get the feeling that he’s not going to be messing about.
Having already made a mark and whetted the appetite of Bhangra fans with his collaborations with the Moneyspinner team on two albums – Ladies and Gentlemen and Poetry – Banger is now attempting to corner the market completely for himself with his first single ‘Soorma’.
Born and raised in Birmingham, Banger’s first introduction to music was at the Holyhead School in Birmingham, where renowned musician Harjit Singh taught Indian classical music.  The roots for the love of real Punjabi music grew from there.
Since his debut stage performance playing Dholki at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham at the age of 14, Banger has never looked back. “That first show was an unbelievable experience,” he says.  “I knew immediately that music was my destiny.”  He has toured the globe with Moneyspinner, B21 and was a core member of Nachda Sansaar in his late teens. Possessing a rare musical talent, Banger is able to play almost any musical instrument from the baja and algoze to the tumbi, dhol.
Invites to perform at numerous stage shows representing his school and community soon followed and he began to expand his musical skills, including learning to play the Dhol drum – the corner stone of Punjabi music – from Ustad Gurcharan Mall.
He played the dhol so well that Ustad Gurcharan Mall connected him to one of the largest Bhangra Dance groups Nachda Sansaar where he went on to perform over 100 live shows across the globe winning dance and performance competitions.
Bangers main inspiration is and was Late Kuldeep Manak, who passed away November 2011. From being an inspiration, Banger was lucky enough to have met this legend and form a personal relationship with his idol who also features in Bangers Debut Video – Soorma.
“I have always been an immense fan of his.  Everything from his style of singing to the way he would perform on stage was accomplished.  When I first went to India 10 years ago a relative arranged a meeting with him and I was thrilled.  I live in Ludhiana and his house is quite close by so I visited and have been visiting him every year since.  He was one of the most down to earth people you could meet.  I discussed my solo project with him last year.  One of the most important things he taught me was that it wasn’t just Bhangra and that it was very important to communicate the essence of Bhangra to people.  He told me that people weren’t just talking and singing gibberish but that Bhangra had a strong message in it.”
Seeing the direction that Banger was going, taking Bhangra back to its roots, the legendary Kuldeep Mann agreed to become a part of Banger’s debut album.
Whilst Banger himself doesn’t write the lyrics, the talented Rai Kalsi – a close friend of the singer – acts as the lyricist on the album; reports say that the video for three of the songs has already been shot and packaged ready to be unleashed on eager fans.
The response from his legions of fans has been overwhelming.  “I’m absolutely gobsmacked with the response I’ve got.  It’s been amazing and I can’t wait to get on the road,” he says.
One of the main factors in Banger’s appeal has been his underlying musical talent.  He is an accomplished musician, with particular talent in playing the Dhol, Bansuri and the deeply melodic Toombi.  And of course growing up in a part of the world where Bhangra was born and carefully nurtured before mainstream synthetic garnishing began taking away some of that original magic.
“Bhangra has always been a massive part of my life from a very young age.  But I am classically trained as well and I think I always had an appreciation for the classical, traditional roots of Bhangra.  I want to take Bhangra music to how it was, raw, desi and folk. The Punjabi culture is so rich and so deep i want to teach young kids about our music and language. I can't wait to play and sing live on stage shows and bring back the real essence of our culture''
And he’s had tremendous support not only from his own family but the Bhangra family as well.  “My family – especially my wife – has been incredibly supportive from the start because it has been a long road.  I wanted to get it absolutely right so I took my time.  At the same time, Bhagra music is a family as well.  The number of people who kept coming up to me and offering their talents was just staggering.  I have played instruments on other albums and contributed vocals over the years and that’s been repaid in kind.   It’s a wonderful industry to be in.  Bhangra is essentially like that.”
Whilst retaining that ‘cottage industry’ like feel of the Bhangra scene, does Banger feel it can cross over the mainstream?  “Bhangra is music and I think music breaks all barriers and bring people together.  Music doesn’t have caste, colour or creed and I’m confident Bhangra can be enjoyed by everyone.  The most important thing is, in order for Bhangra to come out of the Asian community, it needs to be first embraced by the mainstream media.  But I still feel there are loads of non-Asians who enjoy it.”

  -    UKAsian Staff

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