various artists,
The Sound of Bollywood

(ARC, 2004)

Bhangra is, traditionally, a folk dance from the Punjab. As such, it has a distinctly lively, swaying rhythm that has survived adaptation and modernization. It's spreading quickly into modern pop culture, especially urban culture. This part of Northwest India in 2001 had a population of 24,289,296, and males outnumbered the females.

Number of females per 1,000 males: 874. That tidbit is interesting only because there is a definite wooing factor in the music and it's probably more recognizable once you've seen the festive colours and eye-to-eye, eye-to-body innuendoes in a few movies.

Five of India's noted singers bring the Bhangra to life. Jasbir Jassi, Ashok Masti, Vikrant Singh, Gunjit Singh and Sodi Singh sing originals or remixes from movies and their fine-toned voices are great.

Definitely sensual, the music -- depending on the singers or actors -- can be steamily suggestive, innocently romantic or brimming with light-hearted fun and pleasure. The music is vibrant and the words often fun and teasing. An exuberant drum beat from the dhol, a two-headed drum, is traditionally the center of the song, and the Bhangra CD follows suit.

Jasbir Jassi sings "Surma Nimma Nimma," which opens with a jingle that crosses lines somewhere between Burma and Japan; he made it very difficult to type this review because staying quiet while listening was impossible. The three Jassi tracks became my favorites; I'm not sure if it was because I liked his voice better or just because the music was a little less modern.

The next track, "Ik Lara" sung by Astor Masti, had more of a marching sound but to my mind was a cross between the foot-bouncing Cossack dancing and spontaneous whirling of a Romany dance. Vikrant Singh continued along the same lines with the song "Laal Laal Ghangri," picking up a flute sound you could almost call Highland. Later, the song has more urban street noises in its chorus.

Gunjit Singh sings "Jindey Rahe" and I thought his voice was too beautiful for the techno music that accompanied this track. "Mundari Pa Ke" also pulls a really modern beat that runs through the last track. Sung by Sodi Singh, it could be easily be enjoyed by mainstream culture anywhere.

I don't understand any of the words, but it doesn't matter. Dance is dance is dance. Folk music taken to a more sophisticated setting can be touchy. But without commercialization through movies, this CD probably wouldn't have come my way and that would have been a shame.

Whether you're in your home, out in the street or in a grand ballroom, the Sound of Bollywood is going to get you swaying at the very least.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 19 February 2005

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