Back from Vancouver, BC

Finally a moment to rest. Anjali and I spent yesterday driving back from Vancouver, BC, rushing to make it to the official first “Anjali and the Kid” show on KBOO. There was a solid 45 minute or so wait at the border, but no hassles. We even managed to throw down a quick Indian buffet in Seattle. Still, the day was one long rush. We made it to KBOO minutes before we were supposed to be on the air. We had no time to go home and pick out music so we had no choice but to play the CDs we purchased over the weekend in Panjabi Town. We played a lot of Lehmber Hussainpuri which was fine since he was both the star attraction of the Vancouver International Bhangra Competition and the after party. I had no idea what level of professionalism and organization to expect from the VIBC but I knew the worst was certainly a possibility.

There was an opening party at Vancouver’s Beats without Borders night. There were two days of free demonstrations in a covered area in downtown Vancouver and then the actual Bhangra competition and the after party. We attended the Beats without Borders party and they were gracious enough to put Portland’s visiting Bhangra DJs on the guest list. Their headliner was allegedly Vancouver’s “biggest Bhangra DJ” DJ Reminisce. He shouted “UNNH” or “1,2” on the mic every few seconds. He pulled every song early and left plenty of awkward silences. He was also the main DJ at the after party so I can only assume he really is Vancouver’s “biggest.” He did have his own Bhangra remix of “Yeah” which had some nice dhol portions.

The first day of free demonstrations got started quite late (of course). There were major sound difficulties. There was a LOUD sound like a snow shovel scraping a driveway every few minutes amplified over the sound system. There were three separate dance performances to Lehmber’s “Das Ja,” each one using the same frequently skipping CD. The MCs were better than at most Indian functions, but the amateurish dancing and frequent mic explosions eventually caused us to leave even though I was hoping for some live singing and dhol performances. We didn’t go back for the second day of free stuff because it seemed like both days were going to be a repeat of the same lineup. We saw some of the local band Signia’s set at Beats Without Borders and they were scheduled to play the second day. They seemed enthusiastic and fun but the singing was sub-par and they were very sloppy.

The day of the actual competition we were running very late. We got there an hour and a half late and missed the first four competing teams. Apparently they weren’t all that good because none of them placed, but we did miss Khalsa Junction who apparently took first place last year. We also missed a cross-cultural battalion of dholis and bagpipers performing together that both Anjali and I would have been stoked to see. The highlight of the night was a Surrey-based group of Bhangra performers. They were older and not a part of the official competition. They had a live dhol player and singer. Very “folk” feel. They were the real deal. The other teams mostly didn’t feature squats or only barely. This group performed for three times as long as the competing teams and they were going from incredible squats to leaps throughout their entire performance. Unfortunately the crowd seemed more excited with the canned hip-hop beats of the teams than the hardcore desi feel of this cultural group. We thought Vancouver’s VIBE were the best team but they actually came in second. The Vancouver UBC Girls team came in first. We had been really impressed the time we had seen them in the past. They were still really good, hard-dancing and energetic, but we felt VIBE was just a notch better. People’s Bhangra from Irvine were very impressive as well, and they placed third. We’d love to have some of these groups perform in Portland but they would need a MUCH bigger stage than is available at any of our venues.

I was curious to see if Lehmber Hussainpuri was going to be playing with a live band or canned backing tracks. I figured he would charge so much to sing that he would be the only live performer. I was half right. He did sing to backing tracks but he had two local live dhol players accompany the backing tracks as well as some of the VIBE dancers. An accapella opening was a real treat and a testament to the power of his voice. The pre-recorded backing tracks were distracting, especially since he often let them carry the tune and only chimed in occasionally. He performed three songs.

After the competition we went to eat a a restaurant that used to be called something along the lines of “Rubina’s Original Tandoori House” but is now called the Red Fort. We had always meant to eat at Rubina’s and had never made it on any of our previous trips. The Red Fort was empty on a Saturday night which was a definite warning sign. The host tried very hard and the aloo gobi was quite good with actual emphasis on the gobi which was an appreciated difference. I regret that we never made it to Rubina’s while they were around. There was a packed Indian Chinese place across the street which we only noticed after dinner. That makes three Indian Chinese places in Vancouver of which I am now aware. Have to check them out on future visits.

The after party was way out of the way down on the water practically on its own pier. The parking lot was gargantuan, and of course they were charging for parking on top of forty some dollar tickets. There was an absolutely enormous line at 11pm that didn’t move very quickly because large groups kept merging ahead of us. Fortunately a benevolent door guy let us in in front of the whole line in order to get our will call tickets. That was probably an hour saved at least. The sound was incredibly muddy and who was on the decks but DJ Reminisce. That guy needs to put down the mic or get a real MC. There were a thousand? or so Panjabis and I was one of a handful of goras. I was also the only guy in a tie. The night was mostly bhangra with a handful of hip-hop songs and absolutely no filmi. Our parties might have ended up very similar except that most Indians in Portland are not Panjabi and they want to hear FILMI, FILMI, FILMI. The sound was so bad it was hard to enjoy even the songs we liked.

We were treated to a cheesy, flashy performance by Vancouver’s own Panjabi singer “Hard-E.” He was cheesy years ago and now his music and shtick are incredibly out of step in an Indian R&B world that now boasts such talents as Raghav and Jay Sean. Amusing nonetheless. “RDB” otherwise known as just Manj since he is the only one living in North America were up next. It was more or less the same show he put on at Berbati’s years ago when he opened for Bally Sagoo. He just DJs. He stops each track and talks for a while. Nothing flows together. The vibe is always stopped cold. He sings over the tracks, which can sound OK, but the weakness of his voice was made quite clear when he attempted to lead a sing-along of “Gur Nalon Ishq Mithai” at the end of his set. The live dholis gave the song its only power. Stick to producing.

Lehmber began his set exactly like at the Competition so I expected a total repeat. He had three dholis this time, all in Canadian hockey jerseys. He actually performed much longer at the after-party but Anjali and I couldn’t even make it until the end of his set. The pre-recorded backing vocals were still really distracting. The sound was still bad. He couldn’t remember the lyrics. I think the promoters asked him to do fusion tracks he probably never remembered recording that happened to be big in Vancouver. There was one house-y one they kept playing at the competition that got the crowd going more than anything else. The house beat has surely infected Vancouver’s Panjabi population as well as everyone else. Eventually someone came out with a tablet with the lyrics to his songs so he could try to remember them. Even then he only partly sang along. It leaves me hungry to see a performer like Jazzy B with a full band. And we missed him by days in Chandigarh!! Arrggh.

So after years and years I finally make it to a Vancouver Bhangra party. Whenever I ask around I am always told that Bhangra parties never happen because everyone knifes each other. Well, they were definitely patting people down at the door and at least one Panjabi in line was happy to see it because he didn’t want any problems at the night. Everyone was chill. And young! The party was 19 and up. Well, watch out Vancouver Panjabis, one of these days you’ll get a chance to see Anjali and the Kid and that will be something else.
Thank you to Sarah (Happy Birthday!) and Wanli for the place to stay and it was nice to see Nomadic Noize, as always. Hopefully next time we’ll make it to your studio.


PS Thank you to everyone who listened and called in to our KBOO show. You made it worth the race back to Portland.

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