Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration


One year ago Anjali and I attended the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration in Vancouver, BC. I wrote quite a bit about it earlier in this blog. We’re always looking for opportunities to play in Vancouver and thanks to Lady Ra and the Beats Without Borders crew we got a chance to headline the opening night party of the Celebration for 2007. I had really been looking forward to DJing this party even while I have been in my rut. I love DJing bhangra for an appreciative and knowledgeable audience. Since the night was called “Bhangra Love” and it was the opening night of the celebration, my intentions were focused on a hardcore bhangra set and nothing else. That kind of focus really channels my energy, especially when it is something I am as devoted to as Panjabi bhangra. Vancouver has more Panjabis than anywhere else in North America, going back to waves of immigration in the early 1900s. It’s the best place I’ve found in North America to buy Indian music other than NYC. Also the best place to get Indian sweets, which we always stock up on. And you can see the latest Bollywood films in the theaters, which is always cool. Anyway, the Indian population is centered in Surrey, and not downtown Vancouver, so we weren’t sure how many Panjabis were going to be in the house, but it ended up being a really good, packed turnout all the way around.

Anjali and I arrived with our wonderful host Sarah around 10pm. There was a line out the door and who should be wandering around but the inimitable Nomadic Noize. He said it was already packed inside. We ventured in to see DJ Reminisce rocking Sanj’s “Nain Tere” to an empty dance floor. There were plenty of people packed around the perimeter of the club, but it didn’t look like anyone had been brave enough to start dancing. Lady Ra then went on and got people to the front with some Zeus and Lehmber action. She only played briefly and then Reminisce went back on. The schedule got really messed up from what we were told. Apparently Juggy D and members of DCS who were performing at the bhangra competition and the closing party later in the week were supposed to show up to the club. The band Signia did not want to perform until these bhangra stars showed up. Juggy D and some members of DCS did show up and grooved along to Anjali and my sets, which was cool. Juggy D should be dropping a new album at some point, which I am looking forward to, especially if it moves in a more desi direction, as he’s been hinting at in interviews. Our friend Sharon from Vancouver, who we were reunited with that night after years, introduced Anjali to Juggy D, and they got a picture together, so maybe Anjali will be dropping that in her blog at some point. Here’s a photo Lady Ra posted on the Beats Without Borders site to give you an idea of what the night looked like:


I had been so focused on a hardcore bhangra set that I found myself really surprised by the stuff DJ Reminisce played in his set. I had left behind all my Indian pop and more electronic stuff in favor of straight dhol-bangers. Reminisce was playing stuff like JNas “So Into You,” Raghav, and Jay Sean. I was a little paranoid, thinking, he is the hometown DJ, he knows what they like, and I didn’t bring anything like that. I was surprised by his selections because the year before I remember him playing a lot of Shinda, Jazzy B, and Jassi Sidhu, as well as some of the pop stuff. Eventually he played some more electronic-styled bhangra like B21’s “Jawani (Remix)” and RDB’s “Balle Balle” which also threw me for a loop, because I didn’t bring any of that sound, nor thought that is what people would want to hear in 2007.

I met DJ Reminisce after his set. He told me he DJs all the desi parties in Vancouver put on by A-Town Productions. They were the ones behind the VIBC after-party this year and last. He has also started a second-Friday monthly in Vancouver that has been around for a couple months now. He was also hyping, a new desi myspace-type site put together by a friend of his.
After Reminisce, Signia finally went on, well off schedule. They started with some a cappella Panjabi vocals from their two singers before the full band came in. Along with the two singers the band included a dhol player, drummer, keyboardist, bassist and DJ Reminisce on scratches. They seemed much improved from last year, and a lot tighter. They certainly did their thing to get the crowd hyped. They seemed to me to be what an 80’s British bhangra band might have been like. I just wanted more dhol in their sound. They had the crowd really going right before Anjali went on.

Anjali took a complete left-turn from the uptempo bhangra that had preceded her and dropped Deep’s Panjabi-crunk anthem “Dirty South.” “I needed to rep the United States,” she told me. Which is funny, because I had been spending weeks researching all the bhangra singers and musicians originally from Vancouver/Surrey so I could pay tribute to their community. We think different like that. Probably why we’re such a great partnership. “Dirty South” sounded amazing at our last Atlas, rattling everything in the space, but this time it came out quiet and muffled. The audience seemed confused, not sure what to make of the slow hip-hop after all the jump-in-the-air bhangra. No one seemed to know the song, although I sensed what might have been faint ripples of recognition in parts of the crowd during the chorus. Then, after that song, complete silence.

There had been all sorts of technical issues all night, with faulty equipment belonging to the club. The club’s regular soundperson wasn’t working the night and he wouldn’t let the Beats Without Borders crew use any of his equipment. That meant we got the club’s second-tier gear and a bunch of rental equipment. Turns out one of the connections on the mixer was bad so sound would only come out of one of the CD players. This went on for a while, where Anjali could only play one song, and then silence. Various technical people were swarming the DJ setup so I didn’t feel any need to get up on stage and be another dude trying to figure out what was not working. At points it would seem like it was fixed and then the sound would be all crackly and distorted. What a nightmare. Horrible way for a DJ to begin her set, especially in another city. Eventually the sound got fixed and by the time Anjali dropped Specialist and Tru-Skool’s “Nach Ke” the place was fully rocking and the sound was all good. It was only when I went up to relieve her that I learned that the solution (which was Anjali’s) was to move the left player into the far right channel (the only other one working), so the channels were reversed. The left player was in the right channel, and the right player was in the left channel. This kind of simple reverse, as I know from past experience, can really mess me up. I knew it was going to take a great deal of concentration to not forget this reversal, and sure enough, there were several times where I adjusted the wrong EQs or the wrong volume. Minor problems according to all the feedback I got from my friends on the dance floor.

I haven’t been feeling like DJing much these days, but I really did at this night. I was as prepared as I have been for a gig in a long time, and I was ready to let go. From the stage everyone looked motionless, but all the reports I got from the floor was that the place was going crazy, it was just so packed there wasn’t much room for moving. I received nothing but compliments and praises about how the place was “blowing up,” “going off,” you name it. It felt good to drop nothing but the best Panjabi stuff and know that people were loving it. After all the schedule jumbling Anjali and I ended up with one hour set to split and one half hour set, which is hardly ideal for two DJs, but understandable with such a full bill. I really had to narrow down what I wanted to play to just a few songs, given how little time we had. I started out with “Oh Na Kuri Labdi” and DJ Sunny’s dhol-heavy remix of Sarbjit Cheema’s “Dhol Vajda” to represent the Vancouver/Surrey crowd. Anjali said that Sarbjit Cheema’s vocals were really low in the mix, but that everyone was singing along, which was my purpose all along. I had been obsessed with playing Lehmber’s “Boliyan” track from PJD’s “Rumours” album but Anjali beat me to it, so I settled for “Aaja Nach Le” from the same album instead. Before I knew it my half hour was over and Pardesi took the stage. I had avoided hip-hop mashups in my set, but I played the original “Hypnotize” sampling “Ishq Brandy” to finish off my set.

On the night of the show I was wearing a black suit I had hand-tailored in New Delhi. Getting ready for the show I stepped on one of the pants’ cuffs and ripped it. Our host Sarah was kind enough to provide me with a safety pin that would hold the cuff together for the evening. After my first set I left the stage and Anjali and I retired for a breather in the hospitality room. I went to sit down on a chair not realizing that the arm of the chair was pulled apart and some jagged dovetails were sticking up in the air. In sliding into the chair I managed to shred a large L-shaped hole in the butt of my pants.

Now I hate being cold. I tend to wear long underwear underneath my clothes from October to March. I usually wear black thermals but on the night of the show I was actually wearing white thermals underneath my pants. So now I had a big peek-a-boo L-flap with white underwear sticking out beneath my black suit. We took the pin from my cuff and Anjali was sussing up the hole, trying to pin it closed with the safety pin. As she was assessing the damage two giggly British girls entered the hospitality room. They were very friendly and curious and were soon unofficial members of the how-do-we-get-the-Kid-stage-ready committee. Anjali determined that she would need to fasten my pants from the inside, thus necesitating my pulling down my pants. Not being the particularly modest type I looked to the British girls who said they would block the view and I dropped my drawers. Anjali fastened the tear and I began pulling up my pants. At this point several members of the band Signia enter the hospitality room to see me with my pants undone and three girls in the back room. “Whoa, sorry, didn’t mean to intrude,” they said as they began awkwardly backing up. We tried to assure them that there was nothing going on but they beat a hasty exit. Rockstar, huh? It was amusing. Fortunately my pants held up the rest of the evening.

Lady Ra and Timothy Wisdom performed as Pardesi, essentially a bhangra-mashup project with lots of live scratching. They even played a D’n’B remix of “Zingy.” Anjali felt I had done such a good job in my first set that she decided I should play the last half hour of the night. I followed Pardesi with another short Panjabi set beginning with “Soorma” and ending the night with the classic “Dupputa Tera Sat Rang Da.” It was great to see people putting arms around each others’ shoulders and singing along. The song ended two minutes before the local shut-off time and someone jumped on stage begging me to play one more. I thought we had ended on the perfect note. I felt a need to shout out the local Panjabis but everyone just stared blankly and silently at the stage when I got on the mic and yelled “Vancouver Panjabis we love you,” so maybe I should just learn to shut up. I felt such a need to show respect to the community but apparently I came off like an ass. The LBC bhangra team were pointing to their shirts and trying to get me to shout them out, but I wasn’t wearing my glasses and didn’t know what team they were until later.

The next night of VIBC featured a performance called bhangra:authentic at the Orpheum Theatre. Anjali and I were really looking forward to this because it was put on by the Surrey India Arts Club whose performance at last year’s VIBC was one of the highlights for us. bhangra:authentic was a narrated stage production choreographed and scripted by Tejinder Singh from Surrey India Arts Club that introduced bhangra instruments, rhythms, dances and history with lots of performances. Raymond Bhuller, the founder of Dhol Nation Academy, was onstage along with one of his students for most of the production. He was an amazing dhol player, and if we could afford him, we would certainly bring him down to Andaz for a performance. We learned that the sarangi is the only instrument that can play every Indian raag. We learned that there used to be many different folk dances from Punjab that have all disappeared. The only traces of these dances that survive are elements from these dances that have been incorporated into bhangra. The production included folk singers, several performances by a full band led by Gogi Bains, choreographed dances and a rousing giddha performance with some very spirited young girls. I was so glad that a production like this was part of the celebration but unfortunately it was very sparsely attended. There was a couple from Portland in attendance who introduced themselves to us. They had come up for the competition and recognized us from our parties in Portland. We did not stay for Saturday’s competition or after-party because we needed to return to Portland to surprise my father at his retirement party. I heard the UBC Girlz team won. They are definitely good. Anjali and I have been fans of theirs since we witnessed them perform years ago.


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