80’s UK Bhangra established the scene. Great bands, songs and regular albums. Come the 90’s things started to change in the way music was delivered. Lets be honest, the Bhangra audience is all about value for money & the Desi crowd wanted as much music for their £2.50 tape purchase. So when singles and EP’s started to appear in the Bhangra world it had to be a hell of an product for people to part with their money.
By the way, an EP (for me anyway) is a 2 or 3 track release....thats what im going with before you start getting all picky and technical! Dont agree with my 5, lets have yours!
No 5. Sat Rang - Bhangramuffin’
One of those brave bands was Birmingham’s Satrang with their EP Bhangramuffin’. Satrang were around in the 80’s but just didn't completely click with the audience. They were, however, an interesting eclectic mix of Hip-Hop, Reggae and Bhangra fused sounds with Punjabi lyrics. With the release of Bhangramuiffin’ the band became stars and the jewel in the crown at Saint Records. The EP was a Nic Bliss production which in itself was something different from your established Desi producers and featured one of the iconic tape covers. It also introduced to the world to Dippa Dosanjh. More about him later. The opening tracks kicks off with the other version of ‘Par Lagah Deh’ vocaled by Jazz Gill. The obvious one we all know is the Safri Boyz version of the same year with this one given a Hip-Hop edge. It was rather an odd to have two band with two identical tracks, sounds and riffs but the audiences took to both versions.
Come track two and we’re hear one of the greatest UK Bhangra tracks in history, no understatement. ‘Dhola Veh Dhola’ is and will forever be a dancefloor essential and its the embodiment of what was great and good about Bhangra music. The experimental mix of traditional and mainstream, folk vocals and Jazz sax riffs was fascinating and catchy. Talking about the folk vocals, this track was the click not just for Satrang but for Dippa Dosanjh as well. His vocals were so powerful and stood out for another 2 decades. The dholki intro, that groovy beat, the spot to play air tumbi, shouting out Hai Dhola while you’re dancing is the reason why this track made this EP the must buy for Bhangra fans.
The final two tracks are cut from the the same cloth and are the trade mark 90’s dub mix/instrumental journey. The ‘Dhola Veh Dhola Remix’ is a head bopping chilled out Reggae mix with a touch of 90’s Hip Hop. Throw in loads of reverb and you’re pumping this version down the Soho Road on a summer afternoon with the windows down. You end with ‘Bhangramuffin’, a 4 minute musical trip into the musical minds of the band Satrang which completes the EP that made a band and gave fans a set of great tracks.
No 4. Bally Jagpal - Untruly Yours
Bally Jagpal as a solo artist was now a house hold name and the anticipation for more music was massive. It was also around the same time that rumors started to circulate about the future of B21. Fans around the world were talking about the stories they had heard for the delay of the album...disagreements, the Sidhu-Jagpal’s camp split, even the end of the band. So while the world was kept waiting for the B21 to drop they were treated to an EP from Bally Jagpal & what an EP it was!
The construction of this project was like taking a trip into the soul of Bally Jagpal himself. Everything from embracing the new music technology advances, his Bollywood to chart anthems influences and more interestingly (some did say disturbingly) the track themselves. A curious selection of heart breaking & dukhi songs but delivered in the forward thinking musical mind of Bally Jagpal.
The opener ‘Ranjha’ sung by the man himself Bally Jagpal. Back in the days when sampling was common place Bally was the man with a genius mind. He just did it with so much creativity that that it would enhance songs. R.Kelly's "Did You Ever Think" was the foundation the track with Bally using synth desi percussion rather than the standard acoustic recordings. The video just took this track to another level were it was being played on TV, radio, clubs, weddings non stop. The ever unique performance from Bally Jagpal in the video just made the track a phenomenon.
Track 2 was the much anticipated return of Shazia Manzoor with Bally. ‘Akha Jahgo Meti’ was a superb vocal delivery from Shazia with Bally taking it down a very dark path musically. Track 3 ‘Mur Vatneyia’ is vocaled by Ranjit Manni and has that raw folk vocal deliver with the sounds of UK garage and ingeniously laced samples. There's an art to sampling without make it sound horrendous...Bally Jagpal made it sounds just that damn good! Finally we have the remix of the anthem ‘Aja Sohneya’ with that memorable intro from ‘Simran’ and a backing vocal crew of lads belting out the chorus. The anticipation for this EP can be summed up by the fact shops on Soho Road were selling it at £7.99 with a line of people outside....can’t argue with public demand can you!
‘Nashe Diye Band Botaleeeeeeee’ ... thats what you hear as soon as you hit the play button! This EP was the beginning of the DCS that we all know and love today. The version of DCS which was high impact, high energy, creativity and forward thinking music generals. They were one of the (if not the) most electrifying live bands in Bhangra history and simply set standards for the rest to follow. A great time to be a DCS fan and with Eat Rhythm they gave Bhangra fans a scintillating EP.
Track 1 is ‘Nashe Diye Band Botale’ and it remains one of the best DCS songs. The 90’s sounds on top of a high tempo giddha beat, that distinctive bass line, the vocal ‘hoi’ shouts for everyone to get involved with get got the crowd pump and firing from the off. Then that tempo drop into attitude Bhangra was the icing on the cake for the chorus. Genius idea and the fast slow template was finally perfected. A dance floor essential even today.
‘Lehke Kheta Val Aja’ is the second track and a groovy little number. It must have one of the craziest opening lines to a song in ‘Telephone Ketha’ch Lavaiya Jatt Ne’ ... what a killer line! From there it’s a track that makes you want to dance. It has some great music pieces and riffs, the trademark DCS percussion set in all its glorious intricacies and an all round nice smiley Bhangra track.
The 3rd track was ‘Aja Mere Gal Lag Ja’ which kicks off with the left over samples from the last song and into with a surfing style guitar riff. Great bit of DCS creativity and a nice, happy go lucky romantic Bhangra song. Shin, in my opinion, is the most versatile singer the Bhangra industry has ever had. And he showed more of that versatility on the final track. A Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan inspired Bhangra-Qawali was the basis for ‘Mein Jaana Mahi De Naal’ and it showcased another side to DCS. With the filtering out of live band band scene in full swing Eat Rhythm showed theres a heavyweight crew still packing a punch.
No 2 - B21 - Made In England
The absolute pinnacle of the B21 story! 1998 was their year, as they were the hottest act, dominated worldwide and just made hit after hit after hit. Everyone knew B21, everyone had their favorite member and it was the closest any Bhangra would get to a Beetle mania vibe. The album By Public Demand won awards and was in every DJ’s record bag and almost every desi car and house in the country. The follow up was also in demand and with 3 songs, 2 instrumentals, 1 remix & a memorable advert, Made In England became B21’s 3 consecutive success.
Some were a bit taken about to the lake of tunes on the EP but what they had were 3 great tracks and the opener, in particular, one hell of an anthem. ‘Darshan’ was all about the vocals, the roaring dhols and the attitude pouring out of the track. It screamed B21 confidence and it rocked dance floors. From the iconic ‘Mr Kipling, Exceedingly Good’ intro, the B21 signature ‘Whoop Whoop’, to the Tumbi riff, the track was in every playlist.
Track 2 was ‘Kuriya Punjab Diya’ and continued with the dancefoor vibe. For me the track did have a Deler Mehndi-esq touch to it but B21 just took the inspirations they wanted, stripped it all down and reconstructed it in their own way. A fast paced track with a nice little half speed, put your hands in the air Bhangra massive drop in the middle.
Track 3 was something rather different for B21 in that an outsider came in an musically worked on their song. The outsiders were VR1...Rishi Rich, Veronica and along with Mentor they worked with B21 on reworking a track from their first album. ‘Mahi’ is now a track that we would associate with Rishi Rich today but back then it was a very unique sound to Bhangra ears. It was totally and legitimately a mainstream, urban, year 2000 RnB sound with Jassi’s vocals hammering home a strong vocal delivery. A welcomed difference to B21 & with the Bally Jagpal remix of the track featured as well, it gave those who were missing a B21 desi vibe an opportunity to enjoy the track.
The peak of B21, from here it just descended into chaos, controversy and carnage (someone of which is still being talked about today). Fact is that the impact made by Made In England by B21 was phenomenal....lets face it, over a decade later and you’re still singing and dancing away to Darshan!
No 1. Death Jamm Productions - Death Jamm
1994 ....The Safri Boyz were the hottest band around, Safri had a voice to match and they were touring the world over with their music. On drums was a guy named Happy Virk
‘Put Sardaran De’, the opening track, simply one of the greatest Bhangra tracks in history! That is fact, no understatement in any way. It rocked dancefloors everywhere and was the hype song of DJ’s at the time and still today. You hear that dhol intro, you hear Safri’s hek and automatically your arms reach for the skies. At a 90’s club night I’ve witnessed over a 1000 arms raised in the air in unison as soon as Safri’s voice is heard....a sight to behold. The track, written by the late Dev Raj Jassal, was so empowering that chests were pumped out by the guys and the ladies busted their moves hard. Two decades on this epic piece of Bhangra music conjures the same feelings and reactions across the world when a Punjabi hears ‘Put Sardaran De’ making this one of the greatest Bhangra tracks ever.
Track 2 is the ‘Boliyan (Gangsta Hip-Hop Mix)’ featured the vocals of Safri, Bobby & Turbo Ranks and it does exactly as it says on the tin! Vintage 90’s Hip-Hop with that memorable hook ‘People Start Shaking & Moving All Around’. Safri seems to have been given free reign to do whatever he wanted on the track and drops whatever freestyle boli he fancies. It just work! The relentless beats, the dhol drops in whenever Safri sings and the youthful energy is flowing through every bar of the song. We get a lines of ‘Par Laghade’ and you’d never of thought that ‘Chota Ishq Diya’ on a Hip-Hop break would ever work...but it just sounded epic!
The 3rd track is what I always say as a vocaling rule. Whatever your ability is, you give it your all behind that microphone, believe and enjoy vocaling, and your song will get that extra spark of magic. That’s exactly what happened with ‘Jat De Dushmani’. Happy turns singer and belts out the words for a cult anthem. The track kicks off with the sounds of funeral bells, launches in this solid tumbi riff & later a memorable saxophone riff. The lyrics fit perfectly and just has that street swagger, that edge and the attitude the track deserves.
The final track is ‘Faces of Death Mix’ or ‘Perfectly Organized Desi Hip-Hop Chaos’ in my opinion. The tracks was just a random flow of samples, voice overs, sound fx, rap and Safri’s amazing voice over a constant Hip-Hop break. It’s a concept that would just be shot down by labels and audiences these days but the anticipation listeners while listening to this track was intense. You’d never know what element Death Jamm Productions were gonna drop next and when you heard it you’d try to connect to pieces to make sense of the message. A real artist interpretation piece of music which just wraps up the EP nicely.
Dipps Bhamrah is currently a presenter at the BBC Asian Network, with his Sunday Punjabi Music show from 6-8pm. Alongside this, he is also a sucessful DJ & Producer at his newly founded studio The Hyper Lab.