Y2K fashion can try its best, it'll never quite capture the 2000s experience, especially for us South Asians like this track does.
Some of us remember the power this track still holds over us just as much as it did in the 2000s where every, wedding, dance event, DJ and basically anyone with a car blasted this tune like their life depended on it. And why wouldn't they? Tracks like these were the harbingers of a new era — one that loved our musical heritage and wanted to embrace it but with the modern sound of the 21st century. Right alongside those pop remixes of old Bollywood songs, by Bombay Vikings, Punjabi music was having a renaissance of its own as it melded with RnB, hip-hop and even UK Garage. Here's another track from that time if nostalgia is your poison.
Shedding light on the same fertile era that defined the 90s and 2000s for us and laid the foundation for pop music and cross-cultural collaborations for the next decade (Jay Sean's Dance With You or Bombay Rockers' Rock Tha Party for example), The Birth of Punjabi Garage is a documentary that captures a landmark moment in the timeline of global music. Put together in a collaboration between Yung Singh and Ministry of Sound, the 11-minute film follows the origins and development of Punjabi Garage paying homage to the trailblazing pioneers of the genre, like Surinder Rattan, Surj RDB, Metz N Trix, and Indy Sagu featuring unseen archival footage and interviews from the time.
UK garage, also known as UKG, emerged in England during the early to mid-1990s as an electronic dance music genre integrating components from dance-pop, R&B, and jungle, characterized by rhythmic patterns, syncopated hi-hats, cymbals, and snares in a '2-step' rhythm. In the 90s, young South Asians in the UK grew up on a musical diet of both UK Garage and Punjabi tunes from their cultural heritage. This unique fusion of influences became a natural avenue for their artistic exploration, described in the documentary as "a UK British sound mixed with our roots."
Before the rise of DJs that used Punjabi folk melodies with UK garage in parties and their albums, the Punjabi music scene in the UK primarily revolved around bands. However, the emergence of RDB and its contemporaries marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of the genre, setting the stage for a groundbreaking musical era. But this was not without its challenges. Some people within the community felt like their beloved Bhangra had been infiltrated by young boys rapping in English. "where's the dhol gone?, where's the tumbi gone?" they wondered. Surinder Rattan contended that the artists weren't making Bhangra music, but were on to birthing an entirely new genre that used Punjabi vocals.
Despite this, the movement had already started and begun to spread all the way to India. Surinder reminisces about the genre's reach through events and festivals, reaching even the villages of Punjab. Metz N Trix recall their pioneering moment as the first South Asians to perform at Glastonbury. Surj RDB reflects on the impact of RDB's album, leading to the establishment of a record shop and label. Their success was only reflective of the genre's resonance with the diasporic South Asian community that was looking for a home away from home that captured their dual identities.
The documentary is bookended by Yung Singh and his infamous and iconic Boiler Room, giving credit to the elders who paved the way for the continuation of South Asian presence in British dance culture. The legacy of Punjabi Garage music is continued by the Boiler Room sets, radio shows, tracks, mixes, compilations, playlists, and a podcast by DAYTIMERS, a collective nurturing a diverse talent pool of South Asian creatives, that actively preserves and celebrates the legacy of British Brown brilliance. Their mission is to keep the rich landscape of Punjabi music from being pigeonholed into Bhangra and Bollywood.
The Birth of Punjabi Garage not only resurrects the oft-ignored history of Punjabi Garage within the UK dance culture but also propels it into the forefront of contemporary artistic dialogue. It stands as a testament to the creativity of a community striving to preserve its cultural identity while carving an indelible path in the annals of global music. As the influence of Punjabi Garage resounds through generations, it showcases the lasting impact of music in crafting a legacy of cross-cultural expression and fostering a shared sense of experience and heritage among communities across the continents.
Watch the documentary below.
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