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by Suzanne McElfresh

 
 

Since its origins in the late 1970s, bhangra has grown to be wildly popular among Great Britain's Indian population. Essentially, bhangra is Indian folk music, updated and culturally remixed. Basic beats and melodies come from traditional songs of the northern Punjab region, lyrics are sung in Punjabi, and tabla, dholak, and dhol drums still drive the music. But synths, electric guitars, drum machines, and the influence of Western music (reggae, rock, soul, hip-hop, dance-pop) are prominent, making bhangra a truly contemporary expression.

Bhangra is played in pubs, in dance clubs, on the radio, at weddings. So it helps to have a hook. Where Cornershop—a recent British export you may have heard stateside—adds garage-pop to their bhangra mix, vocalist Kaptin Kirk Singh and his band cleverly distinguish themselves by adopting a few (original series) "Star Trek" trappings, such as the title of this release and the Starship Enterprise-style band uniforms, which feature Federation-inspired insignia. If nothing else, this look stands them apart from traditional bhangra-band fashion, which usually involves white trousers and glittery shirts.

Presumably, Kaptin Kirk hopes that many of the music's young fans are also "Star Trek" savvy. "It's bhangra, Jim, but not as we know it," reads a line in the CD booklet. Someone named Spock plays keyboards, a guy nicknamed Scottie sings background vocals, and the enticing title track's opening lines rework familiar dialogue: "Captain, I can't keep up power. What shall we do?" "There's only one thing. Beam up the bhangra!" On that song's reprise, the "Enterprise Mix," Singh delivers some of the album's only English-language lyrics, making mention of the Milky Way and indicating the band's desire to musically "blow your mind."

Gimmicks aside, Kaptin Kirk and crew's melodic hooks are catchy, their beats are peppy, and the band's penchant for reggae ("Rude Boy" and "Punjab Soldier," loosely based on Marley's "Buffalo Soldier") is blended in smoothly. Adding to the band's credibility is its affiliation with the the Multitone label, which, in 1982, released Teray Chunni De Sitaray, an album by the band Alaap that defined the sound of bhangra (sort of what the Minutemen did for punk rock). Think of Kaptin Kirk and his boys as something like the Butthole Surfers of bhangra: kind of goofy but not without merit.   </end>

 
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