"I hope that musicians do continue to create Bhangra dance music"
Music composer, producer and musician Kuljit Bhamra is a renowned name in Desi music industry and beyond.
Known for helping establish and pioneer the original UK Bhangra industry sound, Kuljit has worked with a plethora of artists both from South Asian and global backgrounds.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Kuljit arrived in the UK in 1961 with his mother Mohinder Kaur Bhamra, also a popular singer from her time.
Tabla is and was his major love, which he started to play at a young age.
However, before his musical career became full-time, after studying at Southhall Grammar School, Kuljit went onto Middlesex University and subsequently commenced training as a civil engineer.
At the same time, he got involved with the Punjabi music scene in the 1970s with his mother in the UK. With whom he performed live along with his two younger brothers and produced popular songs.
When it came to the Bhangra music industry in the UK, Kuljit contributed both as a musician and producer. He worked with many popular artists from the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Kuljit was the man behind massive albums such as ‘Jagh Wala Mela’ by Heera (1984), ‘Peer Ter Jaan Di’ by Gurdas Maan (1984), Gur Naal Ishq Mitha by Azaad (1986), Rail Gaddi by Mangal Singh (1987) and Sangeeta’s ‘Pyar Ka Hai Bairi’ (1991).
In 2009, Kuljit was awarded an MBE by The Queen for Services To Bhangra & British Asian Music.
DESIblitz caught up with the gifted musician and exclusively asked Kuljit Bhamra about how COVID-19 has affected him, his work and the music industry.
How do you feel it has impacted the Bhangra music industry?
Of course, there are no live concerts at the moment and I wonder how long it will take for the dance floor to re-establish itself… Will it ever?
In the absence of weddings and reception parties, what will happen to dance music such as Bhangra?
I hope that musicians do continue to create Bhangra dance music, but some may find use this opportunity to extend their creative skills and explore other adventurous musical ideas.
How has coronavirus affected you and your family?
On an emotional level, I’m sad to say that I lost my brother-in-law on 18th April 2020.
He was in a care home and was taken to the hospital with a cough and fever. Soon after, we received the news that he passed away.
The whole family was shocked – and even more so when we realised that no one could visit the hospital. Bereavement is impossible and the lockdown prevents family members from consoling each other properly.
The fragility of life has hit home hard and my parents have now thankfully begun to heed the advice of experts. Beforehand, my father was rather defiant and insisted on getting out of the house regularly ‘for some fresh air’!
On a personal level, I consider myself lucky that I can continue creating music in my studio where I live.
I’ve used the time efficiently to clutter-clear and complete a mammoth task of transferring all my VHS and cassette tapes to my computer. There were about a hundred in total!
The next mission is to do the same with my tape spools. Once done, it will create more space in my studio – can’t wait!
Do you feel Desi people have abided the lockdown rules?
In Southall, where I live, I see a mix of attitudes.
Some people wear masks and observe the 2-metre rule and some don’t! On the whole, I think that we’re doing okay.
The Desi attitudes of acceptance and subjugation of ego are coming in more helpful in this situation than perhaps the western ideals of unlimited personal freedom.
On the whole, I do feel that the self-employed and self-motivated individuals (including musicians and artists) will struggle less with lockdown than someone who is used to having a boss or employer telling them what to do.
Many producers such as myself are used to isolation and therefore, the change in lifestyle is less than say a ‘nine-to-five’ employee.
What would you say to your fans during this time?
This is a life-changing time for many of us.
We are forced to deal with regret, loss, sadness and a whole plethora of other intense emotions.
On a positive note, we are encouraged to take a helicopter view of our own lives, our purposes, values and ideals. I say that these are benefits, and can only help us to grow and evolve.
Questions and issues that we’ve been avoiding for years have come to the surface for us to deal with respectfully and honourably.
In music, we can find the perfect soundtrack for whatever we need to empower us at that moment – whether it be an upbeat joyous song or a melancholic reflective mood.
Please continue to support the music industry by listening to music legally through the proper networks.
We musicians need to be supported so that we can create more music for you. Please don’t let the industry die.
As we can see from Kuljit Bhamra’s experience, no one is safe from the Coronavirus and it is important to adhere to the guidelines to keep safe.
From a UK Desi music industry perspective, there is no doubt that the pandemic has affected this creative sector in many ways and it will be up to the composers, singers, musicians, producers and fans to preserve the sound which has taken decades to establish.
We know a musical explorer such as Kuljit Bhamra will be doing his part to resurrect his sounds and create new ones, once we realise what the new norm will be for everyone around us.