Punjabi Culture: Music and Songs

The birthplace of Bhangra, the Punjab is a region extending over part of Northern India and Northeastern Pakistan. Translated, the name “Punjab” means the “Land of Five Rivers.” The people of the Punjab are called Punjabis and they speak a language called Punjabi. The three main religions in the area are Sikhism, Hinduism, and Islam. The region has been invaded and ruled by many different empires and races, including the Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Muslims, and Mongols. Around the time of the 15th Century, Guru Nanak Dev founded the Sikh religion, which quickly came to prominence in the region. The 19th Century saw the beginning of British rule, which led to the emergence of several heroic freedom fighters, the subject of many Bhangra songs. Finally, the Punjab was split between Pakistan and India at the end of British rule in 1947. This partitioning resulted in a large migration of Punjabis into the United Kingdom, which eventually led to the emergence of Bhangra in Western clubs and dancehalls.

Bhangra

Bhangra is a lively form of music and dance that originated in the Punjab region in Southeast Asia. As many Bhangra lyrics reflect the long and often tumultuous history of the Punjab, knowledge of Punjabi history offers important insights into the meaning of the music. While Bhangra began as a part of harvest festival celebrations, it eventually became a part of such diverse occasions as weddings and New Year celebrations. Moreover, during the last thirty years, Bhangra has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide, both in traditional form and as a fusion with genres such as hip-hop, house, and reggae. As Bhangra continues to move into mainstream culture, an understanding of its history and tradition helps to appreciate it.

Bhangra Instruments

Many different Punjabi instruments contribute to the sound of Bhangra. Although the most important instrument is the dhol drum, Bhangra also features a variety of string and other drum instruments.

The primary and most important instrument that defines Bhangra is the dhol. The dhol is a large, high-bass drum, played by beating it with two sticks. The width of a dhol skin is about fifteen inches in general, and the dhol player holds his instrument with a strap around his neck.

The string instruments include the tumbi, sarangi, sapera, supp, and chimta. The dhad, dafli, dholki, and damru are the other drums. The tumbi, famously mastered by Amar Singh Chamkila, a famous Punjabi singer, is a high-tone, single-string instrument. Although it has only one string, mastering the tumbi takes many years. The sarangi is a multi-stringed instrument, somewhat similar to the violin. The sapera produces a beautiful, high-pitched stringy beat, while the supp and chimta add extra, light sound to Bhangra music. Finally, the dhad, dafli, dholki, and damru are instruments that produce more drum beats, but with much less bass than the dhol drum.

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