The roots of Bhangra music date back to the mid 1965s, when several Punjabi bands started experimenting with Western styles in addition to the traditional sounds from their homeland in Punjab India. Artists amongst these were 'Beatles', 'Elvis Presley', 'Mohammed.Rafi ', Jamla Jatt 'The Saathies'. Anari Sangeet Party and K.Biba However, the first recording artist/group in the UK was Bhujhangy Group from Smethwick, Birmingham UK in 1967.
The main singers of the group were Dalbir Singh Khanpur and his younger brother Balbir Singh Khanpur. They are also in the Guinness Book of World Records for the pioneers of Bhangra music in the UK.They also received an award from The House of Commons, Westminster, and London for Punjabi Cultural and Bhangra music in the UK 2009. Bhujhangy Group is still going strong today celebrating 45 years of Bhangra music with Balbir Khanpur and Dalbir Khanpur’s son Gurcharan Khanpur with the their own band Bhujhangy Group since 1967.They also received a Life Time Achievement award by Brit Asia TV Hammersmith ,London 2011,Recorded and have composed and performed 50 albums in the UK.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Balbir Singh and Gurcharan Khanpur (late Dalbir’s Khanpur ‘s son) and the Bhujhangy Group to ask them some questions about UK Bhangra then and now….
- (Balbir & Gurcharan Khanpur ) what made you and your late brother Dalbir Singh decide to reach out and introduce Bhangra to the UK?
We came to the UK in the mid 1950’s and arrived here with our family in 1964. When we got here we worked as labourer's. Dalbir Khanpur was the senior member of the band and along with the rest of his family members and other members of the community worked very hard at the foundries and factories; times were very tough within the families. But the rest of Bhujhangy group went to school then worked after. We introduced the community to our music initially at the Smethwick Gurdwara; we would sing shabads and Dharmik geet and learn Punjabi from Mr. Dharshan Singh Bhogal.
We started to play traditional and western instruments like the Harmonium, Keyboard, Banjo, Accordion, Thumbi, Guitar ,Dholak,Percussion Drums, Congo’s and Bongos. The sangat and the community at the Gurdwara and temples gave us the name called Bhujhangy because we were kids/teenagers (Bhujhangy means kids). We started to perform live in temples and local halls and schools and community halls. Initially there was no form of live Bhangra bands for entertainment at functions and wedding parties We recorded our first EP vinyl records in 7inch (extended play) Teri Chithi Noon Parthan in 1967, this sold 100 copies in the UK. This is when the birth of Bhangra began and more and more people were aware of our music and enjoyed the music which we produced and composed which became very popular with public support and love.
- (Balbir & Gurcharan ) what was the reception you received from the UK & India?
We were overwhelmed with the reception we received; we had a lot of support and love from the public listening to our music and attending our performances from the UK and India. We also had a lot of people listening to our music and buying our albums. We had a lot of support from fans, families and friends as soon as we started performing and producing music. Bhujunghy Group first performed on television in 1969 celebrating Guru Nanak’s 500th Birthday. The reception was overwhelming in the UK. After that we recorded and released 50 albums with Oriental Star Agencies Ltd from then until now. We were blessed to our first achievement was at the Queens Silver Jubilee Asian Song Contest in 1977 was held at Wembley Conference we were runners up and then won many Asian song contests coming First, Second and third prizes. Bhujhangy Group were honoured to receive our first gold disc for a religious album Dukhian Di Pukar Guru Nanank Aaa Jaween 1979.
We then went to Bombay, India in 1979 where we performed live and had a fantastic reception from the public in India and recorded a Bhangra album in India. We came back to the UK and carried on performing in the UK. Some of our songs on our albums were also in a film called Nassen Dhaian Da.
- (Balbir & Gurcharan Khanpur) what’s your own recorded favourite songs or albums for the past 45 years in the Bhangra industry?
There are so many favourite songs which we have recorded like, Gidhe Vich Nach Bailye, Bhabhe Akh Larr Gayee, Tor Teri Balle Balle,Walayati Main Taan Peeni Aan, Bhabhi Munda Lambran Da,Chitte Dandan Uttue, Rani Soho Road Di, Mein Sharabi,Kala Suit Paun Walye and we also recorded and performed Ghazals and qawwalis and which were supported by the fans.
- (Balbir & Gurcharan Khanpur) Do you think Bhangra music has changed significantly from when it was first introduced to the UK?
Yes, it has become more Westernised, incorporating music from around the world. UK Bhangra music now attracts larger audiences around the world which is fantastic it’s nice to see how the Bhangra industry was founded in the late sixties and has grown from a little place from Smethwick, Birmingham.We also promoted ourselves going around in to different towns to push our Bhangra music everyway in the UK and put our songs in Juke Boxes and give our LPs where ever we performed to our fans. Dalbir Khanpur Bhujhangy and the band also used to sell albums on his bicycle, on foot and in to shops. Now Bhangra has moved in to another level with internet and television media converge which is moving very fast. Before you have to go to the shop to buy albums now you can buy it from your computer or phone in the comfort of your own home.
- (Balbir & Gurcharan Khanpur) How is the recording albums different back in the day and now?
We recorded from the sixties at the Zella Recording Studios in Birmingham. We as a band composed, performed and sang our songs live in recording studios and on stage. We performed live and with our own band that’s the best feeling ever for our fans of a satisfactory, enjoyable feeling for ourselves and for the listeners. The understanding within our band is fantastic and this will show in our performance. The recording has changed a lot now with fast moving digital technology which is good as well. You have to move with the times and the next generation by doing this we can promote the best Bhangra music around the wourld.
- (Balbir & Gurcharan Khanpur) what are the Bhujhangy Group up to now?
We are still performing live with our own band with myself Balbir Khanpur, Gurcharan Khanpur, Herjinder Khanpur, Naranjan, Amirpartap Singh and Parminder .We have also celebrated an album called 45 years of Bhangra music UK and a religious album called Dukhian Di Pukhar released and Distributed by OSA Ltd. We will also be releasing new songs this year 2013. We will be also releasing another Tribute album to the legendary singer Late Dalbir Singh Khanpur Bhujhangy Group R.I.P.
We would like to say a special thank you to Tia and the Bhangra Squad Team to all the Bhangra music listeners, friends, families, fans around the world and OSA Ltd, Television, newspapers and DJ’s and radio stations that have supported us. A Special thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your love and support over the past 45 years from Bhujhangy Group Dalbir Khanpur and Balbir Khanpur. God Bless everyone.