The ‘Symphony of British Music’ that was the Olympic closing ceremony proved spectacular and expectedly so. It was a fitting end to what has been a glorious two weeks of sport and patriotism for London and the UK. And whilst the praise has been sung for the ending of the Games, little has been said about the Bhangra dance section that certainly added a different stroke of colour to the special event.
It is not often that one will see a solo performance by Eric Idle interrupted by a troupe of Bhangra dancers. In fact, I can almost guarantee that it was a once in a lifetime sight.
Bhangra is a form of Indian dance originating from the Punjab. Traditionally, Bhangra was danced on festivals and special occasions and is now featured heavily at Indian weddings and functions. Bhangra music is also a very old form of music that like many artistic forms has transformed and changed over many years. Nowadays, Bhangra music has broken into the mainstream of British pop culture and fittingly a dance scene was included in the Olympic closing ceremony.
DJs like Bobby Friction on the BBC Asian Network, and indeed the very existence of the BBC Asian Network, shows how Punjabi music and dance has permeated into British culture. Today, Bhangra has close links with other genres like hip-hop, reggae and R&B, and each has influenced the other. Punjabi artists like RDB have done collaborations with superstars like Snoop Dogg.
But perhaps I am being over optimistic in my analysis, to try and assert that part of my culture has been given privileged status amongst British greats like Queen. Has Bhangra really broken into the mainstream? The lack of media coverage shows that perhaps it hasn’t. It has been sidelined to make way for the Spice Girls and The Who, but Bhangra was indeed a very important part of the closing ceremony.
The sequence showed that we are living in a multicultural Britain, a country where artistic expression from all cultures can make it to the biggest stages. It illustrated that there is not a clash of cultures, but a harmony, where vastly different art may intertwine, learn, and influence each other. One only had to look at Idle’s noble attempt at Bhangra dancing to see the message at work.
Of course, not everyone will have come into contact with Bhangra dance and music, especially those who do not come from very culturally diverse areas. But what the opening ceremony demonstrated on a worldwide scale, was that Bhangra must be recognised as being a key part of British culture, and Punjabi music and culture will continue to grow in popularity around the UK.
What do you think about Bhangra? Have you ever experienced Bhangra? What do you think about about Bhangra’s place in British culture? Let us know what you think.