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DECADES OF MUSIC | The Southall Story


Bands, beats and beginnings…

Decades of Music is the beginning of a collection of archive photos, album, cassette tape and CD covers, posters and other ephemera, celebrates the early origins of British Bhangra that emerged in Southall. It brings together fragmented histories of a music scene and highlights the legacies and attractions of various popular artists who have been instrumental in the development of contemporary British music.

The definition of Bhangra has shifted over the four decades featured in this collection. Inspired by rural traditions in India and the Punjab that still remain today, Bhangra originally described a type of folk dance and song performed by groups of men celebrating their crop harvests, with traditional and self-created tales of greatness. With simple musical accompaniment (dhol barrel drum and mono-stringed toombi), dancers thrust out their chests with pride, jigged their shoulders and even performed acrobatic feats to enjoy the rewards of their labour in the fields. Between the mid-1960s and mid-1990s, Bhangra was gradually reinvented in the UK, to the extent that its rhythms, lyrics and dance styles influenced music produced in India and songs in Bollywood films.


Some of the first Punjabi bands were based in the West Midlands (Handsworth, Coventry, Smethwick, Walsall, Wolverhampton). They created music and songs, while dancing was left to specialist Bhangra dance troupes. By the late 1960s, some released 7inch EP (extended play) vinyl records, which were played on jukeboxes in local pubs and working men’s clubs. As demand for live music grew, bands and artists such as: Anari Sangeet Party, Bhujhangy, The Sathies, A S Kang, Karnail Cheema, Gurdev Bali, Jagga and Mastan Heera became local stars as they performed at social gatherings and wedding receptions.

In Southall, two Anglo-Indian bands emerged: The Jambo Boys, set up in 1968 by the three Rudki brothers from East Africa, and The Shots, set up in 1967 by pupils from Dormers Wells School. At that time, Kuljit Bhamra was attending weekly Tabla (Filmi song instrument) lessons from the maestro Esmail Sheikh, and accompanying his mother Mohinder Kaur Bhamra, who sang Shabads at Stepney Green Sikh Temple and Ghazals at house mehfil parties (late evening musical gatherings). There was already a difference between the music performed in Southall, which was usually Filmi covers at weddings, social events and mehfils, and the traditional styles of Punjabi folk music performed by Midlands based bands.


This decade saw new collaborations and beginnings: The Shots were renamed Black Mist and ex-Jambo Boys singer James Rai, encouraged by youth workers Rajesh Sharma and Ravi Jain, joined forces with Balbir Kalia and other musicians to create a new band, Sangeet Sargam. Balbir Kalia eventually left Sangeet Sargam to create Kala Preet, which was managed by Mr Chawla, a solicitor from Southall. There was a growing demand for Punjabi songs, and in 1973 Kuljit and his brothers, Satpaul and Amarpal joined forces with Smethwick based A S Kang to record the album Jawani, which became a huge hit. In 1978, they also accompanied Indian star K Deep and Jagmohan Kaur on the their second UK tour, and eventually K Deep featured on Mohinder Kaur’s first album Punjabi Geet. The creation of these albums reflects how musicians were continually inspiring and influencing each other across the Indian diaspora. For instance, K Deep’s Dhol master, Harbans Lal, began to influence Harbinder Singh ‘Binda’, who was the drummer for and founder of The Great Indian Dancers. Because of their international fame, The Great Indian Dancers appeared in the Mumbai blockbuster film Suhaag (1979). At this time, accordionist and singer Gurnam Sagoo moved to Southall, leaving his Anjana Group (of Leamington Spa). He joined up with Black Mist members to forge a new sound – Dildaar Pop Group.

The period also saw campaigns by the African-Caribbean and Asian communities against racist immigration laws, housing and employment policies, and police brutality. There were riots at the Notting Hill Carnival in 1976 and in Southall, a meeting by the National Front at the Town Hall led to riots in 1979. These events signalled major cultural and political shifts in British society and music was no exception, with Rock Against Racism bringing black and white bands together on stage and Southall-based reggae band Misty in Roots setting up their own People Unite label, which released In a Rut (1979), by the locally based Punk band, The Ruts.

By 1979, the band Alaap enlisted the support of guitarist and producer Deepak Khazanchi to produce their debut album, Teri Chunni De Sitare, which became an instant hit. Alaap was launched on an international tour during which they inspired and entertained audiences with their catchy Punjabi songs, vibrant sequined shirts and white trousers. The Bhangra band was born!


The 1980s was a golden era, with Southall moving from emulating and improvising mainstream Filmi music to creating original Punjabi fusion beats. Two new bands emerged at the beginning of the decade: Premi Group and Heera, who recorded their debut albums Chhamak Jehi Mutiar and Jagh Wala Mela (1983). The Bhangra era had begun in earnest. Mohinder Kaur released her third solo album, Kuri Southall Di (1981), and the title songs Giddha Pao Haan Deo and Kuri Southall Di enjoyed frequent radio play as the first female-sung hits produced in London. Meanwhile, A S Kang released his first international hit Gidhian Di Rani, and Alaap released their second album hit Bhabiye Ni Bhabiye (produced by Deepak Khazanchi). Some members of Alaap eventually left to create a new band, Mighty Manjeet, whose album Holle Holle, was also produced by Deepak.

As the number of bands grew, so did the interest from local businessmen and new record companies keen to exploit the burgeoning Bhangra phenomenon. Pran Gohils’s Savera Investments renamed itself Multitone Records – ‘The Bhangra Label’ – and a chain of other companies including T Series, Gem Promotions, Tips India, and EMI India set up offices in Southall. Record shops that had imported music products from India now created their own labels such as Indian Record House, ABC Music, Metro Music and Saba Music, and began investing in local talent.

A new industry emerged and talent scouts from Western pop mainstream kept a keen lookout for acts that had the potential to cross over. Deepak Khazanchi and Kuljit Bhamra were in demand as producers: the former’s label Arishma Records, and Kuljit’s own Keda Productions both formed in 1986. Keda’s office and studio were in the Westar music complex in Southall. Both labels each released their own products: Arishma’s releases included Diamonds From Heera (1986); Holle Holle’s Wicked & Wild (1988); Kalapreet’s Gidhe Wich Nachdi De (1986); Bhangra Fever (1987). Keda released Bhujhangy Group’s Bhujhangy(ra) and Sangeeta’s A Breath of Fresh Bhangra Air (1991). Kuljit also produced milestone hits, such as Chirag Pehchan’s Rail Gaddi, Premi’s Nachdi Di Gooth Khulagayee and Bali Brambhatt’s controversial Patel Rap. In 1988, stars such as Mumbai film industry’s playback singer Mahendra Kapoor and Punjab’s Gurdas Maan – both of whom Kuljit had idolised as a youth, came to Southall to record four albums with him including Bhabi Gal Na Kari and Peer Tere Jaan Di.

1990s into the new millennium

By 1990 the rap/remix and MC craze was well underway and Xzecutive Sounds led by Sanj and his brother Amit’s crew Badd Company ruled the club scene, regularly mixing Bhangra with western beats at Bhangra clubs and day-timer events. They also released the first British-Asian DJ 12 inch white-label vinyl selling 4,000 copies within just a few weeks. They featured in Gurinder Chadha’s film I’m British But … (1989).

With the success of remix album Bhangra Fever, Sanj and Amit were signed to Multitone Records in 1990 to remix their Bhangra music stock. Over the next four years, ten volumes of the Extra Hot remix albums were released, with five produced by Sanj and Amit. Sanj’s career was in full swing, touring Europe as a Bhangra-fusion specialist DJ. A booking from Germany in 1994 enabled him to take a young school band with him, led by 13 year-old keyboardist Rishi Rich.

By the mid 1990s a new generation of young Southall producers emerged to set up their own home recording studios. These included Raju, Bee2 and Heera’s guitarist Pammi ‘Sahib G’. In 2000 Mona Singh (daughter of Alaap’s Channi Singh) released her debut album The Beginning, and later The Rishi Rich Project, formed by Sanj’s protégé in 2003, led to the discovery of young singing stars Juggy D, Jay Sean and Veronica. The group produced numerous R’n’B and Urban/Bhangra fusion hits until 2007, when Rishi set up his own production company and launched his discovery, H Dhami, son of Heera’s singer P Dhami — and Southall’s new star!

Adapted from an original text by
Kuljit Bhamra MBE
Musician, composer and producer

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