British Bhangra: Beyond Signature’s Suleman and Madhu

So we have seen two (here and here) performances by Signature. Although most Langar-ites did not seem to enjoy the second performance as much, it impressed enough people to propel the duo into the finals of Britains Got Talent. In fact they were the first team to be voted in by the public.

Now, in their first interview, Suleman (often incorrectly spelled Suleiman ) Mirza and Madhu Singh shed some light and perspective on their performance:

Our routine is about togetherness and overcoming conflict,” said the rather handsome Mirza, who has been a Jackson fan since he was six years old. “I start the act with a Western dance, and then Madhu comes on stage. I look down on him because I don’t understand his culture. But he surprises me, and he works really hard, symbolising immigration, and then we work together, and show that everyone can get on.[link]

Heavy stuff, but Ill buy it.

As an American, what was striking was how accepted the performance was. Ennis from Sepiamutiny commented that:

The judges loved it as a dance act, they didnt condescend to it at all. Heck, they even describe the dancers as typical brits with a day job and a dream. There was no talk about it being exotic or foreign, and no PC admiration for the multicultiness of it all.[link]

Well, the British audience did seem to have some PC admiration of the multiculturalism aspect. The Telegraph writer comments that the performance was a perfect riposte to those who agonise and pontificate over multiculturalism. (I think as an American, I am more impressed that a mainstream British newspaper uses words like riposte.)

The two friends met at a talent competition and have been mates since. Joking about their parental approval, Madhu Singh shared:

Singh’s father, a priest, is coming around to the idea of his son as a dancer. “He was always a bit iffy about my dancing, because he didn’t want me to get sidetracked, but this week, for the first time in my life, he sat me down and said: ‘So, you’re in the semi-finals, and there’s one thing I want to say to you.’

Yes? I said. ‘Lose some weight’.” He and Mirza fall about laughing and Singh makes a pantomime lunge towards a box of chocolates. “But then he said: ‘Just go out there and give it your all, and I got tears in my eyes’.”[link]

While their story touches on many different themes (and there are many their personal stories, multiculturalism, ‘creating your own path‘ beyond stereotypes, etc), for me, personally, as a young Punjabi Sikh male who grew up listening both to Bally Sagoo (yes, the video is lame) and Michael Jackson (fellas of Signature, Beat It is still my vote!) is that bhangra music, as we know it today, is indeed a Punjabi-British phenomenon. It is as British as apple pie (errr, I mean roastbeef?, errr I mean fish and chips?, actually CURRY!).

I might write about the history of bhangra (through a Punjabi American’s eyes, which for us came from Canada) at some other point, but to believe that this form of music is a Punjab-only story would be a gross misreading. The music is rooted in the Punjabi struggle in post-WWII England. Although the lyrical content is not that of defiance, as we see in hip-hop and other forms of music, it is rooted in romanticism for a homeland, despite the racism of post-WWII society. During the late 1970s and 80s, it was tied to a certain ethnic pride against the racist violent onslaught of skinheads.

While all diasporic Punjabis share in the bhangra cultural ethos, a certain historical appreciation and debt must be made to our British pioneer brethren (and sisteren?).

Last year, an exhibition chronicling this phenomenon titled Soho Road to Punjab toured British cities. Recently a book has been published on the story of British bhangra. Here is a video about the exhibition as well as an homage to those original pioneers and bhangra in its British form:

YouTube Preview Image


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23 Responses to “British Bhangra: Beyond Signature’s Suleman and Madhu”

  1. Reema says:

    "apparently it's art!" hahaha

  2. Reema says:

    “apparently it’s art!” hahaha

  3. sizzle says:

    hai hai.

    in regards to all the sikh v. muslim talk that has gone down on this site in the last few days….muslim obviously trumps sikh here since suleman is the f*cking shit and madhu sucks arse in comparison. i mean, cmon. i can't bhangra to save my life, but i've seen slinky little sardars rock it out about 110101010x better than madhu to match suleman's unbelievably sick(sikh) moves. but, A+ for effort, brah, especially since the brit aisles love you and your muslim bretheren. i sure as hell love it and love the progress you are accomplishing.

  4. Jodha says:

    ummm sizzle….you know I enjoy disagreeing with you and sometimes you make me think of something that I hadn't thought of in the progress, but I have absolutely no clue what you are saying….

  5. sizzle says:

    hai hai.

    in regards to all the sikh v. muslim talk that has gone down on this site in the last few days….muslim obviously trumps sikh here since suleman is the f*cking shit and madhu sucks arse in comparison. i mean, cmon. i can’t bhangra to save my life, but i’ve seen slinky little sardars rock it out about 110101010x better than madhu to match suleman’s unbelievably sick(sikh) moves. but, A+ for effort, brah, especially since the brit aisles love you and your muslim bretheren. i sure as hell love it and love the progress you are accomplishing.

  6. sizzle says:

    sucks brah. i just reread what i wrote and it makes perfect sense to me. here, i'll translate, becuase i'm awake and bored.

    hai hai.

    oh lordie.

    in regards to all the sikh v. muslim talk that has gone down on this site in the last few days….muslim obviously trumps sikh here since suleman is the f*cking shit and madhu sucks arse in comparison.

    there has been much discussion criticizing islam and muslims generally in the comments section over the last few days, but for an instance, let us revel in an exhibition of dance, where a muslim dancer has proven his superiority over a sikh dancer.

    i mean, cmon. i can’t bhangra to save my life, but i’ve seen slinky little sardars rock it out about 110101010x better than madhu to match suleman’s unbelievably sick(sikh) moves.

    i am very incapable of moving in a rhythmic manner, let alone to punjabi beats. but even i have witnessed young sikh gentlemen in turbans dance extraordinarily well, far better than this madhu fellow and very capable of matching the very skillful display of suleman's michael jackson impersonation.

    but, A+ for effort, brah, especially since the brit aisles love you and your muslim bretheren. i sure as hell love it and love the progress you are accomplishing.

    regardless, madhu, very fine job, good sir. you have achieved great popularity alongside your muslim dance partner. i appreciate your efforts, success and especially appreciate the widespread normalcy and acceptance you have brought about for muslims and sikhs by showcasing your talents on one of britain's most popular television programmes. (i spelled programs british for you).

  7. Jodha says:

    ummm sizzle….you know I enjoy disagreeing with you and sometimes you make me think of something that I hadn’t thought of in the progress, but I have absolutely no clue what you are saying….

  8. sizzle says:

    sucks brah. i just reread what i wrote and it makes perfect sense to me. here, i’ll translate, becuase i’m awake and bored.

    hai hai.

    oh lordie.

    in regards to all the sikh v. muslim talk that has gone down on this site in the last few days.muslim obviously trumps sikh here since suleman is the f*cking shit and madhu sucks arse in comparison.

    there has been much discussion criticizing islam and muslims generally in the comments section over the last few days, but for an instance, let us revel in an exhibition of dance, where a muslim dancer has proven his superiority over a sikh dancer.

    i mean, cmon. i cant bhangra to save my life, but ive seen slinky little sardars rock it out about 110101010x better than madhu to match sulemans unbelievably sick(sikh) moves.

    i am very incapable of moving in a rhythmic manner, let alone to punjabi beats. but even i have witnessed young sikh gentlemen in turbans dance extraordinarily well, far better than this madhu fellow and very capable of matching the very skillful display of suleman’s michael jackson impersonation.

    but, A+ for effort, brah, especially since the brit aisles love you and your muslim bretheren. i sure as hell love it and love the progress you are accomplishing.

    regardless, madhu, very fine job, good sir. you have achieved great popularity alongside your muslim dance partner. i appreciate your efforts, success and especially appreciate the widespread normalcy and acceptance you have brought about for muslims and sikhs by showcasing your talents on one of britain’s most popular television programmes. (i spelled programs british for you).

  9. Jodha says:

    Merci beaucoup. (i spelled 'thank you' french for you)

  10. Jodha says:

    Merci beaucoup. (i spelled ‘thank you’ french for you)

  11. freshi 4 lyf says:

    i fink der a gd act cuz it jus shows dat sikhs n muslims can get along n u shouldn't not b friends wiv usm1 cuz der a different religion from u

  12. freshi 4 lyf says:

    i fink der a gd act cuz it jus shows dat sikhs n muslims can get along n u shouldn’t not b friends wiv usm1 cuz der a different religion from u

  13. navin says:

    sizzle….u talk [deleted]

    [Navin, is there a point to your comment? ….Admin Singh, if not, it gets deleted.]

  14. navin says:

    sizzle….u talk [deleted]

    [Navin, is there a point to your comment? ….Admin Singh, if not, it gets deleted.]

  15. navin says:

    [quote comment="2486"]sizzle….u talk [deleted]

    [Navin, is there a point to your comment? ….Admin Singh, if not, it gets deleted.][/quote]

    In response to your question A.Singh that you posed….I'm just miffed that "sizzle" is allowed to post certain things that seems kinda biased! I may be new on your website but even tongue in cheek I think sizzle's argument or lack of it makes me wonder if the person is under some influence whilst posting? lol!

    Perfectly logical conclusion….or do not share the same?

    [Navin you are more than welcome to engage with everyone in The Langar Hall. EVERYONE has their biases, yes including 'sizzle'. However, we ask you to engage in the SUBSTANCE of the comment (what they actually said) as opposed to name calling or insinuating that they need a special jacket that has special sleeves that can be specially fastened in the back…..Admin Singh]

  16. sizzle says:

    kinda biased…toungue and cheek….seems like he nailed it.

    as for under some influence, you got me. i'll put my hookah, bowl, crack pipe and flask away before i ever post again.

  17. navin says:

    [quote comment=”2486″]sizzle….u talk [deleted]

    [Navin, is there a point to your comment? ….Admin Singh, if not, it gets deleted.][/quote]

    In response to your question A.Singh that you posed….I’m just miffed that “sizzle” is allowed to post certain things that seems kinda biased! I may be new on your website but even tongue in cheek I think sizzle’s argument or lack of it makes me wonder if the person is under some influence whilst posting? lol!
    Perfectly logical conclusion….or do not share the same?

    [Navin you are more than welcome to engage with everyone in The Langar Hall. EVERYONE has their biases, yes including ‘sizzle’. However, we ask you to engage in the SUBSTANCE of the comment (what they actually said) as opposed to name calling or insinuating that they need a special jacket that has special sleeves that can be specially fastened in the back…..Admin Singh]

  18. sizzle says:

    kinda biased…toungue and cheek….seems like he nailed it.

    as for under some influence, you got me. i’ll put my hookah, bowl, crack pipe and flask away before i ever post again.

  19. […] their audition appearance, to their semi-final Thriller, to even an interview with me highlighting their place in British Bhangra, before we all suffer from Signature overkill here is Suleman Mirza (often misspelled as Suleiman ) […]

  20. freshi 4 lyf says:

    sizzle or whoeveru r u r so [edited by admin] aint ya

    [freshi 4 lyf- profanity and personal attacks add nothing to the conversation. In case you missed our commenting rules earlier: We love hearing from our visitors, so please do leave your comments! No profanity, name calling, or discrimination, please – we try to keep The Langar Hall a clean, open, and hate-free zone. We reserve the right to edit or remove inappropriate comments.]

  21. freshi 4 lyf says:

    sizzle or whoeveru r u r so [edited by admin] aint ya

    [freshi 4 lyf- profanity and personal attacks add nothing to the conversation. In case you missed our commenting rules earlier: We love hearing from our visitors, so please do leave your comments! No profanity, name calling, or discrimination, please – we try to keep The Langar Hall a clean, open, and hate-free zone. We reserve the right to edit or remove inappropriate comments.]

  22. DIMPLZ says:

    All dis irrelevant comments bout sikh n muslim is pointless. al u asians shud b proud of both of dem. RESPECT to both of dem 4doin wot dey do so gud.

  23. DIMPLZ says:

    All dis irrelevant comments bout sikh n muslim is pointless. al u asians shud b proud of both of dem. RESPECT to both of dem 4doin wot dey do so gud.