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					                                                                                                        presence and announcing one’s arrival on the
Album sleeves                                                                                           British bhangra music scene. The images of
                                                                                                        these early eighties’ album covers can be
                                                                                                        characterised in two ways. First, they can be
                                                                                                        contextualised as following in a line of post-war
                                                                                                        Black British portrait photography that marked
                                                                                                        the arrival of Black and South Asian settlers to
                   THE COVERS of British Bhangra                                                        Britain as securing paid jobs and accumulating
                   albums are not only visually                                                         material goods. (The photographs by the
                                                                                                        Handsworth-based artist Vanley Burke are a
                   stunning and eye catching                                                            good example of this kind of Black British
                                                                                                        portrait photography, a collection of which is
                   they are also produced at                                                            housed in the Birmingham Central Library.)
                                                                                                        Secondly, that the album covers are telling of the
                   particular moments                                                                   moment – they are witness
                   in the development                                                                   to the emergence of a section of British
                                                                                                        South Asian youth culture that engages with
                                                   Alaap • ‘Dance With Alaap’ • (1982)
of British Bhangra's musical history.              Here, members of the London-based Alaap
                                                                                                        modern times.
                                                                                                          In this sleeve, then, the five men are smartly
As such, a closer look at the some of              group stand proudly together fronted by their
                                                                                                        dressed in suits or waistcoats and trousers.
                                                   main singer Channi Singh. Alaap are considered
the sleeves in terms of their images               by many as one of the early pioneers of the
                                                                                                        They are wearing a dress code that is identifiable
                                                                                                        as Western and modern. The lead singer, Channi,
                                                   British-based bhangra sound: incorporating
and how they might be understood are               traditional Indian percussion instruments and
                                                                                                        strategically shows off his gold chain and
                                                                                                        medallion and his silver watch. The uniformity of
telling of the ways in which British               lyrics with Western synthesized sounds and
                                                                                                        the men’s attire also gives them their group
                                                   modern rhythms. Their track ‘Bhabiye ni
                                                                                                        identity – as the band Alaap. The sleeve has also
Bhangra's story can be told not                    Bhabhiye’ (Sister-in-law oh sister-in-law), an ode
                                                                                                        captured a snapshot of the workings of the
                                                   by a younger brother-in-law who playfully pleads
only through the lyrics and the                    with his brother’s wife to find him a marriage
                                                                                                        British bhangra music industry. Often band
                                                                                                        members would prove mobile, moving between
                                                   partner, has become an oft-requested classic at
music but equally through its                      wedding parties.
                                                                                                        different bands to assist with different musical
                                                                                                        productions, or to form new bands of their own.
accompanying visuals and                              By the early- to mid-eighties British bhangra
                                                                                                        In the top left of the image we see Manjit Singh
                                                   albums were being sold in their thousands
motifs as well.                                    through specialist Asian music and video shops
                                                                                                        Kondal who after his time with Alaap when on to
                                                                                                        lead the group Holle, Holle as their main singer.
                                                   that were predominantly located in multicultural
                                                   high streets of urban British cities. Album
                                                   sleeves of the 80s were about marking
               DCS • ‘Rule Britannia’ • (1982)                       the production, listening to and dancing, of
               With 'Bhangra fever' gripping many South Asian        British bhangra suggested other fluid
               youth across the country by the late 1980s,           possibilities for South Asian youth in Britain.
               many bands attempted to crossover into the            The music, combined of mixed heritages and
               mainstream charts, including Birmingham’s             a variety of black, Asian, and Western music
               DCS with their 1989 track Rule Britannia. The         genres, indicated that these youth were able to
               song was a call for national racial unity: ‘We all    manage a number of different cultural referents
               live under the same sky, the same moon, so let’s      and identities at the same time.
               dance to the same old tune’. Such endeavours             In this context, the album sleeve for DCS’s
               were unsuccessful, primarily because of the           Rule Britannia captures a sense of the music,
                                           cultural racism           its producers and audiences as collaborating in
                                           encountered by            the call for a belonging to notions of Britishness
‘We all live under the same                British Bhangra artists   with aspects of their South Asian cultural
 sky, the same moon, so let’s when faced by the                      heritages intact. The image is a reworking of the
                                           mainstream music          three colours from the Indian national flag – the
 dance to the same old tune’ industry. Their albums                  orange, white and green in horizontal layers.
                                           sold in thousands,        Imposed upon these colours is an adaptation of
               mainly through South Asian music retail outlets.      a poster that was very popular during the inter-
               Yet the sale returns from these smaller stores        war years – ‘Your Country Needs You’ (originally
               weren't included, or even acknowledged, in the        designed by Alfred Leete) – which called upon
               make up of the British pop charts of the time.        British service men and women to actively
               This is still the case.                               partake in the war effort. Yet, the image of the
                  In spite of the set backs faced by British         central figure has been revised by identifying him
               bhangra artistes during the eighties, they            as a British subject with South Asian roots – he
               continued to thrive as a sub-culture in relation to   wears a turban that is emblazoned by the Union
               the mainstream pop charts. The music and lyrics       Jack. On either side of him we see the outlines of
               of this period provided a source of alternative       buildings, again marking different geographical
               and additional popular cultures and politics from     areas from across the world. On the left is an
               which sections of British Asian youth drew their      illustration of what appears to be Big Ben and
               inspirations and contributed to. Yet, the             the Houses of Parliament, and on the right hand
               seventies and eighties was rife with debates in       side there appears to be an image of domes and
               the mass media and at social policy levels about      spires that suggests these buildings are from
               British Asian youth as ‘caught between two            Asia more generally. Taken together, the sleeve
               cultures’. An implied tendency within this            draws upon a series of connected histories and
               discussion was that these youth were unable to        identities and offers them in the context of late
               decide whether they were British or Asian and         eighties British South Asian youth culture. This
               hence caught in between two cultures. However,        culture, then, is not only a production of the
                                                     positions from housewife, lover, daughter-in-law,                                                          experience of young South Asians in urban
                                                     to matchmaker, and at the same time to create a                                                            locales. Apache’s music in particular has its
                                                     space for themselves of their own. Their songs                                                             roots in the multicultural inner city area of
                                                     remain inspiration even for today’s artists and                                                            Handsworth in Birmingham where he was
                                                     bands and provide material for numerous                                                                    raised; and like the diverse multi-ethnic make
                                                     cover versions. Admittedly, the histories and                                                              up of the place, his music is also combination
                                                     development of women’s involvement in British                                                              of languages, rhythms and beats from across
                                                     bhangra music remains to be charted                                                                        the Caribbean, North America, India and
                                                     comprehensively.                                                                                           Europe. Apache’s lyrics are rapped in the
                                                       In this album cover, for recordings of Surinder                                                          styles of Jamaican patois, Punjabi boliyaan
                                                     Kaur’s live performances in Canada, Kaur is                                                                (couplets), as well as in a culturally diverse
                                                     dressed in a traditional white Punjabi dress, the                                                          urban street English.
                                                     salwar kameez, which is embroidered with red                                                                  In this album sleeve for his Don Raja, Apache
                                                     and black floral designs. She stands, almost                                                               is placed centrally within the image as a young
                                                     angel-like, half-smiling, looking out through a                                                            artist and multi-cultural ambassador. Born of
                                                     window and up towards the skies. This image                                                                Hindu Punjabi parents and visibly identifiable as
Surinder Kaur • ‘Teri Yaad Aaye Ae’                  presents Kaur as an artist who is associated with     Apache Indian • ‘Don Raja’ • (1992)                  a young Asian man through his brown skin
(Memories of You) • (1978)                           her melodic voice and folk lyrics as offering a       Apache Indian (also known as Steven Kapur)           colour, Apache ‘mixes’ his South Asian identity
Women artists have been present since the            space for the female point of view to air her         was the first British South Asian artist to break    and cultural heritage through his attire which
inception and development of British bhangra         highs and lows on life. Kaur is also stood on         into the British music charts, reggae dance          draws on his musical upbringing and roots in
music from its folk derivations in the Punjab to     the inside of the frame of the window; she is         charts, and the South Asian music charts             Handsworth via Africa and the Caribbean. He
its present status as an urban anthem in Britain.    in the domestic setting looking out. As is            simultaneously in 1993 with his single Arranged      wears a traditional African flat round cap, ‘bling’
For example, the female singers and sisters          suggested by the title of the album she is            Marriage. This track enabled him to launch a         gold and black lace chains which are adorned
Surinder Kaur (pictured above) and Prakash Kaur      perhaps contemplating memories of a loved one         successful career as an international singer.        with different African and Indian unity symbols,
from India were immensely popular folk singers       or even contemplating horizons anew. In this             Apache Indian cannot simply be classified as a    and a slack, loose-fitting urban sweatshirt and
during the sixties and seventies, and even toured    way, Kaur’s album cover combines with the             British bhangra artist as his musical influences     stylish baggy trousers. His legs are astride and
Britain on a number of occasions for stage           audience’s knowledge of the lyrical content of        not only draw heavily on the bhangra beat but        protrude from the image in the foreground as
shows. With their powerful voice tones and folk      her work as an artist that offers bhangra listeners   also on Caribbean derived ragga music. In            they form an A-shape that signifies his stage
sonnets they often questioned the predicament        outside of the Punjab an imagined connection          several of his radio and television interviews       name – Apache. He casually leans back against a
of women in heterosexual love relationships in       with the motherland and, at the same time, new        during the mid-nineties he has stated that           red and white background that together with the
which men were primarily considered as the           beginnings in the place of settlement abroad.         musically and commercially he does not want to       bold horizontal and vertical letterings and
source of a woman's heartache. Other female          In the seventies it was commonplace for British       be identified solely as a Bhangramuffin (the term    symbols, that display the names of his album
folk artists of the post-war period included         Asian men to be out working and women would           given to the combination of bhangra and ragga        and himself as artist, mark the sleeve as modern
Jagmohan Kaur and Narinder Biba. Their songs         predominantly work from home and/or attend to         music). The music of Apache Indian illustrates       and contemporary within an urban context.
often criticised family structures and politics in   daily household chores. Thus, in this context,        the complex and hybrid interplay of music styles,
which women had to negotiate a number of             the female artist is celebrated and also              lyrics and cultural identities that constitute the

				
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