By Raj Singh

 LONDON, England: For nearly a decade, the Asian pop industry or the Punjabi Pop scene as it is now known, has seen a meteoric rise in the popularity. The music itself is nothing really new. Asian kids will tell you they heard it all before in temples, at weddings and of course in Indian movies. But what the group sin this growing scene there are over 300 Punjabi pop groups in Britain and more from other parts of the Asian community currently have done is bring the same music to the public and make it more accessible by relating the lyrics to the new generation. The romantic themes are constant, mostly derived from the ever popular film music from Bombay, but the settings for the lyrics could be anywhere in the Western countries and the situations fit in with a new way of life.

Indian film music, from which the groups draw their inspiration, is an easy blend of traditional, rural instruments and modern western sounds like electric guitars and synthesizers. Along a scale between those extremes, each of the Punjabi groups has its own distinctive style.

Most popular of them all is aptly named ALAAP, which means leader.

Alaap produces what has become known as the “South all Beat” as they all hail from that London suburb, have a following as far afield as Kenya, Canada and the U.S.A. They have recorded five albums, the fourth of which sold over 100,000 copies earning them a triple gold disc the first Asian pop band to achieve this making them the biggest selling Asian pop band in the world.

Bhangra is the dance, modified from its humble beginnings in the villages of Punjab to suit modern Asian youth. Free from the strictures of tradition, the musicians have amplified the beat. And the audiences allow themselves a moment of abandon. The Punjabi lyrics. The language spoken by the majority of Asian kids are nevertheless unashamedly romantics. It’s a reminder that some of the strictures are still in force,

 Ironically though, by dressing traditional Punjab ‘rhythms, and by regularly player Asian weddings. Groups like Alaap are not only the traditional mu but the traditions themselves to young Asians.

Alaap started out singing hymns in the gurdwara southall rhymes and then found more chance of them gaining commercial success if they created their own songs, One thing led to another as singer Channi, by boardist Harjit and guitarist Randhir, founders of the group, explained to me:

Harjit: We started to create music to meet the need of the community.

Randhir: Thats right, we got a lot letters, saying “Why don’t you produce something more Western”.

Harjit: Such a body popping beats. Channi: In the beginning it was all very traditional Indian music and we gave a new touch to this by adding a bit of Western and our own kind of music.

And so they amplified the drum beats, added new patterns into the Punjabi Bhangra rhythm and while keeping their traditional instruments added synthesizers, electric guitars and congas.

Alaap claims to be the first Asian band to fuse popular western into eastern. In so doing, they have created a trend that other up and coming bands want to follow.

The Punjabi pop scene is extremely competitive, as Channi says; the sounds that Alaap have produced in their new release will immediately be copied by someone else.

Harjit is bemused by the number of bands appearing “left, right and center” onto the scene, everyone wants to become Elvis you know. A lot of groups intend to become what Alaap is today.

Alaap in England today is immensely popular. They are popular all over the globe wherever Punjabis live. Even the Punjabi and Hindi films in Bombay have featured their music. Why are they so popular?

Channi Our originality, we write our own lyrics, create our own sounds, our own compositions, everything is created by our own band, and we are very commercial minded. We see what public wants and put that into song and it works.

Channi, born and bred in the Punjab, is the songwriter, writing in the romantic Punjabi but “putting it in modern way”. He tapes 50% of his lyrics from reality and 50% from imagination. Harjit: Behind every song we literally make six to seven tunes, and then we choose the best one. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle.

Each of them listens to a wide range of music. Harjit likes country and western and Rock’n’Roll. Randhir admires jazz and song guilar of George Benson. And Channi preferring Middle Eastern, Greek and Spanish.

As Harjit says “…. create new sounds and have a wider aspect you have to listen to other things.

Channi: We used to have letters from a lot of people who would ‘always listen to English music and nothing else, but as soon as our music came out they switched to ours’,

Harjit: Today as 1 was coming here, a guy listening to the music was West Indian, who found our music something really good.

Alaap is very much multicultural Asian band, their nine man line up comprising members from India, Pakistan, East Africa, and the U.K. representing members of Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities.

In the future they would like to make a movie about themselves: and also to experiment and develop their music without losing its traditional flavor and potency:

Alaap so far has six LPs to their credit as follows:

1, Teri Chunni De Sitare in 1979

2, Dance with Alaap in 1981

3, Best wishes from Alaap in 1983

4, With love from Alaap in 1985 (Double Album).

5, The living legend in 1987.

Now their latest “Sabhe Ghat Ram Bolle”, a collection of Shabads from the Gurbani is being released.

The films that this group has provided music are Nimmo, Yaari Yat Di, Badla Jat Da, and Miza Sahibha with Chetan Anand) and more films are in the offing. They have three Golden discs, and soon will be having platnum disc to their credit.

The main importance of bands like Alaap is that they are keeping their culture very much alive in an exciting and entertaining way and at the same time expanding upon it, before the dawning of Asian pop. Meeting places for the young British Asians had become a near impossibility what with the introduction of the VCR and the “resultant closing down of movie houses. Thus the emergence of a homegrown Asian pop music puts more at stake than just music. The concerts and discs are a valuable breather in what for many is still an isolated and stifled life. It is also a move away from the more traditional forms of entertainment offered to young Asians, a move. Away from the myth of returning home, a belief still adhered to by many of the older generation.

Channi’s daughter who is still very young is being groomed to be a singer and her music may be heard soon, along with that of her dad’s,

The Punjabi culture in England has established its roots, and it’s in the process in Canada and U.S.A. Channi and his Alaap are to tour North America sometime in 1988. All the luck to the pioneers of Punjabi pop.

Article extracted from this publication >> January 8, 1988