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Beating the Diasporic Drum

Meenakshi Bharat

By Rajinder Dudrah
Birmingham City Council, Birmingham, 2007, pp. 84, £16.99


Having had the good fortune to have browsed through the animating ‘Soho Road to the Punjab’ Exhibition, curated by Rajinder Dudrah at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, in London last September, the journey through his book, Bhangra, was partly familiar terrain. And this slim, attractively designed volume seems to take its cue from just the idea of an exhibition, presenting a heady mix of photographs and informative fact-based text, using interviews, posters, fliers; cassette, record and disc jackets; scanned discjockey playlists and manuscripts to build up a scenario. The innovative get-up of the book and the excellent artwork aptly mirrors the multi-layered, novel nature of the music form.   The unusual ‘Bharat Patel’ three-floorboard patterned cover, creatively exhorting the reader to Chak de Phattey (Lift the Floorboards), marks a curious coming together of the coffee table book and the serious research treatise. It is this cover, with a bright blue sticker ascribing authorship to a doctoral degree wielding scholar that sets the keynote for Bhangra, a book that aspires to accomplish much. This is obviously both a labour of love, written by someone who has had close truck with the form, and a dependable factually mounted study.   Moreover, written by a perceptive member of the Punjabi Indian diaspora, the impetus of the book seems to be to rouse the diasporic audience to its own roots and continuously morphing culture. Interviews replicating Punjabi speech rhythms, scanned manuscripts of lyrics in Gurumukhi, and many other such interesting tactics of giving Punjabi some cultural visual space, are just some of the strategies that awaken it to itself. But in so doing, it also becomes a happy eye-opener for the other non-Asian British audience, sensitizing them to the culture of their diasporic compatriots. Finally, the book speaks to subcontinental readers, the brothers and sisters back home, to learn of the peripatetic developments of an indigenous folk dance form, thus reinforcing kinship with their global, diasporic family. The subtitle on the inner title page, ‘Birmingham and Beyond’ places the book firmly in its context. Sponsored by the Birmingham City Council, the publication of the book hence does service not only to the borough, but also to the diasporic community at large and to the community from where the diaspora took place. This insight into the development of the form in its diasporic avatar is in keeping with the avowal of ‘social responsibility’ on the part of the ...

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