In recent decades, Bhangra, a traditional folk dance from Punjab, has gained global recognition and popularity. The vibrant and energetic movements, the lively music, and the colourful attire of Bhangra have captivated audiences worldwide. The dance form that once served as a way for the Punjabi community to celebrate cultural and religious festivals now finds its place on international stages, in music videos, and in movies, leading to growing questions around cultural identity, representation, and ownership.
As the world becomes smaller, global cultural exchanges have become more prevalent, and as a result, the popularity of Bhangra has spread across the globe. From being performed at weddings and cultural festivals in Punjab, Bhangra has evolved into a global dance form embraced by communities worldwide, including the UK, Canada, the US, and Australia.
The Punjabi and Sikh communities take immense pride in Bhangra and recognise it as a cultural and religious identity symbol. The dance form is an integral part of Punjab’s rich cultural heritage and serves as a way to connect with the region’s traditional practices, customs, and folklore.
In the UK, where there is a large Punjabi and Sikh diaspora population, Bhangra has become an essential cultural export. In the 1970s, South Asian immigrants brought Bhangra to the UK, which evolved to include Western elements such as electronic instruments and beats. This fusion gave birth to a new genre of music, Bhangra pop, that has become increasingly popular in the UK and beyond.
As Bhangra has become more mainstream, it has been adopted and adapted by non-Punjabi and non-Sikh communities, leading to some concerns about the commodification of cultural practice. Some argue that taking elements of Bhangra and using it for commercial purposes without acknowledging its origins and cultural significance erodes the authenticity and integrity of the dance form.
The appropriation of Bhangra in music videos and movies, where it is portrayed as a generic dance form without consideration of its cultural origins, is often criticised. For instance, in some music videos, Bhangra dancers are shown wearing culturally and religiously inappropriate clothing and performing dance moves that are not traditionally a part of Bhangra. This commercialisation of Bhangra raises debates on cultural identity, representation, ownership, and whether using traditional culture for commercial gain is acceptable.
Despite the debates surrounding cultural appropriation, Bhangra’s growing international popularity has had immense positive effects. It has led to preserving traditional cultural practices, revitalising folk music, and enhanced cultural awareness and intercultural dialogue. Bhangra has become a way to celebrate cultural heritage and showcase it on the world stage, leading to the creation of new cultural and economic opportunities.
Furthermore, through the global spread of Bhangra, the Punjabi diaspora has maintained its connection with its cultural roots. Bhangra has become the medium for preserving, celebrating and sharing traditional Punjabi music and dance forms, leading to the development of new cultural production and collaboration forms.
The evolution and globalisation of Bhangra has been complex and multifaceted. While debates around cultural appropriation and ownership persist, Bhangra’s growing international popularity has also led to the revitalisation of traditional practices, preservation of cultural heritage, and intercultural dialogue. As Bhangra grows globally, its social and cultural significance will remain a topic of interest, deserving further exploration and reflection.