From Bhangra to Bullets: Two Faces of Punjabi Music in the Global Arena

by Dr. Jasneet Bedi

The scent of freshly tilled earth, the rhythmic clinking of bangles, the boisterous laughter of friends sharing kulfi under a mango tree – these are the images that paint the canvas of innocence and purity that once dominated Punjabi music. Artists like Gurdas Maan, with his mellifluous voice and songs like “Dil Da Maamla,” were like ambassadors, carrying the fragrance of rural Punjab to the world, weaving tales of love, loss, and the simple joys of life. Their music became a bridge between generations, connecting grandparents tapping their feet to bhangra beats and grandchildren swaying to soulful ballads.

But the times, they are a-changin’. A new wave of Punjabi music is crashing onto the global scene, and its soundtrack is no longer the gentle murmur of dholkis and the sweet lilt of folk tunes. Songs like Sidhu Moosewala’s “295” and “Last Ride” pulsate with the thrum of bass lines and the swagger of a generation unafraid to flirt with darkness. Gunshots punctuate verses about bravado, lyrics celebrate a fast-paced life built on fast cars and fleeting flings. There’s a raw energy, an undeniable allure to this rebellious sound, but beneath the surface lurks a disquieting question – at what cost does coolness come?

Sidhu had foreshadowed his own death—or so his fans claimed. They were quick to note that the date of his murder, 29 May, echoed the title of one of his most famous songs, “295.” They noted that, in another song, eerily titled “The Last Ride,” Sidhu had sung, “Ho chobbar de chehre utte noor dasda/ Ni, ehda uthuga jawani’ch janaza mithiye”—That glow on the young man’s face says he will be laid to rest in his youth. His latest album, Moosetape, contained several references to dying young and the constant threat of being gunned down. These seemingly symbolic coincidences and a dramatic shooting added a halo of greatness around Sidhu, bolstering his legacy as an icon.

Shiv Inder Singh ~ Guns, Jutts, Glory (Caravan Magazine)

The artists of the “gun-culture” wave undeniably have talent. Moosewala’s charismatic delivery and Honey Singh’s infectious beats hold undeniable power. But with great power comes great responsibility, and as role models for a generation grappling with identity and choices, their message becomes crucial. Songs glorifying violence and substance abuse may resonate with the angst of some, but can they be the only story Punjabi music tells?

Singer Gurdas Maan also revealed Sidhu’s parents didn’t like or want him to write songs on gun-culture.

Can’t we have bhangra and bullets co-exist? Absolutely. Just like a vibrant canvas needs both dark and light threads to tell a complete story, Punjabi music can encompass the full spectrum of human experience. But let’s ensure that the cool factor doesn’t eclipse the responsibility to nurture, to inspire, to offer stories of hope and resilience alongside tales of rebellion.

Imagine a song where the swagger of a bass line underscores the message of hard work and perseverance, where a catchy hook carries a call for positive change. Imagine a music video that showcases not just flashy cars and designer clothes, but the beauty of community, the strength of family, the power of education. This, too, can be cool. This, too, can be Punjabi.

But there is enough hate, violence and terror all around the world. What if we let the global stage resonate not just with the echoes of gunshots, but with the joyous clanging of cymbals, the soulful notes of a sarangi, the rhythmic stomp of bhangra. Let Punjabi music be a canvas not just for darkness, but for the vibrant kaleidoscope of emotions that make life worth living. Let it be a mirror reflecting not just the shadows, but the full, breathtaking spectrum of the Punjabi spirit.

Dr. Jasneet Bedi

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