Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Panjabi MC and Mundian To Bach Ke
I have to admit it, it is a surprise, but thankfully, finally he is getting some propers. Four (or more even) years after its original release, Panjabi MC has re-released the desi hit (knight rider remix) Mundian to Bach Ke on Instant Karma records. Rumor has it, that the track will be the first bhangra track to be in the British top ten ever, so big-ups (I think coming in at number 8). I remember the GW Bhangra Blowout team in 1999 (I was on it) used MTBK in it championship winning dance and it was hot then, and the song remains hot now. Congratualtions again, and everyone out there, even if you have the song, own it on a bootleg, have downloaded it, buy the album. Represent for the desi's who are bringing the sound out.

From the Sunday Times January 12, 2003
Bhangra is about to have its first Top 10 hit, and it's all thanks to a track made once upon a time in the Midlands.

With the crucial backing of a Radio 1 play-listing behind it, Mundian To Bach Ke looks set to be the first bhangra track to blast its way into the Top 10 a week from today. A modish hybrid of eclectic sampling (the bass from the theme to the tele-vision series Knight Rider) and ethnic instrumentation, Panjabi MC's club hit has, a mere 4 years after its first release, been picked up by the tastemakers.

And nobody is more pleasantly surprised than the Coventry-based DJ/producer responsible for the track.

Fresh from a promotional tour in Germany, where MTBK has sold more than 150,000 copies, Rajinder Rai, 25, struggles to the phone after another late night in British clubland. "Bhangra is massive in the UK," he wheezes. "It's bigger than hip-hop. We've got a party every night of the week."

Rai is an acknowledged envelope-pusher in a musical tradition that is, depending on your viewpoint, either as old as the hills and therefore not to be tampered with, or the wellspring for some of the most lawless and energising music being made in Britain today. His 1998 album Legalised (to be rereleased this spring) is regarded as a classic of its kind.

Years before the playlist panjandrums at One FM deemed MTBK worthy to be aired on their station, the track was a staple in clubs - always a more accommodating testing ground for new ideas than hidebound national radio. Its deli-rious blend of traditional dhol drums, finger-picked tumbi and a stomping bassline paved the way for singles as huge as Missy Elliott's Timbaland-produced 2000 smash Get Ur Freak On. Other copyists include last year's Truth Hurts hit Addictive and Busta Rhymes's Fire It Up, which also sampled Knight Rider.

Yet, says Rai, that's where the similarities end. "Bhangra started out in 1979, at the same time as hip-hop. Hip-hop is now a multimillion-pound industry, and bhangra is ... a £25,000 industry."

In fact, year in, year out, millions of bhangra records are sold in this country, making it one of the biggest growth areas in the music business. But a combination of self-interest, suspicion and blinkeredness has kept it in the specialist racks. Does Rai believe that MTBK could change that, and allow bhangra to join Get Ur Freak On in the mainstream? "I'm quite cynical, actually," he says. "The thing with the Missy song doesn't make me angry, it's quite flattering. But now there are too many people narrowing it down to thinking, 'This is what the successful formula is,' and trying to copy it."

Perhaps we should be grateful for Radio 1 for picking up on MTBK at all, however late in the day. But it seems odd that it took at least four years for us to cotton on to, let alone playlist, one of our most distinctive club tunes. While Rai uses other criteria by which to judge a career that began as long ago as 1993, he will admit to "measuring myself by chart success now as well". But within his field, he's so well respected that the musical establishment's belated and clammy embrace must seem as baffling as it is unlikely.

In any case, if there's a trumpet to be blown, Rai is happy to oblige. Asked about rivalry on the new-bhangra scene (it is, after all, part of dance culture, which is famously disputatious), he replies: "There is rivalry between a lot of people, but not with me. I don't get DJs coming up to me going, 'Yo, I'm going to do a track that's better than yours,' because they know they're not going to, simple as that." And suddenly the telephone receiver explodes with an ear-piercing shout of laughter, as Rai delights in the unbridled bombast of what he has just said.

MTBK translates as "Beware of the Boys", and seems, at first, to tell the story of a father cautioning his adolescent daughter. Rai says it's more complicated than that: "Punjabi songs always have two meanings, an innocent one and its total opposite." So it's not only the father: a covetous boy is also warning his beloved to keep away from potential rivals.

This song was No 2 in Germany at Christmas. It could, and by rights should, chart as high here. Yet an awful lot of people who buy it won't have a clue what the lyrics mean, or care less about the subtlety of Punjabi songwriting. The selling point for them is the sound, an amalgam that offers a hint of what future music-making in multicultural Britain may come to grapple with. It's thrilling, passionate, unruly and cocksure. And made in Coventry.

If you want to know more about cool desi beats click here for a three part bbc radio series on the movement.


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