The City of Bhangra Festival

Come together. 

By Yasmine Shemesh

The atmosphere in the auditorium of the new Surrey City Hall is strikingly serene. The stage lights zig-zag down the curtains like honey-coloured lightning bolts as the sounds of the vidya veena and the electric guitar mesh in unexpected harmony for the Media Arts Mehfil, an evening of music honouring the coming together of different music styles during the City of Bhangra Festival. Collectively calling themselves Saanjh, the night’s musicians bring their talents together in a fusion of classical Northern Indian music, Caribbean groove, and progressive rock.

In Punjabi, the word saanjh means “connecting, sharing, and partnering”. It is a message of inclusivity and openness, one fitting for a festival that celebrates culture and unity. A presentation of the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration (VIBC), the City of Bhangra Festival is a 10-day fete composed of various events throughout the city, entwined in togetherness through bhangra, a lively and colourful Punjabi folk dance and music. “We are all one,” says Mandeep Patrola, a member of the VIBC board. “And everyone can celebrate through bhangra.”

Although Bhangra has possibly existed for centuries, it has become especially popular over the past 40 years.The dance’s origins can be traced to the rural Punjab regions of India and Pakistan—it was originally performed in bhang (hemp) fields by farmers to celebrate the time of harvest. Driven by the beat of the dholdrum, the rhythmic dance became a tool to connect with others. Movements range from soft and graceful to strong and energetic, with shoulder shakes, handclaps, and spins performed in brightly-hued costumes, adding to the vibrancy of the art.

With events such as Downtown Bhangra (June 6 and 7), where hundreds of dancers, dozens of musicians, and thousands of attendees gather on the plaza outside the Vancouver Art Gallery for a two-day entertainment extravaganza, the City of Bhangra Festival has created a truly intercultural platform. “Bhangra is open. It has open arms and it’s accessible,” Patrola says. “And how beautiful is it to see so many people, so many communities together, celebrating as one?”

The City of Bhangra Festival runs until June 7, 2014.

Published online at www.montecristomagazine.com, June 2014

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