The atmospheric beauty of DJ Rekha’s set began with sensual Bhangra beats that cultivated in her mind, flowed to her turntables and laptop, and eventually manifested on the dance floor in a hybrid of traditional Indian dancehall and contemporary club grooving. In Chicago’s Smart Bar, located in the basement of the historic Metro rock venue, Basement Bhangra could not have had a better subterranean setting. The Punjabi-hip-hop fusion swirled and percolated, bouncing off the circumference of dimly-lit multi-colored walls and filling bodies with motion.
At first, I watched with grinning pleasure as the waves of dancers were wooed with a buoyant Punjabi-sonic invitation to buck club pretensions and let loose in a flurry of loose-limbed liberation. Hands reached high, almost touching the low hanging ceiling. But it wasn’t long before I had to ditch my pen and pad and join in. And, as the set carried on into the early hours of Friday morning, I wondered, especially in a venue called Smart Bar, why all learning experiences couldn’t be like this.
And recently I dove once again into another fantastic night of Bhangra beats and rhythms courtesy of local DJ Jimmy Singh who worked the decks and band Funkadesi who sent the crowd into a frenzy at Funky Bhudda Lounge. That night the same feelings and sensations returned from 2008 as I stood inches away from my favorite Bhangra instrument the Dhol: the key instrument that gives Bhangra music its polyrhythmic pulsing dancehall pleasure vibe. The video above shows Funkadesi mixing vintage Bhangra beats with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama. And somehow they pulled it off!
If you haven’t had the chance to enjoy a live Bhangra show before, and you love to dance, I encourage you to keep your eye out for the next Bhangra night at your local club.