City of Bhangra: Place or Place of Mind?

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At VIBC, we're sometimes asked: What does the “City” in City of Bhangra Festival mean—Is it a real place? Or a state of mind?

Good questions. And for us, the answer is a resounding YES to both!

When Mo Dhaliwal and co. founded the Festival started 11 years ago, one reason for calling it “City of Bhangra” was to literally “brand” Metro Vancouver as the bhangra headquarters for N. America. With one of the the largest Punjabi populations outside of South Asia, and the hottest, most progressive music scene on either coast, Metro was ripe in 2004 for a festival highlighting the city’s cultural diversity AND the most infectious music and dance movement the world has ever known. And so the name was chosen, the Festival was born… and here we are still celebrating more than a decade later!

But there are a few OTHER ways COB links closely with the bricks-and-mortar cities of Vancouver and Surrey (which every year provide stunning talent—and beautiful backdrops—for our 10-day Festival), as well as to the “idea” of the bhangra movement, which for us means connecting individuals and communities across all genders, cultures, space, and time through celebration and the joy of bhangra. 

  1. COB's link to the city (the “real” city) starts with the organizing entity’s name, that is, VIBC: “Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration Society” roots us firmly in local soil, while also indicating our global reach.
  2. The word "City" in City of Bhangra clearly places the Festival in an urban setting, in this case Vancouver and Surrey. As mentioned above, the "City of Bhangra" name was originally chosen both to REFLECT the interests of Metro Vancouver's large Punjabi population (the largest outside India/Pakistan), and to DEFINE the city in terms of the greater cultural mix of which Punjabi culture is an important—but not the only—part. Thus the word "city" can be understood generally to mean the Festival takes place in an urban environment, but it's also intended specifically to mean Metro Vancouver.
  3. This year, as in past years, we like to link the names of key COB events directly with their city settings. For instance, "Bhangra on Main" refers to our event at the Fox Cabaret on Vancouver’s Main Street (June 2), and "Downtown Bhangra" takes place LITERALLY in downtown Vancouver, right in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery (June 5 and 6). We’re proud to bring our events to audiences streetside in Surrey and Vancouver, as well as to legendary venues such as the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (EKTA, May 30), quirky hotspots like John Fluevog Shoes in Gastown (Folk Lok, May 29), urban club scenes like LED Bar and Club FIVESIXTY (May 28 and June 6), and renowned educational institutions like SFU Surrey TD Engagement Centre (Bhangra Village Conference, June 4).
  4. COB's events emphasize the inclusion of local performers and teams, and the creative buzz that comes from fusing their talents with one another, as well as with the international stars we host. VIBC board and staff work throughout the year sourcing and encouraging local artists to participate in the Festival, giving them exposure to each other, to local and visiting audiences, and to talent from abroad. This has the effect of spreading the “spirit” of the bhangra movement (bhangra as a state of mind) well beyond our city streets to those of music capitals around the world. This year’s stellar lineup of locals includes Raju Johal, Sharad Khare, DJs Lajit and Reminisce, Lady Ra, and Lil India, to name just a few.
  5. COB would not be possible without the full involvement of literally dozens of local partners, sponsors, and supporters every year. These connections not only strengthen VIBC’s ability to deliver exciting events, powerful performances, innovative educational programs, and unique opportunities for cross-generational sharing, but they also reinforce our community as a whole, creating real and virtual conduits to knowledge about our history and present identity. Our sponsors’ dedication reflects both their deep commitment to promoting the spirit of inclusion that defines the “City of Bhangra” movement, and their belief that investing in an annual Festival rooted in their own region actually strengthens the infrastructure of the city itself—economically, socially, and culturally. 

Still not convinced of the “city” connection? Here comes the clincher:

Our key promotional images (this year and in the past) have always included as much as possible the Metro setting (for a quick trip down memory lane, visit http://www.vibc.org/history to see samples of our ad campaigns from earlier years). This year's campaign in particular is VERY Vancouver-specific: our signature image (on posters, postcards, ads, and on the web) was taken at Jericho Beach, showing a clearly recognizable Vancouver behind the bhangra dancers in the foreground. And our soon-to-be released promotional video was shot outdoors at Kits Beach with the skyline in the background—again highlighting the Festival’s connection to this magnificent place. Even more Vancouver is the ever-present red umbrella: can't get much more West Coast than that!

We love this year’s image for the ways in which it clearly captures the real and imagined states of the “City of Bhangra”: rooting us in this beautiful city of Metro Vancouver we call home, and expressing the spirit of love, joy, and inclusion that is the bhangra movement. 

Blog by Jennifer Webb
Photo by Nas Hajami (still from 2015 COB video shoot, featuring PANJ)

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