Bhangra originated in Punjab around the 14th and 15th centuries. Punjabi farmers would dance and sing songs about village life as an escape from the long days and sweltering heat while working in the fields. It eventually became a part of harvest festivals to celebrate the growth and health of the farmers’ crops.
Over the years, bhangra has taken on a life of its own. No longer a male-dominated folk dance performed to pass time and celebrate the harvest, it is practiced today by individuals of various ethnicities, genders, and ages on some of the best stages in N. America, the UK, and India. It has become a trademark expression of multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusivity around the world, and VIBC’s 10-day City of Bhangra Festival is a true testament to the spirit of love and celebration that comes with bhangra.
The success of the Festival was made clear by the extent and the diversity of press coverage the event received. Some memorable media stories highlighted the celebration and its positive results. For example, Shaw TV, one of VIBC’s main media sponsors, did an incredible job of profiling the events and performers, as well as breaking down the themes and messages the Festival aimed to convey. [Link to Shaw’s full-length program: here]
Alex Varty’s interview with VIBC Director Mo Dhaliwal in the Georgia Straight also highlighted some important goals by focusing on a slogan used in COB’s branding this year. Responding to a question about the choice of “#BhangraLove,” Dhaliwal noted the diversity of the Punjab region: “That area has been a nexus for different cultures and different ethnic communities to meet for eons. So I guess in our campaign theme for #BhangraLove this year, it’s not that we’re presenting a massive ground shift in our programming or in our approach. Rather, I think we’re just bringing some of the values that we’ve always held to the forefront a little bit more.” [Link to the article: here]
Another piece by Mark Robins in Gay Vancouver spoke to VIBC and the bhangra movement as agents of change in attitudes of masculinity and femininity. VIBC used a provocative promotional picture of two men holding pinkies to advertise the Festival, and the article focused on the way bhangra can be used to change attitudes and create conversations that break oppressive socio-political boundaries. [Link to the article: here]
My favourite media mentions are often found in blog posts written by event attendees. These gems hidden on the internet show just how successfully the Festival was able to create a culture of joy and inclusivity. Here’s a beautiful example of such an experience posted on DeliciousJuice.com.
The first thing you’re always taught when you learn to dance bhangra, is to smile. Facial expressions in bhangra are key: the very best dancers are those who never lose their smiles even when they are out of breath and on the brink of exhaustion. Their expressions embrace the joy of bhangra and stay true to the celebration of the folk dance. But the smiles of these dancers have also unknowingly created this culture of positive change within the community to push towards a more inclusive, diverse, and loving community. This very celebration is what was highlighted through the press and in the media.
A big thank you to all the wonderful media coverage for VIBC’s City of Bhangra Festival — it could not have been as memorable without the support of so many to get the word out!
Blog by Nilum Panesar
Photo courtesy Neelu’s Clicks