The dhol, the tumbi, the alagozi — a sneaky trio to be sure. You see, each of these Indian folk instruments is partially responsible for one of the most infectious musical hybrid smuggling efforts ever undertaken — bhangra.
Born in the rural North Indian region of Punjab, it was exported most directly to England via the Asian-immigrant underground, under the cover of dancehall reggae, drum ’n’ bass, hip hop and many other musics of the extended British colonial and jet-age musical mishmash. The dhol, tumbi and alagozi provide the rhythmic and sonic foundation upon which bhangra is built. However, the 808 drum machine (and its descendents), synthesizers and samplers have brought this music from its harvest ritual beginnings to the postindustrial urban age with stunning grace and funkiness. The musicultural anthropologists/mixmasters of the esteemed Rough Guide imprint actually manage to shake off much of the museum-quality dust that’s found in the “grooves” of some of their compilations and let bhangra do its thing — or, more accurately, shake its thang. But they haven’t thrown a historical appreciation out the window, either. They’ve managed to capture the diversity within this subgenre, offering more traditional fare alongside synthed-up dancehall variations, Hindi vocals, ass-shaking Punjabi grooves and meditative rhythms. In fact, it is the latter combination — rather than the juxtaposition — that makes the 13 cuts here hang together so cohesively. One realizes, before this trip through the world of bhangra is over, that the devotional flights of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan are just as groovy as the house-heavy Malkit Singh or the Safri Boys.
Rough’s sampling runs straight through the mainstream of bhangra, letting the exotic sounds from shore corrupt the senses just enough to either press on downstream or explore myriad tributaries. Either way, it’s a trip worth taking.
E-mail Chris Handyside at email@example.com.