It was a side of Mandeep I’d never seen before.
Usually when I see him perform, sildenafil tadalafil Mandeep Sethi is searing the mic on a nightclub stage to the shouts of an enthusiastic, viagra dancing club crowd, troche with other MCs, DJs and sometimes dholis around him. But this past Sunday, on the stage of the San Francisco Jazz Center, I watched Mandeep, dressed in full traditional Punjabi garb, dancing and playing chimtas while accompanied by dholki, harmonium, and sarangi. Wow!
And of course, he got on the mic, too.
It was part of Folk Lok (Folk People), Mandeep’s multimedia exploration of Punjabi folk culture, and its dialogue with the culture of the Punjabi diaspora, especially as expressed through Hip-Hop. The show opened with a film documenting Mandeep’s trip to Punjab, where he ran workshops with youth from three schools in Chandigarh, to encourage them to express themselves and their concerns through their creative side. The kids explored poetry, hip-hop, modern music production and traditional song and dance: it was, as Mandeep said, a mutual exploration, where they learned from him — and he learned from them. Participants from all three schools then joined as a group to put together a performance for their communities.
Mandeep also interviewed prominent Punjabi folk artists, from here, Punjab, and the UK, and these were some of the highlights of the film for me. Ustad Lal Singh Bhatti‘s words on folk: “If everyone knows a song, if everyone can sing it — then it’s folk”. Hans Raj Hans said, “The way we carry ourselves, the way we dress — that’s all folk.” And when he sang, it put tears in my eyes. I remember the Nooran sisters, looking slightly uncomfortable in front of the camera, until they started to sing. Then the discomfort dissolved into their smiles. Mandeep also showcased the hip-hop presence in Punjab via Chandigarh artists Kru172, and paid a visit to Scotland where Tigerstyle chatted about making Punjabi music in the UK.
That last conversation put me in mind of Michelle’s recent post on Falu Bakrania’s new book on the British Asian music scene, and how it expresses British Asian youth’s struggle to make sense of their joint British and South Asian heritages. I think Folk Lok is about that, too: making sense of the culture that you grew up in, and how it blends or conflicts with the culture of your parents or ancestors. The philosophy behind Folk Lok, I think, is that there is a universal creativity that resides in all peoples, and that manifests in a specific way in a given culture. We who are the product of two cultures can engage with that manifestation, absorb it, and reflect it back in our own creative endeavors. Mandeep’s explorations are in the context of Punjabi culture, of course, but it’s an approach that can be taken by anyone: Filipino, Chinese, African, Italian, Irish….
The program concluded with a collaborative performance between Mandeep and Ustad Lal Singh Bhatti, with part of the audience joining in at one point. Lal Singh Bhatti Ji is always so much fun to watch. At some point he started singing the inevitable song about Jugni; I’m guessing that the lyrics were something along the lines of “Jugni Ji, where are you”, because Uncle jumped off the stage and started searching in all the nooks and crannies of the room, singing the chorus the whole time. Irrepressible — that’s the only word that describes his performances.
One other point of interest for me was a short discussion during the Q&A afterwards, about the negative aspects of (commercial) hip-hop culture. Hip-hop was born from the creative expression of African-American youth in economically disadvantaged communities. If they rapped about violence, it’s because they saw violence. Hip-hop was one way of dealing with it, of expressing their anger and frustration with the state of their community (Hip-hop was also a way of expressing their joys in life and pride in themselves, too — let’s not forget). It’s no surprise, really, that hip-hop has become a vehicle of expression for disenfranchised groups from many different cultures all over the world.
Unfortunately, as certain streams of hip-hop have become more commercially distributed, so have certain expressions of violence and hate, and people have begun to believe that these expressions define hip-hop, or hip-hop lifestyle, or whatever. The way that Mandeep put it is that sometimes young rappers “choose to put on certain attitudes, without being forced to.” So part of his mission when engaging with the Punjabi hip-hop scene is to call out and break those stereotypes, to foster hip-hop as a vehicle of positive change and expression, and not just a pose.
I have only one complaint about Folk Lok: most of you weren’t there to see it, and all of you should. Sunday was Folk Lok‘s world premiere, and hopefully not the only time that it’s presented. I really look forward to seeing it again.
The Folk Lok project was commissioned by the America India Foundation O3 Project, which seeks new and creative ways to promote community building and civic engagement in India and Pakistan, through cross-cultural understanding and cultural expression.
Photo of Mandeep with Mista Chatman and Rav-E at NSB by Ashima Yadava Photography.
Photo of Mandeep with Ustad Lal Singh Bhatti and family by Vicki Virk.