Pump Up the Bhangra is a celebration of the way young British Asians have found their voice and their identity through bhangra music over the past thirty years. Fronted by BBC Asian Network DJ Bobby Friction, the film tells the story of how a simple folk tradition from the wheat fields of north India was transformed in the 1980s to become a unique British club music – outselling many mainstream UK acts.
It’s a story of cassette tapes, corner shops and glitter-clad musical heroes, of teenagers bunking off school to attend secret daytime gigs and of generational culture clashes – as this underground scene became as popular among Asians as Wham and Culture Club were to the mainstream.
Bobby grew up listening to bhangra – dancing in his living room to his parents’ records and then himself attending daytime gigs as a teenager. His story mirrors that of thousands of other second-generation British Asians who through bhangra became comfortable with their heritage and their place in Britain.
The film traces the birth of bhangra amid the early Punjabi immigrants in the steel foundries of the West Midlands. It explores its glitzy heyday when, despite selling hundreds of thousands of records, artists remained unknown by the mainstream and failed to make it into the charts.
Tracing the growing self-confidence of second-generation Asians that came with bhangra, the film tells the story of the emergence of the so-called Asian underground scene – when Asian ‘Kool’ finally came of age. And it reveals how bhangra finally came to triumph and crossover to the mainstream when one Punjabi folk song was remixed with hip-hop beats by Jay-Z to become a global anthem.
Today, bhangra remains at the heart of the British Punjabi community. And even though today’s young bhangra fans live in a very different world to that of the first generation of immigrants to Britain, they remain passionately committed to the music and the connection it gives them to their roots.