City of Bhangra Festival aims to get everyone dancing to the beat

Published: March 19, 2013


Vancouver and Surrey will be bhangra cities this spring.

Bhangra dancers

The South Asia Arts Girls Bhangra Team performs as launch to the Bhangra Festival in Vancouver on March 19, 2013. Wayne Leidenfrost/PNG

The Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration (VIBC) Society officially launched their week-long HSBC City of Bhangra Festival by announcing the lineup at Granville Street’s Vancouver FanClub on Tuesday morning.

The announcement gave a vibrant taste of what the May 30 to June 8 festival will offer: delicious Indian food, upbeat bhangra dancers, all accompanied by loud and cheerful music.

“That beat, that rhythm — it’s universal, so anybody can get up and dance and be a part of it,” said VIBC director Sukhi Ghuman.

Organizers wanted to “create a festival that welcomes people of all different cultures,” he said.

“It’s not about being Indian to participate in the festival — we want everyone to feel welcome and to be a part of the festival and be able to learn about what is bhangra.”

Bhangra is a form of Punjabi folk music that dates back to the 1400s in Northern India, when farmers would celebrate harvest season with music and dance.

“It’s definitely come a long way since then,” said Ghuman. “Even now mainstream artists are incorporating bhangra beats into their music — artists like Britney Spears, Missy Elliot will use some of the drums that we use for bhangra in their music, too, so it’s definitely becoming a lot more mainstream.”

The festival will showcase that evolution with art exhibitions in both Vancouver and Surrey, free outdoor concerts and dance performances by local bhangra teams, as well as teams from California, New York and Pennsylvania.

“We’re kind of taking bhangra in all its artistic mediums and spreading it all throughout the festival,” said Ghuman.

“There’s no right or wrong way to bhangra,” said Ghuman. “When you hear that beat of that drum and that dhol you want to dance as well, and so it’s all about you coming out, feeling that music, dancing and getting your groove on and having an amazing time.”

Local dhol drummer Rayman Bhuller has been part of the festival “from day one” — when it started back in 2004.

Bhuller will be participating in a number of performances, including the opening reception on May 30.

“There’s no bhangra without dhol,” Bhuller said after supplying the upbeat soundtrack for Tuesday’s announcement. “When you put the dhol in a room it just overshadows everything. It’s really loud … it takes over a room very quick.”

Bhuller will also be performing alongside international artists such as Punjab’s raw folk singer Saini Surinder, producer and musician Gupsy Aujla from the U.K. bhangra scene, DJ Anjali and The Incredible Kid from Portland, Ore., and Oxford’s teenage performer D-Sarb.

Bhuller has travelled the world working as a freelance dhol drummer and created Vancouver’s Dhol Nation Academy 12 years ago. He also performed at the 2010 Olympics and has been involved with the City of Bhangra Festival since its inauguration nine years ago.

“You learn a lot about the culture itself through the medium of music,” Bhuller said.

Especially through the dhol, which is “in every part of our life.”

“From the day you’re born there’s a dhol playing till the day you die there’s a dhol playing — it’s very symbolic,” he said. “It’s the whole cycle of life just in this drum.”

For more event listings and ticket information visit

Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration schedule

May 30, 7:30 p.m.-9 p.m.: Opening ceremony and rePercussion. Milton Fei Wong Theatre, SFU Woodward’s/Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Vancouver. A cultural fusion of drummers, including Rayman Bhuller alongside Surrey Folk Bhangra Club and EV A-Slam.

June 1, 8 p.m.-11 p.m: Influx with VIBC Media Arts Mehfi. Surrey Arts Center, Studio Theatre. An evening of live music mash-ups, hip hop dance battles and art projections.

June 4, 8 p.m.-10 p.m.: Bhangra on Main. Heritage Hall, Vancouver. Punjabi folk traditions from critically acclaimed artists D-Sarb and Sunil Kaylan.

June 6, 7:30 p.m.-9 p.m.: rePercussion. Surrey Arts Centre. A cultural fusion of drummers, including Rayman Bhuller alongside Surrey Folk Bhangra Club and EV A-Slam.

June 7-8: Downtown Bhangra. Bringing artists such as Saini Surinder, Gupsy Aujla, D-Sarb, Shava, Sunil Kalyan, Inder Kooner, DJ Anjali and the Incredible Kid and featuring bhangra teams from New York, Pittsburgh, California and Metro Vancouver. Friday, 6 p.m.–10p.m. Saturday, 12 p.m.–10 p.m.

June 7, 10 p.m.-3 a.m.: Non-stop Bhangra. Vancouver FanClub. The official after party of Downtown Bhangra, Non-Stop Bhangra, offering an electric mix of bhangra party music meant for the dance floor, including DJ Harpz coming from the U.K. and DJ Anjali and The Incredible Kid from Portland, Ore.

June 8, 10 p.m.-12 a.m.: Closing Gala. Vancouver Art Gallery. Musicians, local dance teams and DJs.

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