Bhangra Over Bombs Over Baghdad


Back before Stankonia came out, OutKast—those ambassadors from the Dirty Dirty—played opening act for one of DJ Rekha’s late-night, monthly jammies at SOB’s. The closing fury of “Bombs Over Baghdad” sent the crowd into a Technicolor, Bollywood-like frenzy, and just as the chants of “power music, electric revival” faded into the night, the city’s reigning Desi DJ threw on Panjabi MC’s “Mundian to Bach Ke (Beware of the Boys),” with its circular strings, hand-claps, and kitschy Knight Rider sample (thank you Busta Rhymes!). A long-awaited moment for Indo-Crunk miscegenation, and what did Andre 3000 do? He walked out the door.

Not Jay-Z. Faced with the same situation at a Swiss club—four-plus years after Panjabi MC’s original release, three years after OutKast at SOB’s, and mere months after the inexplicable revival of “Mundian” on U.K. pop charts—Jigga cocked his head back and cooed, “Say word!” faster than Amitabh Bachchan hopping off his hero-scooter and yelling “Shazam!”

So now we have a hip-hop song so hot, it’s eclipsed the ignorance of Pataki; Power 105, who questioned the implications of its popularity during “war”; Rolling Stone, which attributed its exotic appeal to tablas and chants, neither of which appear in the song; and Jigga himself, whose reference to snake charmers is almost as dumb as his protest proclamation that “love kills war” is brilliant.

This isn’t like DJ Quik’s “Addicted” or Erick Sermon’s “React” because that’s just hip-hop jackin’ for beats wherever them beats is found. This is jumping on a bhangra track intact, giving a shout to the Neptunes, dropping your BK hustle, and coming out clean on the other side. This is rhythmic dialogue where duplicity indeed exists. And for all my brown folks on the fringes of musical exoticism—the Punjabi Wall Streeters on line at SOB’s, the Sikhs parading down Broadway, the Sean Pauls who DJ over bhangra riddims, and the Lenkys who make them—this is cultural validation.

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