Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gettin' my Bhangra On!

Last night the youngster and I joined some friends of ours (as happens, also members of a mixed American and Indian marriage) for a dinner of kebabs, saag paneer, and malai kofta before heading out to the fifth incarnation of BHANGRA IN THE BURGH. This event is a Pittsburgh staple - a huge yearly event for the college kids, where teams of Punjabi-style dancers and exhibition musical groups form a high-impact cabaret.  Naively, I had thought to take my son to soak up a little Indian culture, get in touch with his roots, so to speak. But almost immediately I realized that the event was what in postmodernist thought circles back in the 90's we used to call "hybridity" but which I have come to think more productively of as "fusion," the combination of elements to generate something bigger than any of the original components. The dance teams were formed by students from Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, Cornell, and other American universities.  It is held at the Soldier's and Sailors Memorial, a big turn-of-the-century style military-museum-slash-meeting hall which is as much a product of fusion as the dancers - its shallow stage is festooned with patriotic American eagles but a lot of the decor in the place is that faux-Chinese patterning that is a remnant of the Orientalist Beaux-Arts style. As for the Bhangra, it is far more complicated than I expected. The teams are heavily influenced by American hip-hop, but the final product is suffused with that immense joy that I have come to associate strongly with Indian pop culture (as opposed to the anger and sadness which seems to suffuse American pop culture). One of my students gave me a pair of VIP tickets, for which I am deeply grateful, and when I got there I realized that SoD senior Stefan Dezil was one of the organizers and presenters. Here's a clip of the Pittsburgh-native First Class Bhangra group:

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that, as fuddy-duddy as I have become in my immense old age, I realized almost immediately that I was not experiencing a transmission of Indian culture, but a glorious and pulsepounding expression of American culture. Every bit as American as burritos, pizza, and my fusion son. MY culture. And I love it.

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