Suomibhangra - the good brownface?

In an attempt to further muddy some conceptual waters, I present you this finnish music video:

Shava are probably the only representatives so far of the genre of Suomibhangra, a Finnish take on the South Asian diaspora dance genre, bhangra. One one level there's a lot to be critical of here, perhaps - the wilful exoticism, the fake Indian dancers, the almost-brownface of someone like the "Finnjabi bad boy" in the video.

On the other hand, though, which I think is perhaps more interesting, there's the reaction in the bhangra community. I actually found the track on a bhangra blog, it's been reposted and become popular on a bhangra youtube channel where it's generated positive comments, the band has toured to desi audiences in Canada and it's played on several bhangra radio stations... The bhangra community is not offended at all, they rather like it. (For as they say: Imitation is...)

So who's right? Us radical critics or the people we think we're defending? Perhaps it's worth thinking about.


Anonymous said...

Hey first of all, this music is really awesome! :) Bhangra actually complements the Finnish language! And I don't see anything wrong in imitating a genre of music that is generally foreign to us. We cannot prevent being influenced by globalization; since the internet enables anyone to get in touch with cultures from all over the world, it's just perfectly natural that we now adopt into our culture such things as sushi, capoeira, Halloween, etc. Are they 'authentic'? Perhaps not, but it's what I would call the new kind of multiculturalism that shows in each of our lives. The Finnish Bhangra is a new kind of Bhangra, a creole, a sect, or a dialect, and respectively unique. And I think that's way cool! :)

Birdseed said...

Hey Nadya!

I'd generally agree with you - with some reservations. There's a difference between imitation (which for all intents and purposes is cool with me) and stereotyped caricature. Authenticity is fairly questionable as a concept, but it's perfectly possible to create music which is malicious in intent and fucks over marginalised groups - Blackface minstrelsy being the classic US example.