British Bhangra Album Sleeves as Artwork

Curator's Note

This is a clip from BBC 2's Desi DNA programme originally telecast on 5 March 2008 in the UK. The show itself is a magazine format aimed at second, third and fourth generation Brit-Asians and wider culture vultures. In its earlier series Desi DNA was aired at an accessible 7-8pm slot in the evening. Its latest series, of which this report is a part of, was shown around 11pm – a kind of ghetto slot one wonders? To watch the current series again after its original transmission on the Beeb (BBC) is hard, so this posting on youtube is a blessing of sorts. Desi DNA can be traced as part of the genealogy of BBC multi cultural programmes since the post-war period which aimed to make sense of the mass arrival of non-white immigrant presence and their contributions to British society. Its immediate forerunner Network East, also telecast on BBC2, of the late eighties and early nineties was a direct media intervention marking South Asians as British and Asian, with Desi DNA representing late modern day Britons with diasporic heritages and routes from South Asia. Its fitting, then, that British Bhangra music - a fusion based genre combining Punjabi folk lyrics and music, with other Western sounds, including Rock, Soul, RnB, Disco, Hip Hop, and more recently Garage and Grime – is the focus of the piece; specifically its album covers being heralded as artwork. The report is introductory and raises some interesting questions which are not entirely answered in the video clip itself: how did this album sleeve artwork come about? Who were the artists (the band members themselves, their kith and kin, or were semi-professional designers employed as part of the album production)? Are the sleeves more popular culture than art, or considered art because they have featured in an art gallery space?


Hi Rajinder, Nice clip - you're looking good on the box! The BBC Asian slot has always been a bit of a hit and miss affair. They seem to fluctuate over the years between trying to do serious social journalism- forced marriages etc, and being light-hearted, especially with arts and culture. The problem is maybe the magazine format is best for suited relatively for light hearted stuff - when as in Desi DNA they try to some cultural analysis it is very limited. They are still stuck in a rather celebratory mode of presentation of Asian culture. In the case of DNA they are too trying hard to be hip and trendy; it works sometimes - even here Bobby is well informed and provides an upbeat, engaging performance and does ask, as you say, the right questions - and at least they do have an academic making a contribution. Usually it is far more anti-intellectual - cultural studies hasn't quite worked its way into Asian network - yet. Although I did try and teach a thing or two to Bobby before he was famous! I think we are beginning to see Asian media studies graduates entering broadcasting - this may makes things interesting as long as they challenge the genres and formats they are working in.

The pop culture vs. high art dialectic is well-worn, and makes for easy analysis for the general audience. This clip goes beyond that discussion by introducing the idea of album covers containing a cultural history. By bringing in media studies analyses, the audience may start to see that the diaspora is a much more complex world--that's much better than the aestheticized framing of British Bhangra as album cover art and sparkly costumes.

the anchor's stress on "finally" bhangra album sleeve art has entered the mainstream as artwork is provocative. While the interviews he conducted offered some rich analyses and complexity, the framing itself I thought reduced the subject to a discourse of departure (possibly) and (most certainly) arrival-- from the street to the art gallery, from rural Punjabi to hip BritAsian, from the margins to the mainstream.

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