For the first time since I moved to Vancouver (when I was 8), I decided to check out the VIBC Bhangra 2013 festival. I really didn’t know what to expect, and was completely blown away, not just by the talent of the competitors, but by the “international” aspect of the festival. There are many reviews out there focusing on the makeup of the festival itself, so for the purposes of this post, I would like to talk about my experience of multiculturalism at the festival.
I arrived at the Vancouver Art Gallery (where the festival was taking place) on June 7th half an hour early. There were already crowds of people milling about. I was surprised to see many non-Indians among the audience members. Many families were present with young children, which I thought was a testament to the families’ willingness to expose their children to different cultures at a young age. The event was emceed by a Bhangra enthusiast from Joy Television and a member of the VIBC community. They announced at the beginning of the event that the goal of the festival is to “strengthen and unite the community” and “[bring] together different communities and cultures”. I think those words are a very fitting tag line for the event; it certainly united the Vancouver community by bringing together different cultures.
The competitors consisted of the very best of Bhangra teams from across North America. The teams included First Class Bhangra from Pittsburg, PA; Gajjde Punjabi from Seattle, WA; Bhangra Elite from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and Cornell Bhangra from Ithaca, NY. What really blew me away about the performances (aside from the talent, of course) was the sheer multiculturalism in the makeup of the teams. Many of the teams had non-Indian members (Caucasians and African-Americans) dancing along with their fellow Indian team members. Even the songs that the teams were dancing to were a fusion between Punjabi music and contemporary Top40 music (a popular choice of Top40 music among many teams was “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis; I even caught some old-school Justin Timberlake).
My personal highlight of the entire event was when members of the VIBC community taught the audience how to breakdown Bhangra style. It was heartwarming to see many non-Indian audience members immediately stand up and begin participating. I even saw some non-Indian parents drag their kids to the crowds of dancers.
According to Shawn Ghuman of the USA Today College, Bhangra is becoming a “vehicle for assimilation” throughout US college campuses. Bhangra has been popularized into mainstream culture to the extent that it even exists as a category on the popular show Dancing With The Stars. This certainly explains the multicultural makeup of many of the Bhangra teams that participated. All in all, I found VIBC 2013 to be inspirational in how it transcended cultures. No longer is Bhangra just something Indians do that bemuses and mystifies mainstream culture. It has been integrated into who we are as Vancouverites.