Rohit Bhambi: Taking Boston Bhangra a Notch Higher for the World to See

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Rohit Bhambi is the current president of Boston Bhangra. Boston Bhangra is an organization dedicated to bringing mentorships and cultural awareness to children in the Boston area about Bhangra.

Never heard of Bhangra before? Here is Rohits’ explanantion: “Bhangra is a genre of folk music from the Punjab region of India. It’s kind of telling a story. From a visual perspective, its kind of like cheerleading and hip-hop with a cultural twist. Its very heavy on formations, expression, different movements and its very high energy when you’re watching it. Its based on a percussion drum called a dhol. It’s very upbeat and gets people moving and we are taking it to the next level.”

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Founded in 2004, Boston Bhangra started off in 2000 with just Rohit and his brother competing in Bhangra competitions as rivals. Rohit represented Boston University while his brother represented Northeastern. They founded Boston Bhangra, so that they could compete together and formed a regional team that hosts and participates in competitions. “It escalated from just being a dance team to where it is now. We incorporated it, we started our own competition (which is now in its 13th year) and we do performances and
teach classes. We do a bunch of different things in the community now. Our goal is to spread cultural awareness whether it be amongst South Asians or amongst everybody. We view Bhangra as a global dance, not a specific Indian dance.”

“Its very upbeat, it gets people moving. The music is very uplifting. Its fantastic to listen to and watch. When we first started the team it was all South Asians. Now the team is over 50% non South Asians. The audience at our events is generally 30-50% non South Asians as well. So, our mission is being fulfilled and we continue to drive on that. When people experience it, they want to get engaged.”

“I learned Bhangra at a young age. I also grew up listening to a lot of American music, but over time, I think I kind of migrated back to Bhangra. My father used to teach us so we would perform at different cultural events. We took it to the next level with competitions in college and treated it a little more professionally. Sometimes now this feels like a full time job, but it isn’t. This is a hobby of mine. It always drives me back to the passion I had when I was a kid and the music always makes me move. There’s something about it that uplifts me in the music. That is the passion that drives me and lifts me up to try to push Bhangra and bring it to other people.”

“The biggest issue has been leakage of talent over time. When people want to drive things their own way, rather than help the organization grow, that leakage sometimes hurts. We always hope that people that we train and teach help to evolve the organization over time. That doesn’t always happen, but the good thing is that in Boston, there is no shortage of people with interest in Bhangra.”

“I’ve seen Bhangra evolve here in Boston a lot over the years. When the community here as whole hears Bhangra, its not just South Asians that get excited, but its also non-South Asians. A lot of people have to go out of their way to learn what its all about and they get intrigued. It pulls people in and we’ve seen Bhangra as a growing art form in the Boston area and I think it will continue to do so. The community in Boston respects it because of what we’ve been doing in the community with competitions and mentorship programs.”

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“Most people of South Asian descent know of Bhangra, but I would say 75% don’t really know Bhangra proper. They might hear it or get excited about it, but they don’t really know it. They may know some aspects of it, but they don’t know the actual dance and what it takes to execute it. We help people learn. People also often have different drives for getting involved. Sometimes people want to learn more for a wedding, to join a team or even just a great workout. You can burn up to 500 calories in an hour.”

“We have A Boston Bhangra competition coming up on November 19th at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. This is going to be out 13th year hosting the event and we attract between 2-3,000 people to the event every year. We have people coming from as far as California and the UK coming. Its fun to see what these teams bring to the table because they all have their own styles and gimmicks to bring to the stage. Its a delight to watch.”

“Overall Bhangra is fun to watch, its great music to listen to and our organization helps to highlight all those things. Every team has something different to bring. They all have their own style and that’s what I love about watching Bhangra.”

To get your tickets to the Boston Bhangra competition, head to bostonbhangra.com

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