What is Bollywood and its music?


TD Ottawa Jazz Festival Programmer Petr Cancura on Bollywood

Born in Czech Republic, growing up in Canada and living in New York, I hardly qualify as an authority on Bollywood and the music we are presenting under this theme. However, coming from someone who loves music, here is a glimpse. 

Ever wonder what Bollywood is and what it has to do with music?

Bollywood is a combination of the work Bombay and Hollywood. It is a scene of film production companies that produces a large amount of the films in India. Rather than a physical place, like Hollywood, it is a group of production companies based in Bombay that has produced a unique blend of Indian popular aesthetics with a little Hollywood inspiration. 

Bollywood actors, are regarded as both great actors and dancers. The tradition has created an industry of music makers who supply music for the actors to lip-synch to. The singers that are actually singing are known as Playback singers. Successful Bollywood actors are superstars, as are film actors in the rest of the world, and the incredible talent making the actual music sometimes goes unnoticed. However as many people love the music, they recognize the talent behind the screen and some of these Playback singers have become stars in their own right. Richa Sharma, who will be headlining our festival on the opening night, is one of thOse stars.

Now onto the music!

Important in the context of a music festival: Bollywood has popularized a lot of music. The music we are mainly talking about is music that comes from the region of India known as Punjab. What has come to represent South Asian music in the west from a popular standpoint is music called Bhangra. This is a very general point of view and leaves out all the subtleties of the unbelievable wealth of creative music traditions all across South Asia, I understand, however, that it is still worth noting.

Bhangra, interestingly enough, is a modernized version of Punjab Folk Music, that was developed in Britain by immigrants from the Punjab region.

Bhangra as we know it uses the basic rhythms, ornamentation and tonality from Punjab folk music but incorporates non-traditional instruments such as drum sets or drum machines, and goes as far as introducing hip hop into the genre and other western sounds. You will get to hear the best of what Bhangra is today from DJ Rekha on June 20.


Petr Cancura is Programming Director of TD Ottawa Jazz Festival.