Producer and DJ Rav-E on Bringing Bhangra to Mainstream Music and His Latest Single "Punjabi"
Odell Hussey Photography
California born-and-raised DJ/producer Ravi Sandhu, aka Rav-E, has been immersed in bhangra music since he was a child. He got his start as a DJ at KDNZ while attending University of San Francisco. It was also as a student, in 2006, that he first attended the popular monthly party called Non Stop Bhangra. He fell in love with the atmosphere, and knew he needed to meet founder Jimmy Love. Seven years later, he's a resident DJ at Non Stop Bhangra, and has recently started producing his own bhangra tracks. Signed to Soldier Sound Recordings, he is currently putting the finishing touches on his first full-length album, which will come out early next year. We spoke with Rav-E about playing the dhol, his upcoming album, and why he loves Non Stop Bhangra. He plays this Saturday at Public Works for the last Non Stop Bhangra of the year.
What initially drew you to bhangra music?
Bhangra music is the sound of my motherland, Punjab. I grew up listening and dancing to bhangra music. It has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Who is an artist you think someone should definitely know when getting into bhangra music?
The first name that comes to mind is Jazzy B. He has been a Bhangra singer for 15 to 20 years and has had many dancefloor hits.
How did you become a resident DJ at Nonstop Bhangra?
I actually attended a Non Stop Bhangra in 2006 with a group of friends and had a wonderful experience. I approached DJ Jimmy Love after the event to tell him about how much I really enjoyed the music and overall vibe of the event. During that conversation I also mentioned to him that I DJed at USF and he asked me to provide him with a mix CD, as they were open to having new guests. After a few successful guest sets, I was asked to join the family.
Why do you think it is such a successful event?
I believe it is successful because it is a true San Francisco event. Non Stop has such a diverse crowd of people, ranging between different age groups and ethnicities. The fact that so many people from different walks of life can come together, let loose, and just dance is what really keeps bringing people back. It is a very nonjudgmental atmosphere and provides people with a space to really embrace Punjabi culture.
You started as a bhangra DJ, but are now pursuing production. What initiated this transition?
I had always wanted to get into music production, but never had the right guidance or resources. Although I received training in traditional folk Punjabi music from Ustad Lal Singh Bhatti Ji, a legendary dhol player, I didn't know how to channel my creativity. My biggest source of encouragement and guidance came from DJ Jimmy Love. He actually gave me one of his old midi keyboards along with some software and encouraged me to get into production a few years back. From there I began to work hard at developing my craft and was eventually signed by Soldier Sound Recordings from the UK.
Tell us about your latest single, "Punjabi."
This track is a collaboration with Surinder Shinda. He is a living legend and a well-respected artist whose career has spanned over three decades. "Punjabi" is a dance floor type track with a positive vibe. It is a prideful song that touches on the subject of being Punjabi, and the greatness of bhangra as a form of dance and music.
And you'll be releasing an album soon?
Yes, it will be out in early 2014 under Soldier Sound Recordings.
What do you think is needed to propel bhangra into being recognized more globally?
I believe bhangra artists need to continue pushing the envelope by experimenting with new sounds and collaborating with non-Punjabi artists. Currently, a lot of the music is confined within the Punjabi community and can sound redundant. The artists that have been able to cross over -- such as Panjabi MC, Rishi Rich, and Tigerstyle -- are those that aren't afraid to try new things.
You also know how to play the dhol. Tell us a little about the instrument and its relevance to bhangra music.
The dhol is a two-sided barrel drum. It originated from Punjab, which currently split between modern day India and Pakistan. The dhol is a very loud drum and is the heartbeat of bhangra. Traditionally, bhangra was performed with live singing and folk instruments. The dhol was the main instrument and maintained the beat for the dancers. It is still the driving force behind contemporary bhangra music.
What are you most looking forward to for the last Non Stop Bhangra of the year?
I'm looking forward to playing a lot of new tracks! The thing I love the most about Non Stop is being able to play new music. The crowd is very open-minded and comes ready to dance, so they will be happy as long as you keep pumping out heavy beats that keep them dancing!