In 2019, the Punjab and Haryana High Court noted that glorification of alcohol, drugs and violence in songs affects children and has given rise to gangster culture in Punjab

Apropos to its vibrant and rich culture, Punjab has a great and long-standing tradition of poetry, music and dance reflecting in its varied cultural heritage. The ethos of Punjabi culture is bravery, chivalry and valour. The land of Punjab has cradled the Sufis like Baba Farid, Bulle Shah and many such seers, saints and sages. It is a land where Heer-Ranjha, Sohni-Mahiwal, Mirza-Sahiba and Sassi-Punhoon have manifested themselves and became the legends of soulful love and sacrifice. Their legends have given the underlying themes of music, folklore and poetry of Punjabi. The Patiala Gharana of Punjab is one of the renowned gharanas of vocal Hindustani classical music which is a prominent traditional centre of music learning in India. It is a land where Shiv Kumar Batalavi echoed the pain of his emotions in his catharsis.

In the late 1980s, the tradition of Punjabi music was carried on by the likes of Gurdas Mann, Hans Raj Hans, Surinder Shinda, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, K Deep, Jagmohan Kaur, Surinder Kaur, Amar Singh Chamkila, etc, who are known by their enchanted exposition of Punjabi folklore. However, simultaneously during the 1990s a parallel current of music stream emerged which was a fusion of the Western culture and Punjabi folklore. In quest of reconnecting their emotions with their roots, Punjabi youth who had settled as NRIs in western Europe, the United States and Canada synergised the beats of the West and blended it with the lyrics of Punjabi language which came to be known as Punjabi pop music.

The word ‘pop’ is a short form or slang of the word ‘popular’; thus, pop music is synonymous with popular music. Punjabi Pop music is the most popular pop music in India. It is popular not only in Bollywood but in many other regions like South East Asia and even in Hollywood. Such was the influence of Punjabi pop music that Punjab emerged as a home to India’s biggest non-film music industry. There is hardly any hit Bollywood movie without one or two songs of Punjabi pop.

The rapid and impactful growth of Punjabi pop music was the result of many factors like Punjab having a long tradition of music and live performance, fusion of Punjabi culture with other cultures where immigrant Punjabi settled, and rich support of Punjabi diaspora overseas which is a big market. The distinctive features of Punjabi pop are fusion between club, hip-hop, and Punjabi musical styles. It is known for its vibrant, energetic and fast beats wherein lyrics and themes remain Punjabi.

However, a section of this parallel stream of music has given birth to a new trend which is quite disturbing. This trend has invoked the values and themes which are against the very Punjabi culture which they claim to reflect. A section of Punjabi music is distorting the otherwise rich culture of Punjab.

Though this is only a section of Punjabi pop music, this section is increasing in number and in its impact on the populace, particularly the vulnerable youth. The themes of their lyrics are distorting, deforming and degrading the true Punjabi culture.

The following are the main themes of this distorted version of Punjabi culture.

One of the underlying themes of these songs is drug-ism and alcoholism. The lyrics justify and openly entice the youth to have alcohol. The major lyrics revolve around the words such as Daru, Weed, Nasha, Chitta, Vodka (Char Bottle Vodka, Kaam Mera Roj Ka), Whisky, Ahata, Shots, Daru Di Gaddi, Thekha, etc.
The other theme is showing macho power where weapons, use of weapons, firing, killing the rivals, etc, are glorified. These lyrics revolve around shooting, fires, donali, hathyar, glock, pistol, rifles AK-47, etc. Wanton violence is hailed, glorified and justified.
One of the other themes is the use of muscle and political power and its show-off. There is a complete disdain for authority and legal-judicial power and rule of law. Here, the theme of gangster-ism is hailed. The life of a gangster is eulogised.
The other major theme is objectification of women where women are compared and subjected as objects. The major words used are Chikni, Afeem, Patakha, etc.
The other theme is the glorification of ultra-rich, high-end and super-luxurious lifestyles. The theme revolves around costly foreign brands like Gucci, Armani, Prada, Gas, Gap, etc. It also uses words and themes like high-end cars, rich estate, Hummer, Audi, etc.

Music and singers not only reflect the cultural contours of any society, they also set these contours. As per one study by IIM-Ahmedabad, it is observed that youngsters who listen to such songs have a negative attitude towards women and a high propensity to engage in drug use and violence. The lyrics used in these songs are so filthy and obscene that they cannot even be called art, held the study. Such music profoundly influences teenagers’ drug abuse behaviour. The vulnerable teenagers and youth start accepting drug-ism as being ‘cool’ and acceptable norm of the society.
Some songs intend to ridicule, mock and undermine the established authorities like police and the judiciary. It breeds and spreads a culture of criminality and tendency to glorify violence. It is not uncommon in that some of the youths get carried away and carrying a pistol with them openly is a new trend.
In one such instance, in 2019, four teenagers died in a car crash while making a video and listening to the song ‘High end Gadiya, Dehd soh the Chaidya’ (driving a high-end car at a speed of 150 km) and were directly influenced by the song and its singer.
A few singers have been booked by police for inciting violence and bragging weapons. In 2019, the Punjab and Haryana High Court noted that glorification of alcohol, drugs and violence in songs affects children and has given rise to gangster culture in Punjab. This distortion by a few yet impactful singers must be checked by the civil society and the government alike so as the youth of Punjab may get a true idea of the real culture of Punjab.

The writer is an independent columnist. Views expressed are personal.

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By akagami