Britain in the 1960s offered Punjabi workers opportunities at the shipyard or the
shop floor, the mill or the market, in a climate of over crowding, resentment
and racism. Against a background of nostalgic yearning for home the first UK
Bhangra and folk bands emerged; the optimistic lyrics of Dev Thrikeanwala
counter pointed by the melancholic poetry of Shiv Kumar Batalvi. People
craved the genuine songs from “back home”; so entrepreneurs with importation
businesses or high street shops set up record labels as well. Initially licensing
compilations of Punjabi music from abroad, as the UK scene matured these
new labels signed the first UK Bhangra artists.
Prominent amongst these was the Oriental Star Agency in Moseley Road,
Birmingham, established in 1966 by Ayub Khan in a small shop selling
transistor radios. He approached EMI in London to license and import Indian and
Pakistani records; the success was immediate. In 1969 he signed local heroes
Anari Sangeet and Bhujangy. Bhujangy’s "Bhabiye Akh Larr Gayee"
was the first recording in which modern western musical instruments were
used alongside traditional Asian sounds.
UK Bhangra bands were booking in to local studios such as Zella in Edgbaston,
Birmingham and then selling their own seven-inch records in local pubs.
Bhangra entrepreneurs were able to mass market these recordings on cassette
through networks of local electrical shops. Later West Midland's successes
included Panjabi MC from Nachural Records of Ladypool Road and Surjit Bindrakhia,
brought to the UK by Roma Music Bank in Handsworth. When bands and artists
sought multinational backing; Apache Indian was able to sign with Island, the
label that brought Bob Marley to the world.