Pali Kaur: Punjabi Music Feeds The Revolution And Attracts Government Censorship

Lest we walk away from this and pretend that they are just doing it for the fame and money, remember the threat of government retaliation is real

Pali Kaur
February 9, 2021 | 3.5 min. read

Music feeds the soul but as we see through the latest output by various Punjabi artists, it also feeds the revolution. 

It is no surprise then that this is becoming a growing concern for the Indian state as it begins to force YouTube to take down music videos that have become anthems for the farmers’ protest. Just another chapter in the ongoing online censorship of Sikh and Punjabi voices.

Punjab’s music is popular, famous, and recognized around the world. 

In the recent past, pop music that glorified drinking and fighting were ubiquitous, now however the streets and villages of Punjab are disseminating a different message -- the message of inquilab. Many living in Punjab have repeatedly mentioned how this shift is one of the positive outcomes of the agitation. 

Although defiance of unjust practices is entwined in our history, it’s just now that Punjabi Sikh Millennials and Gen Z get to see it in practice.  Only in books and from our elders did we hear the stories of how the Khalsa Panth thrived despite history’s attempts to quash our identity and culture.  

I never would have believed that its themes could change so that nearly every major artist has released a protest song within the past two months.  

It is not just major artists though, even little known local performers are channeling Punjab’s collective defiance and changing their lyrics.  Witnessing the artistic output has been awe-inspiring.  

Here are some of my favorites:

Puutha Panga
Traditional desi instruments, a notebook, a Punjabi sunset and a voice with the defiance of a lion.  This unnamed artist’s seering lyrics scared me the first time I heard them.  Is he not afraid of retaliation from Modi’s BJP goons?  Nonetheless, he sings his heart out-- proving that no one in Punjab is acquiescing quietly.  

Delhi to Punjab 
Gurlej Akhtar is the voice of pop Punjabi music.  This song is the first protest song I heard that has a romantic twist to it.  In it, the partner tells her significant other that she will line the path from Delhi with celebratory lamps when he returns victorious from the morcha battlefront.   It is important to visualize such moments.  This song helps those kisaans, majdoors and supporters at the morcha stay motivated and focused.  

Delhi de Bhuleke
Gurshabad is a successful playback singer in Punjabi movies.  This is one of his many songs tied to the kisaan/majdoor revolution.  The track is particularly well-done because it captures Sikhi’s spirit of chardhi kala.  Watch us, he sings to the city of Delhi, do not doubt our resolve.

Kan Khol Sun Dilli Sarkare
How widespread has this reawakening of the Punjabi consciousness spread?  From this and a few similar tracks, it looks like all the way to Lahore.  Pakistan’s Punjabi artists are showing their support by releasing heartfelt tracks of music that show us that borders are created by man and not by God.  Here, writer Sidhu Sabir ends with the line-- you separated our land, you separated our bodies, but no one could separate our hearts.

Protest music does not always have to be overt.  Diljit’s latest recording of an ode to Rihanna is one of the most 2021 things to happen during this movement.  Rihanna’s now famous tweet triggered Modi’s government and forced them to react with such obvious propaganda.  Diljit’s quick turn around and the video’s 1+million views per day are one of the smartest trolls of villain Modi yet.

Giddah Boliyan 
Noor Zara Art is a legendary giddah group.  Here they show up at the morcha during its second week and re-energize a tired crowd.  Noor’s lyrics show the world that boliyan are an artistic manifestation of the surrounding socio-political environment.  Boliyan and giddah are not an isolated and irrelevant art form.  As Noor says in their interview, lok geet is the people’s music and if their boliyan don’t reflect what Punjab is going through right now then their art is worthless.

There are many other artists who have created work that capture this moment in our struggle.  Artists who are reigniting the spirit of chardi kala and revolution.  

Lest we walk away from this and pretend that they are just doing it for the fame and money, remember the threat of government retaliation is real.  

Shree Brar, the lyricist of Kisaan Anthem, suffered an arbitrary arrest and torture at the hands of Punjab Police because of his efforts to use music to inspire people.  Fortunately, he was released on bail just a short while ago.  

Even artists who live abroad are not safe from India.  They could get their visas to India revoked or pay the price when traveling there to promote themselves.  

All these risks however are exactly why this music is so much more riveting.  It is why this revolution is thriving. It might seem dramatic, but to me, these are not just songs, we are witnessing history.


Pali Kaur is a blogger and educator based out of California. She works with immigrant communities, focusing on Spanish and Punjabi speakers. You can find her on Twitter at @wittypunjaban

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