A swish of beaded cerulean silk, jingles of hammered gold, the rousing ring of a tabla and it's on, desi darlings. Over the course of the past three years, the monthly Non-Stop Bhangra club night has drawn to the Rickshaw Stop's dance floor hundreds of often barefoot revelers eager to lose themselves in the rum-tum-tum of the deep dhol drums, the rippling chimta claps, and the spiky electronic accoutrements that make up the unique and funky, Punjabi-by-way-of-London bhangra sound.
Gloriously collaborative, Non-Stop Bhangra got its start in 2004, when DJ Jimmy Love joined forces with Suman Raj-Grewal and Vicki Virk of the Dholrhythms dance troupe to bring bhangra and the popular art of Punjabi dance to a larger audience and to bring the party, of course. Each Non-Stop Bhangra night includes live dhol drumming and other accompaniment; an eclectic roster of global-minded DJs mixing traditional Punjabi tracks, new compositions, and tabla-tinged remixes; better-than-Bollywood visual projections; and live painting by Marcus Murray, who creates a different piece of art for each event. The night is capped off with performances by the gorgeous Dholrhythms dance troupe, whose stylized whirling and fluid poses send many a heart a-flutterin', this writer's included.
"Bhangra is such a joyous form of expression and can be done by anyone, regardless of age, size, gender, and background," the Punjab-born Virk says. "It's truly universal." A former attorney licensed with the California State Bar Association, she left the staid world of lawyering to pursue her dreams of dance and helped found Dholrhythms in 2003. "I'm just so incredibly pleased that we've had such a successful three years bringing this form of music and dance to a larger audience and to expand the scope of people's impressions about it all," she says. "It's quite a dream come true."
Virk believes firmly in the spiritual association of music and dance with what she calls people's "duty as divine beings to discover passion and manifest our highest potential in order to fulfill life's purpose," and with Raj-Grewal, she has initiated dozens of Dholrhythms students into the world of bhangra bliss. (Non-Stop Bhangra nights also serve as showcases of her students' newfound Punjab prowess live onstage.) But beyond the spiritual sphere, the event has also served as a nexus of the Bay Area's world music scene, embracing, supporting, and absorbing sounds as disparate as the stony Jamaican dub pyrotechnics of the Dub Mission crew, the lively Southeast Asian electro and breakbeat mischief of Surya Dub and DJ Maneesh Tha Twista, DJ Cheb i Sabbah's longitude-hopping dance music fusion, J-Boogie's urban hip-hop amalgams, and the Francophone Afrobeat stylings of Soul Afrique all of whom have made storied appearances behind Non-Stop's decks.
Earlier this year Non-Stop's nonstop popularity was affirmed with a packed headline gig at one of Stern Grove's summer Sunday concerts, and the crew has recently performed at 1015 Folsom, Pier 39, the Harmony Festival, and the Power to the Peaceful Festival in Golden Gate Park, where the Dholrhythms dancers were greeted rapturously by an audience of 40,000. "Bhangra has grown into something the US can embrace, because we believe in a scene where a mix of cultures can all come together to dance and enjoy wonderful music," Virk says. "Non-Stop Bhangra is about nonstop expression and acceptance of yourself and others."