“Bhangra is about sharing Punjabi culture. It has the joy and beauty of folk music, but it’s not inaccessible like classical dance. Bhangra connects people,” explains Vicki Virk, Co-Founder and Dholrhythms Creative Director. “Non Stop Bhangra is a cultural experience as well as a night-life experience… it’s for the young and the young at heart” comments Suman Raj, Co-Founder and Dholrhythms Business Director. “The beat at the base of bhangra is undeniable and something that ignites the dance floor the second the music starts” adds Jimmy Little, also known as DJ Jimmy Love, Co-Founder and Producer. Non Stop Bhangra is a contagiously uplifting, ridiculously exuberant opportunity to experience the joy that is bhangra. Rooted in Virk’s Punjabi heritage, the event reflects San Francisco’s diverse music scene and draws hundreds from across the Bay Area each month.
Non Stop Bhangra was founded in 2004 in San Francisco when Virk and Raj, the founders of Dholrhythms Dance Company, joined forces with Love. The result is an experience regularly voted as one of the “best dance parties” by a variety of sources including the New York Times and the San Francisco Guardian. On the second Saturday of every month Public Works transforms into a kaleidoscope of wildly different people all moving to the beat of the dhol. The event is “accessible to a wide range of audiences, ages, and ethnicities. Even the most dedicated wallflowers get out on the dance floor,” says Virk. The opening of the event is welcoming, with a bhangra lesson and performance before the night gets going. “NSB has a lot to offer in just a few hours. A dance lesson which incorporates a history of the music and dance form, a chance to see choreographed performances… and the ability to get your dance on and still be home by midnight. If you’re a night owl, you can dance your feet off until three in the morning,” explains Raj.
“NSB has a cult following. It’s a chance for our diverse monthly collective to come together and celebrate the music and spirit of bhangra,” says Virk. Each month NSB features a different theme, blending bhangra with reggae, Bollywood, Latin, hip hop, or world music. August’s theme is “Crash an Indian Wedding.” No ceremonies are involved, just the joyful experience of a wedding reception. “Indian receptions are full of energy, great music and lots of dancing. You can get dressed up, bring friends, family, or strangers… enjoy some eats, music and dancing without the long boring speeches” says Raj. “We are working on everything from henna to photo booths, Indian food and sweets from New Delhi Restaurant, as well as San Francisco’s first baraatmob along the streets of the Mission to the doors of the club” shares Love. “We’re going to decorate so it looks like a wedding, we expect everyone to dress up in vibrant colors, and the DJs will be spinning Hindi, Punjabi, and American wedding songs all night with a live dhol” adds Virk.
Dholrhythms, which performs every NSB, brings traditional bhangra andgiddha to the stage while featuring Virk’s distinctive cross-over choreography. Known in the Bay Area as a vibrant group of “bhangra-istas,” Dholrhythms has performed at events including TEDxSF, the Stern Grove Festival, and the Goldman Environmental Award Ceremony as well as dancing at shows across the western United States and Canada. Dholrhythms brings the color to the stage, and DJ Jimmy Love brings the beat that makes NSB. Described as “pretty desi for a white guy,” Love is the magic managing the decks. Along with dholi and DJ Ravi Sandhu, Love keeps the dance floor moving. “We have always tried to share our love of Punjabi culture with a wider audience while holding true to an authentic bhangra sound. Over the past ten years there’s been a growing desire to find out more about the music [bhangra]… we strive to build local artists up by turning them onto the music” says Love. The result is a distinctive experience that entices everyone. “We bring in Indian DJs and they tend to go sideways, they start experimenting with hip hop and house. Our non-Indian DJs are really creative. They play what feels good, and end up surprising the desis on the dance floor when suddenly they pull out an old song people haven’t heard in years,” comments Virk.
“NSB is not just a niche thing. It’s reflective of San Francisco,” notes Virk. This translates into a dance floor that features Punjabis steeped in bhangra next to total newbies. “When you get a group of desi guys dancing on the floor, it’s uplifting. It’s contagious. They start teaching other folks. They see their culture being shared with non-Indian folks… the more Indian folks can embrace this and come out the more this can grow in a positive direction,” says Virk. NSB is unique in that it draws, and harmonizes, traditional Punjabis with a crowd from across South Asia and the US. “The purpose is to make people happy. When we come together we can forget our differences and remind ourselves of the goodness and sweetness in life,” shares Virk. Each person leaves NSB a little sweeter, a little sweatier, and certainly a lot happier. Apparently her philosophy is working.
Saturday, August 11. 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Public Works, 161 Erie Street, San Francisco. Tickets: $10 advance, $15 door.