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What’s in a cover? Iconic Bhangra Album Covers

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Chakdey.Com’s writer Nitin gives us an insight into iconic Bhangra Album covers, with commentary from heavyweight creatives Tigerstyle, Heera, Tru-Skool, DJ Swami and Silinder Pardesi. Check out the article which makes for a very interesting read!

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Chakdey.Com’s writer Nitin gives us an insight into iconic Bhangra Album covers, with commentary from heavyweight creatives Tigerstyle, Tru-Skool, DJ Swami, Kuljit Bhamra and Silinder Pardesi. Check out the article below which makes for a very interesting read!

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What’s in a cover? Well imagine Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Bad without their legendary artwork? You probably can’t. For those albums that go on to define a sound, an era and maybe even a whole generation, the cover is arguably as important as the music it contains.

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Usually (but not always) the covers that stand a cut above the rest come from artists that pay almost equal attention to their music as they do their image and marketing. Tigerstyle are a perfect example because they are known to be involved in every last detail of design and branding associated with themselves.

In mainstream music there have been endless articles, lists, debates and all out arguments about great album covers– they are, after all, intrinsically a part of pop culture and will always be, even in this digital age with the physical format’s popularity in decline.

When it comes to UK Bhangra, there have been some truly great covers over the years (and, let’s face it, some pretty horrific ones too); we’re almost tempted to call some of the better ones works of art that invariably should be inducted into some album design hall of fame (if such a thing existed).

Panjabi_MC_Legalised

When Panjabi MC released his Legalised album (Nachural Records, 1998) on an unsuspecting public, little did he know he’d be making music history, even if it did take a few years for that fireball to spread. Legalised’s cover is simple yet incredibly powerful: A field echoes the farmland of the Punjab and by default the music it spawned. The hologram-like images of great singers on the cover (including a youthful Gurdas Maan and Kuldeep Manak, amongst others) leave you in no doubt what the music has in store for you even before you hit the play button. This is the album that gave us Jatt Ho Giya Sharabee, Mirza Part 2 and a track called Mundian To Bach Ke that five years later exploded PMC and Bhangra onto a global level.

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Ten years later, Tigerstyle would also employ symbolic imagery to maximum effect with their Mystics, Martyrs & Maharajas release (Nachural Records, 2008). I remember getting the album on the week of release and listening to it for the first time on full volume and on repeat. The whole time I did I was staring at that album cover– so much seemed to be going on in those 4X4 inches. Damn, some designer in Scotland was pretty clever…Pops from Tigerstyle explains:

We wanted a design that would suit the sound we had created– a lot of the sounds on the album were either contemporary or were sampled from old school records and then rearranged so it was all original. We took images from trips to India, off old school album artwork, even mehndi patterns and some contemporary graphics and mixed it all up. The album art is hugely important to us and we’ve always tried to make the covers work with the sound we’ve created. For ‘Mystics’, I collated a lot of the materials and imagery myself and then our friend and then-manager Manik Singh put the final design together for us’’

Tigerstyle’s experimentation carries through to their current releases and they can easily claim one of the best single covers of 2012 for Ik Banere, illustrated by upcoming artist Inkquisitive.

But it wasn’t always so methodically planned. Rewind to 84 and a massive hurricane was about to rise from the streets of Southall. While Kuljit Bhamra was busy in the studio putting the final touches to Heera’s album Jagh Wagh Mela (Diamond Disc Productions, 1984), his brother Satpaul Bhamra was busy dreaming up a cover for the release. If you know any of the albums from the period, you’ll know just how RADICAL this cover was.

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Satpaul Bhamra remembers,

 I wanted to create a new face for British Punjabis that was modern. The then commonly favoured look of garish colour studio photography wasn’t going to do the job on this album. At the time, I happened to be studying a 1920s German art movement called Bauhaus and their design style seemed appropriate for what I wanted to do. 

Images of band members were considered essential at the time, but a mixed bag arrived late from the artists themselves and which needed to look similar in treatment and this was all in the pre-Photoshop days!  The extra degree of thought in the overall design was intended to stop people in their tracks and make an impression about the band’’

And it did it just that and the rest, as they say, was history. While the glitziness of later Heera albums eclipsed this release for a while, musically Jagh Wala Mela remains a mindblowing piece of music rarely matched even today.

A few years later when the album was finally released on CD, the original artwork was replaced with a then recent colour image of Dhami and Kumar. Record labels take note: changing the original album cover on re-releases is like stripping the recording of its identity; it’s not and should never be done. Thankfully Kuljit Bhamra has since re-released the album on his Keda Records imprint, restoring the original artwork to its former glory.

A strong album cover can also help re-invent an artist. Jazzy B’s transformation from a geeky dresser with a big voice to the rockstar legend he is today was partly achieved through an extreme makeover at the time of the Oh Kedi album (Moviebox, 2001). Comparing this artwork with its predecessor was like comparing a shiny new BMW to an old motor­; was this even the same guy? And where did he get that haircut?? It was a whole new personal image and, as a result, the album cover was miles away from previous releases.

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Although musically not his most cohesive album, this new image, the striking colour-contrasted cover and the megahit that was Naag helped propel him further into the stratosphere.

Then on the opposite side of Jazzy B are the camera shy artists who prefer to identify their releases with designs closer to the music itself. Tru-Skool is one such artist; his debut album alongside Specialist caused one almighty bang when it dropped. Ironically, it would end up being one of the most understated covers of any of the Tru-Skool releases. We asked Tru-Skool to tell us how the design came about:

A guy called Gurj did the design for Word is Born (Easy Life, 2004) he was doing a design course at university at the time and developed it for us on the side. The idea of the cover was a concept Specialist had come up with while I provided the finishing touches and the design was born out of that collaboration”

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The cover to its follow up, Repazent, would go on to represent the folk and 90s hip hop soundclash but my personal favourite is the speaker shattering Raw as Folk (Bazaar Records, 2007) on the sadly short-lived Bazaar Records. The cover told it like it was: it was folk, it was raw and your sound system was in for a battering.

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All our artwork since then has been handled by Balraj Singh Sev; he was also the person behind the video production for Gabru Panjab Dha. The concept for Raw as Folk was Balraj’s idea, showcasing a kid returning from his Dholki/Dhol lesson and the streets of Punjab. What’s more, it completely tied in with the album name. In terms of the layout, fonts and positioning that was all arranged by me”

Carrying on with albums Tru-Skool has been involved in, the cover to JK’s debut album Gabru Panjab Dha (VIP Records, 2011) followed on from four strong singles each with its own distinctive cover; the album itself features JK in four different shots encompassing both modern and traditional styles. Although the music certainly will, it’s too early to say whether this cover will live on like some of the others featured here but it’s probably one of the biggest contenders of the last few years.

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I have to confess that moody images of artists win hands down for me over smiley ones which brings us nicely to probably my favourite Asian cover of all time. Now this is what I call an album cover! What’s more, this is the type of music your mother warned you about (if only she could even begin to fathom the concept of a Bhangra rap electronica mash up). Whenever I pick up DesiRock (Roma, 2004) by Swami (the cover features DJ Swami, a very young looking S-Endz and ex-member Sarpanch); it shouts out only one thing to me: I’m BIG and I know it. Diamond Duggal, aka DJ Swami, explains the concept behind the cover:

We tried to achieve two things with the coverfirstly a direct connection between the listener and ourselves by facing directly at the camera without hiding behind sunglasses or posing. We wanted it raw, in your face and streetwise. Secondly, getting the logo across which was combination of classic Indian patterns mixed with a motorbiker type logo. You can’t get more DesiRock than that!”

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S-Endz, aka Casey Rain, continues…

“With the artwork as well as the music, we tried to take risks that nobody else seemed to be taking to create a truly unique and innovative release. We’d hoped that people would see that artwork on display in the music shops and online and be drawn to it, even if they’d not yet heard the music’’

This is one album where the cover is very much part of the music; all Swami’s albums have had unique and well thought out covers but if ever Asian album imagery deserved to achieve cult status, this was it.

Further proof that sometimes the simplest of ideas, well executed, can be the most effective. With the exception of the Heera cover, it wasn’t until the late 80s that something different started to emerge, notably the New Pardesi Music Machine’s Pump up the Bhangra and the completely off-the-wall (for the time) cover with caricatures of the band members in the shape of Shake Yer Pants!! (OSA, 1990). Such a design probably wouldn’t cut it today but back then the cover reinforced this big bold new band that were experimenting and taking UK Bhangra through its next sound evolution. With Balbeero Bhali becoming one of the biggest hit tracks off the album, the album cover itself was probably the single most recognisable release of the time.

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Silinder Pardesi filled us in on how the cover came about:

We wanted a cover that would appeal to a young and Westernised British Asian audience and at the time the cartoon concept really achieved that while also appealing to so many other different people too. It was drawn by a world-renowned artist who had also famously drawn comedy legends Laurel & Hardy!”

In fact, I don’t think I could listen to this album without seeing that cover image in my mind; this is how strongly linked to the music it is for me and that stands true today for most of the music I’m into. We live in an audio/visual world and the digital cover (and music video) have become as important as the music itself.

The good news is that trend seems to be catching on in India too with design companies like Tingling producing total artwork packages for artists. Just check fairly recent releases from Diljit Dosanjh and Gippy Grewal over the last few years for the effort going into both inserts and covers.

In the UK, so many recent single releases have completely unimaginative covers– while there’s undoubtedly an appeal to dressing up in the latest trendy clobber and photoshop-ing yourself to the max, we’re not sure these generic album covers will stand the test of time like some of the iconic imagery above. Somewhere around the corner though is that new album with its off the hook artwork that’s going to hopefully blow us away all over again.

Which Album covers have got your attention and what do you see as iconic bhangra artwork? leave a comment below!

Article Categories:
Articles · Bhangra · News · Nitin
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http://www.chakdey.com

Music Mad, Bhangra Addict, Film Buff, Health Freak. Calls London home.

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