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Cornershop Take on Punjabi folk

Cornershop releases its seventh studio album featuring Punjabi singer-songwriter Bubbley Kaur

Neha Sharma Apr 05, 2011

Roger Sargent

The British duo of Cornershop has a predilection for music’s past. Tjinder Singh, one half of the duo, can’t emphasize his love of bygone eras enough – “I think the scene with regards to music has been the same for far too long and with modern people doing music it hasn’t changed over the last ten fifteen years” – which explains the use of instruments like a harpsichord from the Seventeenth century on Cornershop and the Double ”˜O’ Groove Of”¦, Cornershop’s seventh studio album. While the kernel of Cornershop’s seventh studio album lies with Punjabi folk, the idea is to “get away from the traditions” according to Singh. The album is inspired by Punjabi folk and Sikh devotional music but seeks to reach out to a larger audience “without using the vehicles that modern Indians do.” In saying this Singh refers to the contemporary form of bhangra which to him is the bastardisation of traditional Punjabi folk. While Singh grew up listening to and admiring Punjabi singers like Mohammad Siddique and the revolutionary A S Kang he believes that Punjabi music got slightly corrupted along the way, “I think it was more inspired by the weddings and rituals, where the artists weren’t allowed to play in the temple any more, they went straight to the reception area. Then gradually things changed, the productions got bigger, basslines came in and all of a sudden people thought ”˜oh this is popular’. And then they thought if this is popular in a room at a wedding then maybe it would popular on the charts and that’s how a lot of commercial songs came to be and that kind of ruined things.”

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This was the first time recording for singer-songwriter Bubbley Kaur who penned the lyrics to most songs on the album. Singh first met Kaur at a cellar gathering in Preston Lancashire. What followed were listening sessions at Singh’s house where they would discuss traditional Punjabi Folk Music, and gradually Kaur started writing her own originals in Punjabi. “We did a lot of listening to records and thought well that’s the sort of sound we want to create, we liked certain records because it was more rural in terms of dialogue. So a lot of different themes came into play when we talked about making music,” says Singh. This culminated in the musical collaboration between Cornershop and Kaur. While Kaur’s Punjabi phrases underline this piece of work, Singh has treated them with varied influences creating very exciting, flavourful sound melds. ”˜Topknot,’ a track on the album in which funk elements flirt with Kaur’s traditional strain, was produced back in 2004 and was the first track the duo recorded with Kaur. The track later inspired a remixed version with M.I.A. guest-rapping on it. While there is lesser guitar work on the album than one would expect on a normal Cornershop record the English influences aren’t compromised. “I think there are lots of surprises. Every song is trying to be different musically and that gives the album its variety while the vocals are pretty much Punjabi folk and there are plenty sound amalgamations ”“ it’s a mix of Asian elements, R&B and a lot of English music.”

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Speaking of the reception the album has got so far Singh stresses on the fact that the outfit’s ever-changing groove is its very asset, “I think it’s gone down better than we expected it to. I think it’s not just with this album, we’ve always done something different with every album, it’s just in line with that. We might have possibly suffered from this as we don’t own a particular sort of sound but we’ve also had longevity through that. People like us and follow us because we keep it interesting for ourselves as well as the audience, I think it creates a good back catalogue.”