The Global Rise of Punjabi Music: Diljit Dosanjh’s Coachella Performance Marks Historic Milestone

Punjabi artist Diljit Dosanjh's appearance at Coachella Festival showed why the sounds from one of India's border states are sweeping the world.

Published: May 9, 2023  |  

Political writer

Punjabi music

Diljit Dosanjh is a Punjabi artist who has gained immense popularity over the years for soulful and lively music that is rooted in Punjabi tradition and culture. His appearance at the 2023 Coachella Music Festival was a significant event for the Punjabi community in India and worldwide.

Coachella is one of the most popular global music festivals. It attracts a diverse range of artists and performers from different genres of music, making it a worldwide platform for showcasing talent. Diljit’s appearance highlighted the growing popularity of Punjabi music. He is the first Punjabi artist to perform at the festival.

The music has a unique and vibrant sound deeply rooted in Punjabi culture. It is known for its catchy beats, rhythmic melodies and meaningful lyrics. Traditional Punjabi music includes genres such as Bhangra, Giddha and Shabad Gurbani Kirtan. Bhangra’s high-energy, rhythmic music style originated as a folk dance, distinctive for its use of the dhol drum and the tumbi. Giddha is a traditional folk dance performed by women and Shabad Gurbani Kirtan is a devotional music style that originated in the Sikh religion, characterized by singing hymns from the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

In recent years new styles such as Punjabi hip-hop and rap have emerged. This fusion of traditional music with modern genres has sparked a rise in Punjabi music’s popularity globally, with songs addressing social and cultural issues facing Punjabi communities.

Diljit’s music is no exception, and his Coachella performance pushed the Punjabi music industry to the forefront of the international music scene.

In addition to his music, Diljit offered a small window into Sikh culture. He is a turban-wearing Sikh who wore a kurta (traditional Punjabi men’s clothing) on stage, showcasing his pride in his cultural heritage and highlighting the importance of identity and representation in the mainstream media.

Not only was his performance at the festival a big success in showing the world the beauty of Punjabi music, it paved the way for other significant Punjabi artists to showcase their talent on a global platform and encouraged the next generation of artists to pursue their passion for music. The exposure and recognition have helped the genre gain a larger audience, breaking down cultural barriers.

Punjabi music’s meteoric rise in popularity can be tracked across other countries, such as Canada. Artist AP Dhillon has taken the Canadian Punjabi music scene by storm, producing viral songs such as Brown Munde and Insane. AP has redefined Punjabi music, seamlessly layering vocals over R&B, hip-hop, and trap beats, producing a distinct sound that appeals to the younger generation. His arrival on the music scene is very recent, however.

Across the pond, the rise of Punjabi music in the United Kingdom has been nothing short of phenomenal in the past two or three decades. From the early 2000s, when Panjabi MCs’ tracks such as Mundian To Bach Ke made their way into mainstream clubs, to today’s Punjabi music artists collaborating with British rappers, the style has found a significant place in the U.K.’s music scene.

Punjabi music began to be mixed with old-school garage beats. This fusion of genres created a unique sound popular among the British South Asian community, with artists such as Rishi Rich, Dr Zeus and Jay Sean gaining popularity. Songs such as Dil Karda and Aja Mahi were remixed to the new underground beats, creating classic Punjabi-garage hits. DJs such as Yung Singh have carried the torch forward, headlining Boiler Room sets worldwide, ushering in a revival and new era of Punjabi-garage underground music.

The genre has now developed into a more urban sound, with Punjabi artists collaborating with British rappers and producers and incorporating elements of hip-hop and grime into their music. Artists such as Steel Banglez, Mist and Jaykae have collaborated with Punjabi artists like the late Sidhu Moose Wala to create a fusion of sounds that appeals to a broader audience. The song 47 has more than 59 million views on YouTube. 

The growth of Punjabi music in the U.K. and the United States is not just limited to collaborations with British and American artists. Punjabi performers are also breaking new ground by experimenting with sounds and genres while continuing to incorporate traditional instruments and beats. Sidhu Moose Wala’s collaboration with Nigerian artist Burna Boy, alongside Diljit’s rumored new track with DJ and music producer Diplo, are just a couple of examples showcasing the genre’s global reach. 

This worldwide rise can be attributed to the creativity and innovation of the artists and producers who have sought to modernize, adapt and maintain traditional Punjabi sounds to incorporate with contemporary music genres. Its appeal continues to evolve, inspiring new artists to explore this genre, pushing it to greater heights. 

Punjabi music has always been an essential part of Punjabi culture, and its increasing visibility on the global stage has given Punjabi people a strong sense of pride. For Sikhs, the genres growing mainstream appeal has also provided an opportunity to promote Sikh issues, values, and history to a broader audience, helping to build greater awareness and understanding of the religion worldwide. 

Artists like Diljit Dosanjh are putting the Punjabi music industry—and the state of Punjab—on the map, introducing a new generation of music lovers to the rich cultural heritage of the region.

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