Kuljit Bhamra is a self-taught composer, tabla player and record producer with an extensive musical repertoire. His name has become synonymous with vibrant percussion performances, and his company, Keda Records, is the pioneering name behind Britain’s largest contemporary Bhangra record label.
Born in Nairobi in 1959, Bhamra moved with his family to Southall, West London in 1961. He learnt to play the tabla by imitating his father as he accompanied Kuljit’s mother, singer Mohinder Kaur Bhamra, who performed devotional songs at local Sikh temples. Bhamra discovered he possessed a natural talent for the tabla, and soon took over his father’s role. Bhamra and his two younger brothers, who played the accordion and mandolin, also performed extensively alongside their mother at private parties at weekends and at religious occasions across the country.
As a teenager, Bhamra’s musical influences included Led Zepplin, and the Bee Gees, global pop music as well as Indian film music, later to be branded as ‘Bollywood’ music.
After years of performing at community events and weddings, Kuljit Bhamra and his family had recognised the lack of contemporary Punjabi dance music available to the diaspora community. Seizing the opportunity to use his skills, Bhamra endeavoured to combine the traditional folk rhythms of Bhangra with a more contemporary, dynamic music beat in order to create dance music for the community. He studied western and eastern rhythms, instrumentation, production techniques, composition, and lyrics. As Bhamra recalls,’…my bedroom was cluttered with recording gadgets, synthesisers, drum machines and a reel to reel tape recorder to slow down recordings so that I could analyse the songs’.