Bakersfield & Bhangra


I spent some quality time with some of my family in Bakersfield this past weekend. Because my one cousin has always been an encyclopedia of hip hop, I always associated his town with that thumping bass and a love of all things urban. But that was only half the picture – I really didn’t know how deep the country roots ran in the city off of Highway 99. We were in town celebrating the life of beloved Aunt Nina, so after her memorial we went to one of her favorite spots, The Junction, a serious country music karaoke bar on Buck Owens Highway. I’m a karaoke freak, so I decided to do one of my favorite country songs, Cold Cold Heart by Hank Williams. I had some trepidation seeing the hard core cowboys hanging at the bar, but I did my best to do Hank proud. It’s a great song really.


After that I called it a night, but my brother and cousins went clubbing around town, played some pool, and even hit up a club with a rockabilly vibe. Rockabilly scenes have been around Cali for a while, most notably, cowpunk with Los Lobos or X or punk rockabilly with bands like The Cramps or the whole swing thing (Cherry Poppin’ Daddies), but in Bakersfield, is a real connection leading back to the whole “Bakersfield Sound?”

From the wikipedia entry on the “Bakersfield Sound”:

The Bakersfield sound was developed at honky-tonk bars and on local television stations in Bakersfield and throughout California… In the early 1960s, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, among others, brought the Bakersfield sound to mainstream audiences, and it soon became one of the most popular kinds of country music, also influencing later country stars such as Dwight Yoakam, Marty Stuart, The Mavericks, and The Derailers…Newer local artists who are grounded in the old style but add rock and roll and rockabilly include Monty Byrom, Johnny Retsched and the Fabulous Martini Brothers, Fattkatt and the Von Zippers, Hot Taco’s Chuck Seaton, The Ridge Route Romeos, and The Dusk Devils. 800 Lb. Gorilla mixes the Bakersfield Sound with cowpunk in the style of Hank III, while traditionalists Bobby Durham play regularly at Trout’s.

Anyhow, here is one of the most well known exporters of the Bakersfield Sound, Buck Owens with his protégé Dwight Yoakam doing The Streets of Bakersfield:

And an early Buck Owens & The Buckaroos performance of My Heart Skips A Beat:

And someone who really put Bakersfield on the Country music map, Merle Haggard…This is his song, Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down:

…& Bhangra

On Sunday, it was back to LA just in time to meet up with my friends at the Hollywood Bowl for KCRW’s India Calling concert. It was an incredible concert with music from different areas of India, a sampling of the vastness of diversity of music in India. I was also struck by all the families that came to enjoy the music together. Rootnotemusic is about places, community, culture AND music! All music brings people together in one way or another, but when music can cross generations and cultures and become a central focal point for families – it really gets me pumped.


We heard classical Indian music from the Ravi Shankar Centre Ensemble, conducted by his daughter Anoushka Shankar, who performed her own blend of classical Indian sitar with jazz, electronica, and rock. Obviously her father Ravi Shankar is famous worldwide, not only for his bringing Indian music to the world, but his influence on the Beatles. (As a side note, Ravi Shankar is actually the birth father of Norah Jones, who leans more country and jazz. On her debut album, she did her own version of Hank Williams’ Cold Cold Heart.)

I was really entranced when the traditional folk musician group, The Rhythm of Rajasthan performed. Rajasthan is the largest state in India, in the desert area of the country. It’s folk music and dance is central to the culture and the area is known for its colorful art and prints. Here is a video of traditional Kalbelia Dance of Rajasthan, according to the youtube caption the dancer is Sua Devi from Jodhpur, Rajasthan:

The next performer really got us out of our seats, Kalish Kmer’s Kailasa. Honestly he was just a light of glowing humanity – pure goodness. Growing up, Kalish had a love for traditional Sufi folk songs and was inspired by Pakistani Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Kalish’s band Kailasa, with rock/jazz musicians and brothers Naresh and Paresh Kamath, is a fusion of these Sufi-folk songs with modern rock, electronic and funk influences. I can see why they are international superstars.  It’s beautiful music. Here they perform Jana Jogi De Naal live:

The night ended with another Indian star, Malkit Singh, doing Punjabi folk music, more widely known as Bhangra. The crowds went crazy, singing along and dancing in the aisles. I was too – believe me I could not stay put. This bouncy rhythmic percussive music will absolutely move your hips for you. If not, then you might need a pulse check! Bhangra is pretty popular here among US raised Indians, where a lot of high schools and colleges have Bhangra dance teams. It’s also become more mainstream with Bhangra and hip-hop and electronica intermingling in the dances, the music and collaborations with the artists (remember Jay-Z and Punjab MC’s Beware of the Boys?). Here is a Bhangra dance performance I found that is pretty good:

By the way, there are Bhangra dance crews in Bakersfield too – check this out! Family, friends, community, love, and music – what more can I ask for in a weekend!?!

Artists and Links:
Radio Free Bakersfield
The Bakersfield Sound
Buck Owens & The Buckaroos
Dwight Yoakam
Merle Haggard
Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar – Indian Music explained
Anoushka Shankar
Kailash Kher
Rajasthan Folk Series
Malkit Singh

P.S. The picture above of the concert was uploaded by an unnamed concertgoer onto the Hollywood Bowl website – hopefully I’m not violating any copyright here. Guess I’ll find out!

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