SURREY — The City of Bhangra Festival gets going this weekend at Surrey and Vancouver venues, and Nick Chowlia sounds excited to take in the series of annual happenings.
“It’s always a great event,” raved Chowlia, whose band, En Karma, is a headliner at the 2017 festival, which runs from June 11 to 17.
The event, billed as the largest bhangra festival in North America, is presented by the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration, or VIBC.
En Karma, with Chowlia on keyboards, will play the festival’s marquee event, Downtown Bhangra, which this year moves from a site in Vancouver to the plaza at Surrey City Hall, from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 17.
Chowlia was among the band’s founding members back in 2006, and four of the original six musicians still play together.
“Our music has changed quite a bit since then, because when we started out, we were after just the Indian market, the Punjabi market, that audience, and we weren’t too much into the festivals and what was happening around Canada,” recalled Chowlia.
“But over the years, especially after losing a couple of band members and rethinking what we were going to do, we looked at our music and who we’re performing to, and decided that what we were doing wasn’t really appealing to the masses we were performing for. So we had to change our music to be a bit more festival-friendly, so to speak. With two members moving on, we’re a bit more electronic now, and a little bit less of that rock-y thing.”
The band’s new sound is showcased in “She Kills,” a song/video released back in February. The track was remixed by Sanjay Seran, singer with the band Delhi2Dublin.
Shot in Vancouver, the video shows the band members jamming out the bhangra beats in a recording studio and inviting longtime pal Seran to join in the vibe.
“That’s the new sound we’re doing, with the changes we had in our (band) lineup, and the next single sees us change it up even a bit more, with sitars and EDM sounds,” Chowlia reported. “Those changes challenge me, for sure, because I play keys and produce the music. It’s about learning new styles and experimenting a bit more with sounds.”
In addition to Chowlia, En Karma today features the talents of Pip Dhaliwal (drums), Inder Kooner (vocals), Ricky Thinda (bass) and Karm Cooner (dhol).
The band, long a favourite on the summer festival circuit, loves playing for crowds in Surrey, said Chowlia, who lives here and works at RedFM as the radio station’s technical director.
“(VIBC) decided to move (Downtown Bhangra) to Surrey and to see how it goes here, but it doesn’t matter to us where it’s held, we’ll go out there and rock it as always,” he said. “It’s a homecoming show for us, and we love performing in Surrey, for close friends and family to see us, the people who have supported us from Day One. And now we have a bit of a different sound for people to hear, so I’m sure we’ll get some feedback from those people, too. It’s great to be home for those reasons.”
The festival’s City of Bhangra event will also feature singer Zora Randhawa, rapper Fateh, DJ Intense (who wrote the music for last summer’s “Suit”), San Diego-based Sabrina and South Surrey resident Kirti Arneja.
The six-day City of Bhangra Festival promises “tons of #BhangraLove” and more than 350 featured performers.
Other festival events in Surrey include VIBC’s Desi Music Incubator, a free, six-hour session set for Saturday (June 11) at Surrey Arts Centre. The event, sponsored by Music BC and Creative BC, offers a series of skill-building and networking sessions for youth interested in music and the music business,
Also in Surrey, a Bhangra Heavyweights dance party happens on Saturday, June 17 at the Crystal at York banquet hall, starting at 10 p.m.
In Vancouver, festival events include the inaugural Reel Bhangra short-film fest June 12 at Vancity Theatre (to include the debut screening of Bhangra City, produced by Delhi2Dublin with funding from Telus), and a performance by Rupi Kaur, author and multi-media artist, at the Vogue Theatre on June 14.
More festival details are posted at vibc.org.