The bhangra fuelled world of daytimers and its glorious 21st century revival

Picture this if you will, in the shadows of afternoon light, thousands of British Asian youths camouflaged in the mundane colours of school uniforms and alibies of staying behind at college to bury their heads in textbooks would successfully evade the watchful eyes of parents. But backpacks that seemed to be bursting to the seams with all the fixings for a dutiful day at the library were stuffed instead with flamboyant shirts, trendy trainers, and startling bright makeup palettes. After all, this would serve to be more practical for an electric afternoon, dancing away to the pulsating rhythms of Bhangra.  

This is the story of the daytimers… 

It was and perhaps still is discussed in hushed whispers, but to really uncover this story, we have to take you back to the colourful decades of the 80's and 90's. If you were there, it may come to you in flashes of Madonna's greatest hits and questionable fashion choices. But, behind the memory of   towering back-combed hair, there lies the wonderful stories of a far more concealed yet powerful South Asian youth culture movement. 

A new generation of British South Asians were coming of age, searching for freedom to explore, express and celebrate their identity and youth. But being the author of this new chapter in their lives when strict parental boundaries, imposing stereotypes and oppressive racism had already seemed to narrate their story would prove to be disillusioning for so many. Only carving a brand-new space would offer the hope of reclamation, and unsurprisingly, thousands would grab it. 

From London to Bradford, South Asian youths would hop on trains and buses to travel across the country to sneak a glimpse at the euphoria of nightlife, all while day still dawned. Gathering together sometimes even in the thousands, you would find friends new and old, different creeds and genders all coming together to relish in this rare microcosm of UK bhangra, dance, and community. 

We caught up with daytimer alumni Davinder Singh, who regularly in attendance at the events as both a performer and audience member gave us an intimate look into what the creation of this new social space would mean for young British South Asians.   

Davinder: As you can understand, our generation at the time, at the age of 15-18 years old, had nothing to do. We couldn't meet other people from different schools and different places, so this was a really exciting place for us to be. It was fresh, exciting, and it was really engaging to see other members of our community getting together and getting down with what was going on. But imagine, technology wasn't as it is now, so we were using pay phones and things like that. It took a lot of planning to get to this point. It was exciting and a rush to attend. 

As Davinder recounts, this distant world before the iPhone and social media had taken over would mean young British Asians had to get creative if they wanted to make a big enough noise to attract the attention of their fellow peers. This, while remaining mindful of the counter task of throwing community members on the prowl for adolescent misdemeanour off the scent resulted in crafty posters announcing the latest daytimer events using subliminal messages pasted on the walls of corner shops, music stores and fast food joints.

Immense dedication and lofty production would go into making daytimer events possible. Eager to know more about why young British Asians invested so much time and resources into this movement, we asked Davinder to share his thoughts on why it would gain so much traction amongst this community.  

Davinder: The English culture was all around us, it was on TV, it was in our schools, it was in our communities, but we as South Asians, didn't have that opportunity to express ourselves, you know. This was something we could do! 

For many, the only exposure to music would take the forms of family gatherings and community events with traditional South Asian music providing the soundtrack. But, at the daytimers, music could be a liberating affair for the youngsters who could explore their identity outside of familial boundaries through music and dance that spoke more fluently with their affinities and identity. 

Davinder: The biggest way that music that we played and listened to at daytimers differed from the music we knew at home or in community gatherings was because the western world was then beginning to influence the Asian world. We loved the western music, the heavy hard beats, especially from the hip hop and R&B world. Then, we love the desiness of the tumbi and dhol, and all those kinds of rhythms. It was that kind of marriage, and especially when the DJ'S at the time were getting all these old school Bhangra tunes and whacking these massive hardcore hip hop beats on top. You could relate to both sides, and I think that was key to what was going on. The type of music we performed at events was always Punjabi Bhangra music, but what we decided to do was mix it, again with those hard hip hop, R&B, dance and garage beats to give it that completely different edge.

Stepping even further back into time, Bhangra's beginnings can be traced back to Punjab when after long, drawling hours of harvesting crops in the sweltering heat, farmers would crave a break from the dull monotony. Thus, the lively jolts of Bhangra moves were adopted by farmers as they worked, infusing the hours with celebration and excitement to make the working day pass by a lot more swiftly than before. Soon enough, Bhangra's infectious energy would be felt in other parts of the subcontinent, becoming the hallmark of major celebrations. Everything from birthdays to weddings could not be complete without the spirited folk dance. As time went on, Bhangra was expanded in meaning, becoming recognised also for the distinct music that accompanied the dance.  

Post World War II saw an influx of Punjabi citizens leave behind the Indian subcontinent and head for Britain, where the promise of an abundance of job opportunities would be difficult to resist. But starting life anew surrounded by strangers and unfamiliar customs that seemed half a world away from the comforting sights and smell of home that could now only be reached in memory or dreams would come with its share of heartache. Packing up keepsakes of home would be essential on the travel list for many, and often these souvenirs would take the form of South Asian dance, stories, and music, all of which oozed with culture and tradition that were too precious to leave behind. Bhangra of course was one of them.

For a new generation of British Asians, Bhangra would hold a special place in hearts for a different reason to their parents. Melding together traditional bhangra beats and rhythms to western sounds, the British Bhangra that was played at daytimers became a way for the youngsters to navigate their bi-cultural identity and the cultural cross-roads they found themselves at, doing so wholly on their terms. And excitingly, this cocktail of sound would capture better still the multicultural environment a new generation of British Asians were surrounded and influenced by.  

SAA-uk: Why was it so important to you and fellow peers who held both a British and Asian identity to explore music through the different genres that were played ay daytimer events? 

Davinder: It was vitally important to explore different music genres and different settings because it allowed you to explore a bigger world out there. If you're just going to thinking about and listening to one particular genre all throughout your life, your knowledge and language will be limited because that's all you know. But, we opened our minds and thought wow, this instrument can work with that instrument, or this vocal can work with this rapper. 

As all good things must, this boundary-breaking movement for so many British Asians would come to an end as attitudes became more progressive and nightclubs more accessible, meaning daytimer events slowly faded into history, but not for long… 

In 2020, when Covid-19 was on the war path and the UK was plunged into its first lockdown, Dj and producer Provhat Rahman began contemplating on the severe lack of representation of brown faces in mainstream culture. Determined to change this, he founded the Daytimers, a platform designed to give creatives from South Asian backgrounds the space to express and champion their stories loud and unapologetically. 

Much like the daytimer movement that came over 3 decades before, this empowering collective is here to challenge the stereotypes that have often sough to define brown people, both within and outside the South Asian community. All the while, by showcasing the talent and aspirations of this community, they are helping young British Asians see themselves thrive in industries like music that for so long has scarcely given artists of colour a seat at the table. 

It's important to acknowledge that while for South Asian communities as a whole, seeing a space where their artistry can thrive on the UK music scene is difficult to come by, for the LGBTQ+ community and women, this space is even more minuscule and at times hostile. Daytimers aim to cultivate an environment of acceptance and inclusion, where marginalised groups can feel safe and supported in pursuit of their art.  

To delve deeper into the work and ethos of a new generation of Daytimers, we spoke with DJ Jameela who gives us an inside look at what this collective means to her as a female artist.  

SAA-uk: Can you tell us about your involvement with the Daytimers collective? 

Jameela: I can't remember the exact time I became involved with Daytimers, but I remember I put out a mix combining Asian Underground with more contemporary & experimental club music for the Leeds-based ‘Not Exotic'. That mix was pretty successful in its reach and caught the attention of some of the existing Daytimers crew at that point. Around the same time, I submitted a draft track that I had made in 24 hours for a compilation they were putting out. It didn't make the cut, but I established a connection with them from then on. In November 2019, they held the first Daytimers up north in Manchester, at a venue called Soup. It was a memorable night; I'd never seen so many brown people at a club before. I went back-to-back with Gracie T for the closing set of the night. It was affirming to meet so many other South Asian people, especially women, in this part of the music scene. I also recorded a mix for the Daytimers' Reprezent Radio show and played at Boomtown as part of a Daytimers stage take over last summer (August 2022). And that's just the beginning --- hopefully! 

SAA-uk: Prior to your own association with the daytimers collective, were you aware of the Daytimer raves of the 80's and 90's, and if so, were they influential to you? 

Jameela: I became aware of the earlier generations of daytimers in my journey of musical discovery. I think the first time I learnt about them was through watching documentaries about British musical subcultues. I think it's important to learn about musical lineage and roots – there's an iconic picture of Radical Sista DJing in a bindi and a salwar kameez, which is one of my all time favourite pictures, ever. Not only does it resonate with the hybrid/fusion nature of my identity as a 3rd gen diaspora kid, combining the western musical practice of DJing and South Asian clothing & jewellery, but it also shows a woman subverting traditional expectations of what and who we are allowed to be and do.  

SAA-uk: How did you discover DJing, and why did you decide it was a career you wanted to pursue?  

Jameela: I've always had a passion for music – there's literally a soundtrack for every moment and every mood. I think collecting and listening to so much music and that being a key way to relate to others (and myself) is what laid the groundwork for becoming a DJ. I never planned to pursue a career in it though, that kind of came to me after I spent some time teaching myself how to use the equipment and getting experience playing out. I'm not sure it would have happened if I hadn't lived with someone who owned turntables & records, or if I hadn't had access to or known about Open Decks nights or found the various groups that support women and other underrepresented groups in music.  I never decided I would ‘become a DJ', I just really enjoy listening to music, curating sets & mixes and creating an atmosphere/environment that hooks people and makes them dance or feel something.  

SAA-uk: What genres of music have influenced your style? 

Jameela: A bit of everything really; I'm a musical omnivore. My journey of musical discovery has taken me all over the place – as a teen I was into music that was rebellious or anti-authoritarian, which resonated with me because my upbringing was quite strict Muslim. So, I've always had an affinity for subcultural art forms: punk, hip hop, 90s rave, dub, Asian Underground. It's hard to specify because I am musically curious and love to dig for old and new sounds, so I am always finding things that inspire me.  

SAA-uk: Having performed at Boomtown festival with Daytimers in 2022, what was that experience like for you? 

Jameela: Well, it happened on a heatwave weekend, so it was HOT! But despite the heat, we managed to keep a crowd throughout the day. It felt empowering to meet so many other brown creatives from all over the UK, and for us to have a stage takeover for ourselves. At one point, Chande on the mic said: ‘Boomtown, you've never seen this many brown people on a stage before! We're making history right now!' – and I think that sums it up! It was surreal.  

SAA-uk: Though performing at Boomtown to a flood of festivalgoers would have been a notable career highlight for you, do you think enough is being done to give female South Asian DJ's the platform to showcase their music on a wide scale?  

Jameela: I think there's more of an effort, in general, to platform underrepresented groups. But there's still issues of one-off token bookings to make lineups seem more diverse, or less pay being offered to play, and stuff like that. It's even worse for music production – today I read that women make up only 5% of music producers! The groups I see putting in the most effort to platform and support particular underrepresented people are usually run by those people themselves. This is definitely empowering because it allows us to take control of our own narrative – the current iteration of Daytimers is an example of that, but I definitely think there is still more that needs to be done to support South Asian women who want to pursue careers in music. For example, this could take the form of grants or equipment donation, or mentorship schemes. I think for the arts in general, it's hard to navigate and sustain a career if you don't have wider support networks, advice, role models, etc.  

If we have learnt anything from the past and present legacy of daytimers it is that South Asian communities will always inspire with their courage to advocate for their place in mainstream society to be both acknowledged and celebrated. It is a message as fresh now as it was way back when.  

Find out more about the powerful work of Daytimers here, and discover how original daytimer Davinder continues to champion the need for exciting creative spaces, events and classes for South Asian communities through his organisation Punjabi Roots Academy

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