How Brampton, Toronto help encourage rising Punjabi music scene

Apr 21, 2022 | Arts

Raj Ghuman is on a musical mission. The Brampton resident lamented the loss of traditional music from Northern India to seek and find songs and music that were fading away into time.

She is now being recognized for her endeavours to remind Punjabi Canadians of their musical roots.

“I taught and reminded others that there are so many traditional music and songs that were in our culture, but no one is singing them and it’s going to die out very soon,” she said. “So, then I went back to India back and wrote a song for Lohri.”

Ghuman, originally from India, elevated her music career in Canada with the help of friends and shared cultural values through her music.

Her remix of the traditional song Massan Leya, Lohri Girl and Boy, represents the Lohri festival, which celebrates the harvest season and fertility in Northern Indian communities, according to the non-profit organization Art of Living.

The recording struck a chord as the 2017 song had 3.1 million views on YouTube.

“When girls and boys are born, people celebrate Lohri,” Ghuman said. “I wrote a whole album for that festival in India and people liked it so much that I have kept that tradition and I kept that music alive.

“I wanted to change the music industry. I don’t go after the rhythm, I go after the words, those can change your life,” she said.

In the Toronto area, many organizations support the rise of culturally diverse artists.

Sandeep Chahal is the founder of Laal Button in Mississauga, is an organization providing a safe space for new immigrants from Indian and South Asian backgrounds, so they can share their passions in the performing arts.

Chahal’s organization provides aspiring artists and creators with platforms for music, storytelling, poetry, stand-up comedy, and other forms of performance art.

“We’re looking at getting people to work as an artist with more audiences, private functions, and more networking,” he said.

“That attracts a lot of new artists who are trying to go on stage for the first time and who are doing well in India but here, they don’t know where to start,” Chahal said.

However, Chahal implies the arts isn’t just about culture, it’s also about religious representation for the Sikh, Hindu, and Islamic communities.

Raj Ghuman says she and her singing group Phulkari, which means floral folk embroidery in Punjabi, attend functions to celebrate ceremonies and remind them of their cultural roots.

“I sing at weddings and pre-wedding functions and we go there to sing traditional Punjabi songs,” she said.

“They’re so happy because everyone forgot everything when they came to Canada a long time ago, they don’t remember the traditions, so I thought I need to do this for my culture,” Ghuman said.

For Ghuman and others immigrating to another country comes with its challenges. However, with the well-rounded support team that Laal Button provides, mental health services are offered helping those adapt to their home away from home and to achieve success with their artistic passions.

However, people like Ghuman’s daughter Harjot, a creative director, singer, and radio host in Brampton, grew up with music encompassing her life, because of her mother’s natural talents.

The two host a radio show called Fulkari.The show discusses topics like the arts and bridging the generational gap between immigrants and first-generation Canadians.

“I went to a lot of musical plays here in Canada with my mom and I ended up acting in many of them, I knew that representation in my culture was important to me since a very young age so growing up in Toronto was an opportunity to do that and it opened many doors for me,” Harjot said.

Representation in music is proven to unify people because of countless events held. Pramesh Nandi, a singer and founder of the non-profit music academy in Toronto, Swar Gunjan, embraces representation by holding events to promote cultural diversity and to showcase various talents in the community, according to the its 2019 annual report.

The academy also focuses on offering musical training with many different types of instruments, including the piano, violin, guitars along with traditional Indian instruments. With cultural diversity being so prominent in the music industry, Brampton and Toronto continue to bestow a home for successful artists and performance arts.

“People are appreciating and getting to know their backgrounds through their music. And in Canada, I mean, the community is growing, and more artists are being recognized,” Harjot Ghuman said.