Bruin Bhangra and I go way back. I mean way back. All the way back to the year 2000. This was the first competition I had ever seen, and I didn’t even see it live (that was a pretty big deal in the pre-YouTube days). When my infatuation with bhangra first started, Sherry, one of the leaders of the bhangra team at UCI, had videos of Bruin Bhangra 2000 and 2001 (on VHS). The only performances I remember from those years were both by People’s Bhangra (from UCSD). Okay fine, I also remember the performances by UCI but that’s only because they also performed at our culture show. People’s Bhangra changed the game before there was a game to change. Take a look at part of their video from Bruin Bhangra 2001. When watching this, try to take into account that this took place over 10 years ago. Yes, it is not that impressive if you compare it to what teams do today, but for that time period, they were revolutionary. They put on clean, extremely entertaining performances, and their ‘doctor gimmick’ was what opened the door to the whole gimmick trend that followed over the next decade.
Moving on, in 2002, I attended my first Bruin Bhangra as a performer for UCI’s Rangla Punjab. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a video of that performance, but maybe one day, I’ll find one on an old VHS tape. Then I’ll just need to find a VCR (if they still make those) to watch it on. Bruin Bhangra 2002 was held at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center and featured one of the first international lineups that the bhangra scene had ever seen. With teams coming from the Bay Area, the East Coast, and even Canada, this was the year Bruin Bhangra was put on the map. It didn’t hurt that they sold out a 3,000+ auditorium. In one year, Bruin Bhangra went from a local competition held on UCLA’s campus, to a huge international event. That competition was memorable in so many different ways to me, personally, and to the bhangra scene as a whole. To list a few of the highlights:
- My first time performing in Southern California
- VIBE’s first time coming to California and putting on a performance that had the entire audience (including the judges) standing for the majority of the routine
- Khalsa Junction’s very first time competing
- The beginning of the progression from patis (bandana type head bands) to pags (turbans) – In the pre-2002 years, almost all teams wore patis. Between 2002 and 2003, it was almost as though an unwritten had been written (if that makes sense) because every team made the transition from patis to pags.
The next year, I returned with UCI’s Rangla Punjab to Bruin Bhangra 2003 to capture 2nd place (check out the video here if you haven’t seen it already). Bruin Bhangra 2003 was held at the Orpheum Theater and, once again, had a sold out crowd. It seemed like the sky was the limit. Surprisingly, the Bruin Bhangra 2003 Website is still online and includes all the teams and performers that participated. In 2003, I graduated from UCI and took a break from bhangra since I was on the road traveling a lot for work. However, I was able to make it down to LA to attend Bruin Bhangra 2004. The competition moved to some huge warehouse type of place (Grand Olympic Auditorium). This was definitely a mistake. Even though the new venue could hold nearly 10,000 people, it just wasn’t right for a bhangra competition. Bruin saw the error in their ways and moved the competition back to the Long Beach Performing Arts Center the following year. In 2005, I attended to watch my brother, Osman, perform with UCI Rangla Punjab. In 2006, I did not get to attend, but I think my brother performed with Punjabi Soormay (could be wrong).
In 2007, for the first time, Bhangra Empire applied to Bruin Bhangra. Sadly to say, we did not make the cut, and were rejected that year. I like to think of it as a blessing in disguise, because instead we went to Bhangra Nation in Vancouver and won first place for the very first time. I did attend the competition as a spectator, and remember thinking how our routine that year would have been perfect for the Bruin crowd.
This brings us to 2008, where Bhangra Empire finally got to perform at Bruin Bhangra. This was one of my favorite performances of all time and we walked out with a 2nd place finish (check out the video here if you haven’t seen it already). We followed it up with returning in 2009 and taking home first place (video). Due to scheduling conflicts, we couldn’t attend in 2010 or 2011. If you’re keeping count, since it’s inception in 1999, I have attended 7 of the 13 Bruin Bhangra’s. That’s not too bad for somebody who hasn’t lived in Southern California since 2003. And that brings us to Bruin Bhangra 2012 which takes place this Sunday at the Saban Theater. Bhangra Empire returns to the stage and the southern california audience after a 3 year absence. But things are a little different this time around. Stay tuned for my next post coming later this week which will include a pre-competition breakdown of all the teams, and an update on Bhangra Empire’s journey to Bruin Bhangra XIV.