WORK by MOHINDER KAUR BHAMRA

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WORK by MOHINDER KAUR BHAMRA

Mohinder Kaur is a singer and pioneer of Punjabi folk music in the UK. Born in Uganda in the mid-1930s (having also lived in Kenya and India), she moved to the UK with her husband and children and settled in Southall, Greater London, in the early 1960s. 

 

Mohinder reflects on the obstacles for women to develop their singing and musical interests and skills as she was growing up in East Africa and India:

 

‘It was never really allowed to be developed because of the mindset. If you were to do it, then family members would say in a derogatory way “who do they think they are, minstrels?” The general attitude was that geet [folk songs] should not be performed by girls but kirtan [Sikh spiritual hymns] was seen as acceptable. It did not look good to people if we went somewhere and sang geet. So there wasn’t that much freedom to sing at home or outside of the home.’

 

After settling in Southall, she began performing kirtan at the gurdwara (Sikh temple) and soon after started to perform geet and ghazal at events where her popularity rose as a singer. She could sing songs that were appropriate to the setting of a particular event, tailored to the occasion that was being marked. Mohinder’s depth of knowledge of music, the meanings of the lyrics, and of the social customs associated with the music became her hallmark.

 
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The early Punjabi community that settled in the UK from India and East Africa during the 1950s and 1960s had a desire to include traditional music and customs in their wedding celebration. Mohinder had the knowledge and talents to fulfill that need in a growing and consolidating community. Her career as a performer and recording artist took off from the 1970s onwards when she recorded a number of albums in the UK and India including albums with EMI.

 
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Some of her songs addressed the changing community and the shifts that were taking place in England in terms of family, relationships, and work. One song encapsulates the challenges of migration for women in particular:

Ni Aae Na Valayat Kuriye’ (‘Girl, Don’t Come to England’, lyrics by Mohinder S. Khaira)

Ni aae na valayat kuriye

Je tenu ghund kadne da chaa. 

Ni aae na valayat kuriye

Girl, don’t come to England

If you have any desire to keep the veil 

don’t come to England.

 

Ni main supne ‘ch vekhee si valayat 

Ithhe aake akh khul gayee

I saw England in my dreams.

After arriving here, my eyes were opened.

 

Makhanaa de naal meree paalee ni jawanee

Kaarkhaane ‘ch asee arhiye ni rurhgayee

I was raised to be as soft as butter,

After entering the factory, I’ll be worn out…

 
 

Mohinder’s most well-known and popular song to date is ‘Gidha Pao Haan Deo’. It has become a classic and is still requested and played regularly at wedding events and on South Asian radio stations in the UK.

 
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Photo credit: Ammy Phull

Mohinder has received music industry awards, and for her services to the South Asian and Punjabi community in the UK. She has played a formidable part in challenging barriers for women to perform professionally and paved the way for future generations.

 

Profile photo credit: Gail D'Almaine