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Simon Fraser University Bhangra Flash Mob

Modern bhangra is based on a folk dance from the Punjab region. It was given a new life in the late 1970s and 1980s by the British South Asian diaspora as an expression of their hybrid culture, incorporating different lyrical themes and musical styles, including those of other British diasporic communities, like reggae. Bhangra has been popular in Canada since the late 1980s, and the cultural concentration of Punjabi-speaking people in the greater Vancouver and Toronto areas have made them important hubs for a thriving bhangra scene.

Gurpreet Sian is from Clearwater, a small town in the Interior of British Columbia with a South Asian community large enough to support a small Sikh temple, where Sian started playing music. He moved to Vancouver for college, and after transferring to Simon Fraser University (SFU), he auditioned for SFU Elite, a recreational bhangra group. This introduced him to the founders of the competitive bhangra team Vancouver International Bhangra Explosion (VIBE). Sian performed with the trail-blazing and international championship group until it disbanded in 2009. 

While a member of VIBE, Sian cofounded SAA with friend Raakhi Sinha in 2005.  They wanted to foster the growing interest in bhangra in the Vancouver area while prioritizing community building and education. They have sought to achieve those goals through an impressive range of performances, presentations and pedagogical projects. In addition to their performances, SAA has taught the first university-level bhangra course for credit in Canada since 2010 at SFU. In 2012, they partnered with the independent high school iLearn DL Secondary School and now run government-accredited courses for students in grades ten through twelve in bhangra and dhol.

For the future, Sian and SAA director of music programs Rayman Bhullar are growing into their role as presenters. They have had several critically acclaimed successes with productions that combine theatre, dance and music. SAA is now organizing its own festival for the summer of 2016 that Sian hopes will become a regular annual site of South Asian content. Sian hopes to provide a literal and figurative stage for South Asian artists. 

Read more about Sian and SAA in the profile in the May/June 2016 issue. 

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