Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Killing in the Name of Good Music

The British Asian community has lost its beloved band Cornershop to the white middle-class masses.

No wait, British Asians never ever gave a shit about Cornershop because they always considered them too honky sounding.

Actually, come to think of it no one of any colour really gave a shit about Cornershop. They've not been relevant since circa 1997 when Norman Cook's poptastic remix of Brimful of Asha scored a No. 1 radio-friendly smash hit single for the band that was played to death.

Last week saw the release of Conershop's 6th studio album titled Cornershop & the Double-O Groove Of which the band has put out themselves on Ample Play. It charted at a pretty respectable 24th place in the UK Indie album chart, slotting nicely in between Fleet Foxes and Suede's Greatest Hits.

Double-O Groove Of is a pretty special album because it's probably the closest Cornershop has got to replicating the magic of their breakthrough album I Was Born for the 7th Time which was staple sonic fodder for most students in the late-1990s.

Cornershop's Tjinder Singh talks about the new album ft Bubbley Kaur by cornershop

What's remarkable about Double-O Groove Of is that it's not actually a Cornershop album in the traditional sense. Tjinder Singh's - frontman and, along with Ben Ayres, the brains behind the sound of Cornershop – distinguished vocals feature nowhere on the album. Furthermore, the album is not in the English language as it's purely sung in old-fashioned Punjabi by an unknown thirty-something Lancashire housewife called Bubbley Kaur who also wrote the lyrics. Bubbley Kaur isn't even a professional singer; she is in fact a blue-collar Northern lass who was discovered by Tjinder Singh while working at a kitchen-sink launderette somewhere in Preston.

Yet Double-O Groove Of is in every way a Cornershop album. It may take its inspiration from the Punjabi folk music of my dad's era but it is still a hip-hop album. In fact, to call this an all out hip-hop album may be short-sighted. The album is as much in the tradition of cockney kings Chaz and Dave as it is in the style of Beastie Boys and Outkast. It pinches the rhythms of classic kids' fare like Rainbow and Sesame Street by way of funked up beats redolent of Handsome Boy Modeling School. It is as English sounding a record as it is a product of Indian classical music traditions. This is an album for the 21st century where sounds, customs, cultures, ethnicities, and languages are malleable, contorted in wondrous ways that shouldn't gel yet somehow they do.

Cornershop have been going for 20 years now. The band's core team consists of Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres who met in the late-1980s when both were students at Lancashire Polytechnic. (The band comes from a time when those who hadn't been educated in the expensive way could still land record deals based on talent and not contacts.) Bubbley Kaur first met Singh in the mid-1990s in Preston, and met again a decade later in a launderette opposite Islington Town Hall where she was doing the service washes. A taxi driver friend of Singh's had heard Kaur singing at a wedding reception and encouraged him to record with her.

Initial recording sessions for Double-O Groove Of took place around 2004 at Singh's own Sassy P Studios. The first track they recorded was Topknot, initially released as a stand-alone single and was played heavily by the legendary Radio 1 DJ John Peel. Topknot topped end-of-year critics' choice lists and made the lower reaches of the UK chart, while a remix of it by Pulp's Steve Mackey, featuring M.I.A., got picked up by many influential U.S. hip-hop DJs.

M.I.A - Topknot by warrior empire

Topknot now, thankfully minus the M.I.A. rap injection, nestles as one of ten remarkable tracks on the Double-O Groove Of.

It's difficult to define what genre the Double-O Groove Of belongs to but it is very easy to deduce the album is the work of Anglo-Asians. Cornershop may have been hijacked by hipster white guys but its soul, for better or worse, very much belongs the Brit Asian culture it sprung from. Tjinder Singh told John Lewis (The Guardian journalist and not the department store) that in the formative years of Cornershop he was telling his parents he was not in a band and was working in a corporate role at a record label. Singh explained to Lewis: "You need that to protect [yourself] from people, in your own community and in others, who might not like what you're doing. When we started out we got death threats." Singh went on to say: "I think that desire for anonymity is an Asian thing."

Perhaps this explicates why Singh and Ayres seem like protective big brothers to Kaur. So protective in fact that "Bubbley Kaur" isn't actually her real name, but a pseudonym (a random line from Cornershop's 2002 track Wogs Will Walk).

It's hard to figure out why the Brit Asian community reacted with such hostility towards Cornershop. It was around about the same time as Cornershop's inception that pioneering London band Asian Dub Foundation were also starting out and were as equally unenthusiastically received by the Brit Asian community. A few years later experimental Asian artists like Anjali Bhatia and Trickbaby suffered similar resistance from Brit Asian crowds.

This ostensible contempt towards British Asian musicians may stem from an anachronistic attitude whereby pop music in general is perceived as a lowly and not religiously appropriate hobby, which is a remarkable afterthought considering just how intrinsic music is to the Sikh, Hindu and Muslim faiths.

It may also derive from a festering hatred towards fellow Asians who are perceived to pander to ethnically white crowds, hence abandoning their own community's support by creating music that borrows heavily from Indian sounds but cheapens it by allowing English consumers to casually buy in to it.

Ultimately, I think that it has more to do with pockets of the British Asian community not liking the leftfield styles of bands like Cornershop and Asian Dub Foundation, devaluing the music on account of it not being readily accessible to mentally incapacitated joes who find it difficult to handle anything that isn't in the realm of Ja Rule or Beyonce Knowles.

It's hard to think that someone like Byron Davies of metalcore band God Forbid would get similar threats from the African American community, or that Kevin Nishimura of electro pop group Far East Movement would incur comparable intimidation from the Oriental American society. This tradition of attacking individuals who don't conform to set perceptions seems endemic to the Brit Asian community.

Despite never courting the interest of the desi crowd Cornershop may be the most surprised party in discovering that tracks from Double-O Groove Of feature on the playlists of both Sunrise Radio and BBC Asian Network. The very community that was once poised to brutally slain them is now embracing the band. Maybe it's a sign of the times, or maybe it's just the hardened truth that Brit Asians as a collective mass have evolved and grownup. If anything Cornershop's new album is a glorious paean to the community it comes from; beautifully traditional yet completely unlike anything else out there. Perhaps that's why the band was awarded 'Commitment to the Scene' at this month's majorly touted 2011 UK Asian Music Awards.

Much like Lewis argues: "this new expression of [Cornershop's] music isn't about looking outwards for an audience, but inwards to challenge themselves."

Double-O Groove Of is potentially the best album of 2011 thus far. That's a pretty big claim seeing that 2011 has only been going for less than 3 months and already seen big profile albums launched from the likes of Radiohead, R.E.M. and The Strokes to name but a few. Double-O Groove Of is by far the most daring album you're likely to hear this year as it pushes the boundaries of hip-hop in brilliantly unrecognisable directions. Bubbley Kaur sings in a beautifully saccharine voice that is achingly evocative yet teasingly playful. It's a voice that is in equal parts soothing as it is reassuring, traditional yet brilliantly fits within the crafted beats concocted by Singh and Ayres. It doesn't matter if you can't understand what she's singing (which I largely don't) because her vocal skills transcend language. Kaur's melodic tones are gorgeously matched with Cornershop's body-popping production arrangements that may be eccentric but never elegiac. This is a pure feel-good album for these very bleak times.

Cornershop - United Provinces Of India by TLOBF

Cornershop ft Bubbley Kaur - The 911 Curry by cornershop

This is the kind of music that brings people together, not kill each other. The arrival of Cornershop & the Double-O Groove Of is a licence for Tjinder Singh & co. to walk the streets of Southall, Handsworth and Belgrave in the absolute confidence they won't get decked by thuggish Asian music haters. Instead, we now hail them as paragons of quality musicianship.

Cornershop ft Bubbley Kaur - Once There Was A Wintertime by cornershop


  1. I've never heard of this band, but I did hear Brimful of Asha song, it was one of the most irritating songs of the 90's :))

  2. This new album is way better.

    BRIMFUL was tarnished by the Norman Cook remix, though I still think it's an energetic track that is very much of its time.

  3. Yes, exactly ;>
    Oo, I've never heard of this group.
    What music do they play?

  4. You should check them out. They never make the same album twice. They have a dance side project called Clinton who are great - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9Amx4y73SU

  5. well, I don't have photoshop so i took them by photoscape but just the color , thanks :)

  6. Yes it´s me in the photos :)



  7. Thanks for introducing me to this band. Of course there is no pleasing some people - they just have to make their music and ignore the naysayers.

  8. I remember Cornershop HATED the Fatboy Slim remix. ... And then I thought they disappeared. Good new stuff!

  9. I can't believe I've never heard of this band before! So, I guess that means I've been living under a giant rock. Lol.

  10. I prefer Kula Shaker's Govinda.

  11. Won it.........



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