Salsa/Bhangra: Transnational Rhythm Cultures in Comparative Perspective


  • Ananya Jahanara Kabir University of Leeds


salsa bhangra transnationalism migration diaspora dance


The dance-music complexes known as “Salsa” and “Bhangra” have not been subjected to any comparative academic scrutiny, despite clear parallels in their respective histories as cultural processes born out of multiple ruptures and conjunctions, including European colonialism, migrations during the postcolonial period, and transnational cultural and commodity flows. While Salsa has resulted from the movement of people, music and rhythmic cultures across Africa, the Caribbean and the United States, Bhangra evinces their movement across the partitioned space of the Punjab, the United Kingdom, and the post-Partition nations of India and Pakistan. Both Salsa and Bhangra have, moreover, moved beyond original regional ambits to become cultural signifiers (albeit often contested as much as claimed) of wider Latino/a and Desi (pan-South Asian) identities respectively. Undoubtedly, it is the academic and cultural embedding of Salsa within a Hispanophone postcolonial paradigm, and of Bhangra within its Anglophone counterpart, that has prevented serious comparative work between these two musical expressive cultures which are equally but differently exemplary of the complex relationship between music and migration. Yet across the world, from Delhi to San Francisco, the two dance-music complexes increasingly meet each other in the same space, particularly that of the dance floor. Drawing on such evidence as well as on personal experience of dancing both the Salsa and the Bhangra, I will advance in this article a theoretical framework for their comparison as transnational musics, suggesting ways in which such a framework can illuminate the circuits of pleasure and politics that traverse each of these dance musics as embodied histories of a traumatic yet life-affirming postcolonial modernity.

Author Biography

Ananya Jahanara Kabir, University of Leeds

Senior Lecturer in Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literature, School of English, University of Leeds