Achanak burst onto the scene in 1989 with their debut album NACHurally on the Multitone label. The album had one of the biggest dance tracks of all time in “Lak nu halla de”, and Achanak had hit the big time with this album.
Achanak like many of the late 80’s bhangra bands were mainly UK born and bred, and they saw their music as a fusion of all the influences they grew up listening to. They wanted to incorporate those sounds – be it pop, reggae, rap, etc in their music yet retaining the traditional vocals. This was perhaps a nachural (see what I did, clever) evolution within the UK bhangra scene, as the second generation of British Asians had been exposed to western music, they wanted those sounds replicated in the desi music scene too. It’s one thing to fuse all those sounds into your music, but it’s another thing to do it well and make your product stand out from the crowd. Achanak were a band of talented musicians (Viv, Sukhy, Niraj and co) fronted by Maths teacher Vijay Bhatti, and their production was always slick, they always seemed to know what the punters wanted and delivered it. Achanak appeared on several TV programmes back in those days such as channel 4’s Band Baja, Network East, Bhangra Beat, their popularity was soaring.
Achanak were very much a leading exponent of the buzzing live scene of that time. Bands would be playing up and down the UK at gigs during the week alongside a busy wedding schedule too, then there’s the hours spent in studios recording albums. All this whilst still having jobs – you have to take your hats off to the bands of that era.
So let’s kick off the first review with Achanaks second album which was an 8 track classic titled PaNACHe also on the Multitoned record label. All the tracks on this album were written by K S Dyaalpuri with the exception of “Chad Ke Na Jaavi”. Dyaalpuri does seem to be an Achanak favourite, and regularly used to write the majority of the songs on their albums.
The first track is Dil Vajda which starts off with the sounds of a heart beat before Vijay takes over. This is a fast beat track and is brilliantly produced by the band. Achanak certainly excel in fusing all the various influences within their music, and this track is a perfect example. Achanak have set high expectations with the first track of this album.
The second track is another dance track – “Tenu Kehnde”. Not quite the same tempo as the first track but still a very good track, well produced and well sang.
It’s the next track that most people will have heard of – “Har Gunga”. This was remixed by Bally Sagoo on his Wham Bam 2 album later. The track is excellent and the hoye hoye’s (which were a vital ingredient in every song back then) add to the boisterous track. This track alone is worth the money paid for the album. This is an anthem folks.
The next track “Munda dekh da”, opens with the slick keyboard skills, the tempo is once again slowed down ever so slightly. Vijay is once again in top form on this track, and the production is now consistently of a very high standard on every track on this album.
The last track on side A (Phantom of the Bhangra Zone) opens with the lovely black country accent informing us “yam about to enter the Bhangra Zone”. The track is not my cup of tea personally, but nevertheless is well produced and sung. The subject matter is ghosts, so I guess it’s something different. There are all the sound effects you’d expect from a Stephen King horror in the background here.
Side B kicks off with Jor Denhee, another dance floor banger from back in the day. Achanak seem to have a knack for belting out the bangers on this album.
Whoever says that Bhangra artists didn’t tackle social, economic, and political issues of the day clearly hadn’t come across Achanak. The next track titled “Dhol Tax” deals with the dreaded Poll Tax in a humorous manner. They even hired the Spitting Image impressionists to imitate the cabinet ministers of the day. Theres a funny intro with an exchange between a Punjabi and the airport authorities regarding the tax payable on his dhol.
The next track is “mere yaar da viyaah”- a typical wedding song from that era, with the Achanak treatment.
We wrap up proceedings with Vijay singing a song that he himself wrote – “Chad Ke Na Jaavi”. This is a senti song for the 24/7 dukhi crowd out there.
Ninder Johal who played the tabla for Achanak, founded the Nachural Records label. Ninder gave the industry the much needed emphasis on marketing, a release strategy, and a focus on image. Nachural Records provided punters with release date for all upcoming albums, and in most cases they were able to stick to those dates. PMC had been releasing material on the underground scene, and had been courting controversy with some of his rapping. Ninder took a gamble on him and signed him up, and the rest as they say is history. Artists like Avtar Maniac, Saqi, Shaktee, Anakhi, Toofan, Frantic Brothers, Intermix and many more were signed up by the new label. As explained in a previous article, Nachural wanted to push Bhangra to the mainstream by selling albums in mainstream shops such as HMV and Virgin. Bhangra artists had for many years been shifting enough units to comfortably enter mainstream charts but because there was no official record of these sales they were not getting the recognition.
Achanak were quite a stylish band, they would dress in Ciro Citterio suits for performances. That style was again a move orchestrated to focus on image of bhangra bands.
Achanak’s 3rd Album was released in 1991, and the much anticipated 9 track album was titled “SigNACHure”. Let’s give it a spin..
“Dhol to vajja” kicks off the album, the lyrics are by Dyaalpuri once again. Achanak have once again managed to find the right formula to fuse the various elements into this opening track, and it sets up thing nicely for the remainder of the album.
The interestingly titled “Dum Dum Dumkoo” is next up and picks up the baton from where the previous song left off. Another fast paced track, and Vijay once again delivers a dance floor number.
“Goodie” is a song originally sung by the Pakistani superstar Noor Jehan for an old Pakistani movie. Achanak and Vijay show great versatility by covering this track in a manner which not only respects the original but also has the unique Achanak sound stamped all over it.
“Kurrie nee Sun Kurrie” is the next track, and we are back with the sound of the dhol and plenty of Hoye Hoyes for good measure.
“Sohnee Nach Dee” is a two paced track, with Vijay almost at talking pace at times. A very experimental track I’d say, but it certainly works.
“Bhangra Paa Lehn De” is the track that Achanak produced a video for on this album. I’ve tried to find it on line, but not been able to source it. This is another great track, and one where Vijay on vocals has exceled. It does really seem that Dyaalpuri and Achanak are a match made in heaven.
“Hai Margaye” is a very witty track which is infused with reggae beats. During the track we hear the voices of 3 characters discussing reggae music and Punjabi vocals, and the valetti in the trio mistakes the “Hai Margaye” for “Hail Marley” (as a tribute to Bob Marley).
The next track is a remix of “Dhol to Vajja”, another slick well produced track.
The 90’s saw a big boliyaan revival, and almost every album included at least one set of boliyaan. Achanak have used this opportunity to showcase all the types of influences on their music. Where else would you see Vanilla Ice, Pankaj Udhas, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Scooby Doo, Donald Duck, and many more one track. They even manage to include “Angreji mey kehte hain I love you” from the Bollywood movie Khudaar. This is not your typical Boliyaan for sure, its Achanaks signature boliyaan. Yet more proof that Achanak pushed the boundaries for even traditional boliyaan. After listening to this album you can see easily why Achanak were at one point considered one of the best bands around.
1992 saw Achanak release sNACH. This was a 6 track album, which saw them collaborate with the likes of EWC (East and West Connection compromising of DJ Al-Naresh and MC 40Duce) and Cultural fx (who had previously released an album called “Hareepa” – if you haven’t heard that then give it a spin).
The traditional lyrics of “Nukhe chakki jawaana” kick off proceedings on this album. The old Lal Chand Yamla Jatt classic has been tweaked with some of the lyrics with the help of Achanak favourite Dyalpuri again. Once again Achanak are onto a winner with this album and we are only on the first track.
Cultural fx and Achanak join forces to deliver a cover of “loko vadeya”. The track was initially sung by Mangal Singh of Chirag Pehchaan fame for the Punjabi soundtrack of the movie called Jatt Soormey (Another album worth checking out). The song tells the folk tale of mirza and sahiba, and how mirza was butchered by sahiba’s brothers. This is another class act, and Achanak have done complete justice to this classic.
“Jee Karda” is a lovey dovey number, which brings side A to a close. An easy listening track this one, and Vijay is on top form, showcasing his versatility and vocal range.
“Hai Lacheea” starts with the snake charmer music. This was the song chosen from this album to feature in a music video. The lyrics are catchy and well delivered by Vijay.
We get taken back to the land of Punjab with “Rangla Punjab” giving us an insight into the colourful and vibrant Punjab.
Next we have EWC stepping in to remix “Nukhe Chakki Jawaana”, featuring the rapping of of MC40 Duce. It’s a good remix, and EWC went onto produce a couple of albums (the nachural selection, and the Asian assassin).
If you have the sNACH CD you also get 2 bonus tracks – Dil vajda and Har Gunga from the Panache album (These are the original versions and not remixes).
Achanak have been on the scene for 29 years now and have released 13 albums in this period. Some of the original members left the band after the release of Top Nach in 1994 to work on different projects, which had an impact on the band to be honest. PaNACHe, SigNACHure, and sNACH were brilliant albums, and after top NACH I personally felt that they never quite got back to the same high standards. However, having said that I must say they were one of my favourite bands during this era mainly due to the 3 albums reviewed in this article and the live performances. For me sigNACHure just shades it from the other 2 as my favourite.