Traditional dholi/dholi activities in North America?

Dear Bhangra Teams Forum Community!:

It’s been a while. Good to see that this site is still active. It’s always been a great community.

Some of you may know me from the past as a sometimes scholar of Punjabi dance and dhol traditions, though my main focus has been elsewhere recently. For those who don’t know me, for the entire 2000s I was working on documenting these traditions mainly in Indian Punjab (while also paying attention to Pakistan and some of the Punjabi diaspora). My focus was/is on the traditional dholis, documenting their lifestyles, the applications and the cultural meanings of dhol. I was a shagird of late ustad Garib Dass (though I am not much of a dhol player these days!). I’ve published articles on bhangra, jhummar, sammi, Punjabi musician communities, etc.

Now has come the time when I’ll be writing a book about dhol. It needs to be relatively short and focused, so it won’t include all of my past research findings, but rather it will be more about the evolving tradition of dhol and its implications for Punjabi identity. We have seen, for example, dhol go from being a relatively low prestige occupation of a small number of people in certain families to being a sort of icon of Punjabi culture generally and an explosion of new players.

If anyone remembers the bhangra scene in the 1990s, they’ll remember that there were very few dholis around in the “diaspora” (e.g. North America). Most bhangra teams did not dance on dhol. Then, a few North American (etc.) born individuals had the privilege of learning dhol from the small handful of ustads that had emigrated. (Note: I am essentially leaving out UK, Australia, etc. not due to lack of acknowledgement, respect, or interest but only for practical reasons.) Around 2003-ish, dhol playing started to explode among younger people outside of India, and the advent of YouTube subsequently made learning dhol "remotely" a possibility. Some will remember the old message board, for example. The mid-to-late 2000s trend of traditionalism in bhangra in North America created more demand for local dholis, and knowledge increased, quality improved. Those students of the early ustads started teaching their own students. At the same time, by the end of the decade (when my guru passed away), most of the old school dholis were no longer with us or retired. I’m referring to the ustads who were born before/around Partition/1947, who had weathered the changes to a new era of dhol and Punjabi dance. It was the end of a generation and the end of an era. And most of my own work (which I intend to publish for posterity) pertained to that era.

The dholis since then are operating in a pretty different landscape. One big difference is that dholis from the tradition are now connected to internet and social/new media. Back then, the only way to learn dhol was through hearing it from someone in your presence. It was a strictly “oral/aural” tradition. Every community and/or region had its own dhol style. Dholis in the new era now have different/more opportunities, too. And, I imagine, interpretations of the meaning of dhol have changed somewhat. Attitudes towards who “may” play dhol must also have evolved. Whereas before, 99+% of dhol players in Punjabi came from traditional families, the number of “non-traditional” dholis in the diaspora has grown.

Anyways, the book I’m working on will be based in the historical/traditional, but I also want to bring it up to date, somewhat, and give some space to the dhol scene outside of Punjab. And because the latter is actually a huge area to cover, I don’t plan to cover “dholis outside Punjab” comprehensively. Rather, I aim to follow the threads of traditional dhol playing that spread out from Punjab—to a modest extent. For this, I’ll be reconnecting with people in these lineages to see “Where are they now?”

THE QUERY: To start, I’ll be in the New York and Toronto areas for a short time next month, and I’m looking for recommendations on whom to meet and interview. I’m mainly interested in seeing any ustads who emigrated from Punjab, first; second, their students (the earlier the better); and lastly, anyone or anything that might be interesting that illustrates new developments in dhol in those areas.

I do know many names/people, but I’ll need to update their whereabouts and such. Relevant info could also include temporary visits of ustads from Punjab, especially if their visit was very influential on the local dhol scene. This is where I’d welcome your recommendations!

I believe the “first” ustad in Toronto area was the late Amar Nath (whom I think aslo went as “Amba”). He was a student of Jalandhar’s ustad Charan Dass ji (Charna). I think he was related to the Amritsar ustad Harbans Lal Jogi. It would be good to know, for example, if any students of Amar Nath are around. (Possibly related: Who is/was Nana’s ustad?)

Ustad Jolly Bawa, son of Jalandhar ustad H.L. Kaku, most know, passed away this year. He had been in Toronto temporarily earlier in his career (after which he returned to India), but I understand he had been there a lot again in recent years. What have been the repercussions of his influence on Toronto dholis? Etc.

In greater New York area, there was an ustad Boota Sheikh. I understand he came from Pakistani Punjab? Does anyone have experience with him? There is also ustad Jarnail Singh, son of ustad Mali Ram of the Chandigarh area (my ustad’s cousin). I recall he located to NY/NJ in the early 2000s and I know that he is active. Perhaps someone has close experiences with how he may have influenced your playing if you’re in the NY area.

I also once heard of an ustad Madan Maddi who came to New York in the mid-1990s, and who was a student of the late Jalandhar ustad Des Raj. (It gets confusing because there have been numerous renowned dholis named Maddi, for example Ravi Dana’s late father. And I’m not referring to the Des Raj of Surrey BC [Garib Dass’ son], but rather to Des Raj from Charan Das’s parampara.) Anybody know of him?

I am focusing on New York and Toronto for the time being; I’m aware of the dholis in Vancouver and California Bay Area to an extent, sure. And there are other names I certainly know well, but I don’t know if these individuals specifically influenced NY/Toronto. Feel free to comment on the other places, but recommendations pertaining to the NY and Toronto scenes will be most immediately useful.

And if anyone reading is based in these areas who feels they are well connected to this history would like to chat with me, we might also see if I have time for that during these (too short!) upcoming visits if there’s interest.

Thanks for your kind attention. Yo!

Gibb Schreffler
Assistant Professor of Music, Pomona College (California)


♥ BTF ♥
Staff member
Good to see you back on BTF Gibb. Unfortunately, I don't know about Ustaads in the Toronto/NY area, but if you venture to the Vancouver area (specifically Surrey), there is Ustad Devinder Singh Hundal who taught Raju Johal (an established dholi/singer/dancer that was most prominent in the circuit in the mid-to-late 2000's).

Hope others are able to assist. All the best.

~ Basim :)
Thanks so much, Basim!

The great thing about this is that whatever anyone says, it's helpful because it indicates what you guys consider to be notable.


Active Member
Great to see you on this forum Dr. Schreffler, your videos and publications have been really helpful in teaching our teams about the history of bhangra! I also don't know of any Ustaads who emigrated from India currently in the US, but there are definitely a lot of incredible younger dholis across the US that frequent this forum (e.g. @srikarran in Cleveland, Dholi Ram @ramv88 in DC, etc.) that might be able to provide some information regarding their primary sources of education to supplement your ethnography.

Best of luck with this project and others, and thank you again for your immense contributions to bhangra.
I wonder if any Toronto people from Punjabi Lok Nach Academy or Nachdi Jawani/Punjabi VACA would like to comment on their memories of dhol ustads (e.g. visiting from India) that they had the chance to work with over the years.

I am more than happy to comment on this and I also am looking forward to reading this book about dhol. I would like to understand more about its significance.

As someone who is non-punjabi and in the US- my resources were fairly limited at first but I am doing my best to further understand this amazing art.

1. Mitch Hyare from RDB inspired me to pick up a dhol.

2. Ustad Lal Singh Bhatti- inspired me to understand how to make the dhol sound amazing.

3. Nana the Dholi (vcu, dcmpaa), Dave Gupta (uva), Amar Gill (Heeray), Sukhi Dholi, Raju Johal (elite 8 performance was inspiring when he was able to sing and play at the same time), Jeetu (NC), Raju Dholi, ustad janak raj, ustad Jolly Bawa, Neet Basra, ustad ricky tanda, ustad mali Ram, the late great ustad garib das (RIP)- were and still are living role models for me in my development (eg. stage presence, awareness while playing, making sure that there is a standard of excellence when it comes to how to practice certain variations of lehriyan, single/double bhangra beat, chaal, mirza beat, jugni beat).

4. Ustad Sorabh Bhargav (my first ever ustad) - helped me to really clean up my playing style (not using my wrists while playing with the tili side) and using less wrist movement with my dagga side to get more power and create certain accents while playing the basic taals. He along with Dave and Nana helped me to also know how to take care of the dhol which is as equally as important as practicing.

I still have much to learn about how to work on the dhols from the ground up as well as knowing more variations/effects that I can get out of this instrument. I feel that that is an education that is worth having which will elevate my knowledge and playing ten folds.

- Dholi Ram
Hello again! I've recently returned from Punjab, where I was gaining insight into the most recent chapters in the lives of dholis.

Next, I'm headed to Vancouver/Surrey!

As before, I'd welcome anyone's suggestions on whom to meet in the area—including yourself. I have many names/contacts, but it would be great to know who other people would prioritize.

As before... dholis in 2019 are legion... My particular interest is following the trail of dholis and their tradition from the Punjabi homeland. So, I'm most interested in dholis whose origin is Punjab (i.e. immigrants) and in the most direct disciples of those people.

Sample of the kinds of things I'm interested in:

- Who, historically, do you feel have been "significant" or notable dholis in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia?
For example: Some of the earliest professional dholis, such as Pyare Lal, would be people I'd consider significant. I want to take note of their role in the story.

- Who has had a strong role in making dhol in BC what it is today?
For example: Some of the well-known shagirds of ustad Lal Singh Bhatti, and their peers from the early 2000s, are likely trendsetters who set the pattern for what the (exponentially larger) pool of today's young dholis does.

- Additionally, is there anything really interesting (perhaps unique) happening with dhol in BC?
For example: During the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, celebrations in the street with dhol occurred after matches.

I don't have a fixed itinerary yet, and the BC visit will be fairly short (mid April), but I'd love to hear what anyone thinks would be good people/events (aside of Vaisakhi parade!) to check out and I'll try to work it in.



Hey Gibbs paji,

There are three people worth meeting while you are in Surrey. K. Johal (Raju's Father) Student of Ustad Lal Singh, Raymond Bhuller student of Ustad Ramju, and Sheru Chahals dad who is a student of Ustad Sewa Ram.

Jikki Dholi is also from Surrey I believe and is the student of Late Ustad Harbans Lal Kaku.

I can get you contact info for all of them.


Active Member
I don't have a fixed itinerary yet, and the BC visit will be fairly short (mid April), but I'd love to hear what anyone thinks would be good people/events (aside of Vaisakhi parade!) to check out and I'll try to work it in.

Just an FYI, there are TWO Vaisakhi parades in April that you should check out dependent on your length of stay. There's one in the "Little India" area of Vancouver itself and the weekend after, there will be an even bigger one in Surrey. I personally prefer the Surrey one as there's more people, more food, more bhangra performances but what I don't like is it has more of a "Khalistan Zindabad" undertone to it due to the Gurdwara that runs this parade. The Vancouver one I believe is more community forward and inclusive but has a history of being disorganized. You'll notice the difference if you can go to both. However, despite the few cons, both Vaisakhi parades (Nagar Kirtans) are super fun! The Vancouver parade is on April 13th while the Surrey parade is on April 20th.
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