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Indian farmers seek fame and fortune through Bhangra beat

As Balbir Jagga drives a tractor around his farm in northwestern India, he dreams that the fields he tills will propel him to international music stardom.

Jagga, like thousands of other amateur singers in Punjab state, sees Bhangra music as a route out of rural life - and he is saving all his income, and even selling off a small plot of land, to make his debut music video and album.

"For years, I have been a mundane farmer, buying seeds, waiting for the rains, harvesting crops, season after season," said Jagga at his farm in Pathankot, 150 miles from Punjab's state capital Chandigarh.

"But in the evenings, I am a super Bhangra music star, recording songs for my album and planning a video shoot," he added with a smile.

Jagga, 30, is one of many Punjabi villagers trying to repeat the success of Jasbir Jassi, Mika Singh and other big names as Bhangra dance music has become a major international music trend over the last 15 years.

He has penned more than a dozen songs in Gurumuki script used to write the Punjabi language and now he hopes his music video will be the next step to stardom.

Jagga admits that he is taking a big gamble investing all his savings in the video, which will cost more than 10,000 dollars.

"You may laugh at my venture but for the people of Punjab, music is the biggest high and I am addicted to it," he said.

Bhangra originally began with Sikh farmers like Jagga singing folk songs to celebrate the arrival of the harvest season, before developing into popular music.

It spread across India via Bollywood, where actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan have often danced to its energetic beat, and has gained popularity in many other countries where Indians have emigrated.

Today it often symbolises the extrovert, party-loving side of south Asian culture and attracts an international audience with dance competitions and radio stations in Britain, the United States and Canada.

"Bhangra is an integral part of Punjab's everyday life," one of Jagga's heroes, Jasbir Jassi, told AFP. "We are crazy for our music and we have made the world go crazy for it too."

In Punjab itself, at least 45 channels play non-stop Bhangra music - often with videos from amateur singers hoping to make it big.

The singers' telephone numbers are flashed on the bottom of the screen to allow viewers - or perhaps even professional agents - to book them for weddings and other festivities.

"I have decided to get out of my Punjabi attire, wear a three-piece suit and shoot the music video in my village," said Jagga. "My songs portray my love for Punjab."

Industry experts and owners of recording studios estimate that more than 10,000 Punjabi music albums are produced every year.

"It is a mad race among farmers, students and even housewives to establish themselves as a singer. Everybody here wants to be signing autographs for fans," said Ramandeep Singh, manager at Josh, a 24-hour music channel in Chandigarh.

Singh says many artists currently ruling the Bhangra scene in India such as Satinder Sartaj were once farmers.

"Some clicked and became stars, but most have been forgotten and faded away," he said.

Singh is now producing an album which will feature 12 farmers singing about the struggle and distress of amateur performers who cannot break into the glamour world they crave.

Deepak Bali, owner of Plasma Records production company, admitted that the music industry has given a false hope to many Punjabis.

"All the hype and over-exposure surrounding the billion dollar market has the potential to kill the craze for Bhangra," he said. "The quality talent has gone missing. Every village seems to boast three singers and four lyricists."

But the dream lives on for many, including Sukhdev Kaur, a housewife and a mother of two who is due to release her album "Adventure Meri Life" (My Life Is An Adventure) next year.

She sold her gold jewellery to produce the album, on which she sings love duets with her neighbour's son.

"My husband is a farmer, he refused to help me so I decided to sell the gold," she said. "We are farmers but that does not mean we cannot be Bhangra stars."