A Brief History of Punjabi Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Punjabi folk music has a long and rich history dating back centuries. Today, it continues to be an important part of the Punjabi culture, with many folk songs being passed down from generation to generation. If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating type of music, read on for a brief history of Punjabi folk music.


Folk music is the traditional and typically anonymous music that is an expression of the life of the people in a community or region. Unlike commercial or classical music, folk music is usually handed down orally from one generation to the next. Folk music is often found in close connection with dances and storytelling. It tends to be simple and repetitive, with a narrow range of tonality, and often makes use of amateur performers.

What is Punjabi Folk Music?

Punjabi folk music is the traditional music of the Punjabi people. It is a form of North Indian folk music that dates back to the time of the Vedas, and is still popular today. The most common Instruments used in Punjabi folk music are the Punjab lute (tumbi), the Punjab flute (algoza), and the drum (dhol). The main genres of Punjabi folk music are bhangra, which is a dance music, and sufi, which is a devotional music.

In recent years, Punjabi folk music has undergone a renaissance, with many young people rediscovering and reinterpreting the traditional songs and dances. This has led to a new wave of Punjabi folk musicians who are merge traditional folk forms with modern styles.

The Origins of Punjabi Folk Music

Punjabi folk music has its origins in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent. The region is rich in cultural and linguistic diversity, and this is reflected in the wide variety of musical styles that have emerged over time.

Traditional Punjabi folk music is based on the use of specific melodic scales, which are different from those used in classical Hindustani or Carnatic music. The most commonly used scale is the pentatonic scale, which consists of five notes (sa, re, ga, ma, pa). This scale is believed to have originated in ancient Persia, and it was later adopted by Punjabi musicians.

Punjabi folk music is typically played on a variety of instruments, including the sarangi (a bowed string instrument), sitar (plucked string instrument), tabla (percussion instrument), and harmonium (a type of keyboard instrument). The music is often accompanied by vocals and lyrics that tell stories or express emotions.

Punjabi folk music has been influenced by various other genres over time, including Sufi music, Persian music, and even Western pop music. However, it has retained its distinctive character and continues to be enjoyed by people all over the world.

The Evolution of Punjabi Folk Music

Punjabi folk music has its roots in the ancient history of the Punjab region. The music has evolved over the centuries, incorporating a range of influences from different cultures. The earliest form of Punjabi folk music was known as ‘Sursari’, which was a type of devotional music sung in praise of the deities. As Sikhism began to spread in the region, different types of religious music were developed, including ‘Kirtan’ and ‘Shabad’.

Punjabi folk music began to be influenced by Sufi and Bollywood music from the Mughal era onwards. In the 19th century, Punjabi folk songs were adapted for use in the Manchester cotton mills, becoming known as ‘Cotton Mill Songs’. These songs often had political undertones, and were used to express the feelings of frustration and helplessness felt by the workers.

Punjabi folk music has continued to evolve in the modern era, with contemporary artists blending traditional styles with modern influences. Today, Punjabi folk music is enjoyed by people all over the world, and is an important part of Punjab’s cultural heritage.

The influence of Punjabi Folk Music on other genres

Punjabi folk music has had a significant influence on other genres, such as Bhangra music, which is a Punjabi-derived form of music that originated in the 1950s in the Punjab region of India. Bhangra music is often characterized by its fast tempo and high energy, and it frequently features Punjabi folk music elements such as Jhumar and Giddha. Other genres that have been influenced by Punjabi folk music include Rajasthani folk music, Bengali folk music, and even Bollywood film scores.


Punjabi folk music has been around for centuries and has undergone many changes. It is an important part of Punjabi culture and is still enjoyed by many people today. If you want to learn more about Punjabi folk music, there are many resources available online and in libraries.

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