Desi Musical World Domination

November 20, 2004

At a Hyphen editorial retreat earlier this month, Todd brought up the idea of an Asian American anthem. Stay tuned for his in-depth research into this field, but it really got me thinking about the South Asian music scene and how crazy it is. I was at an awesome APA queer party last night called Persuasion -- and I was dancing up a storm to a set by DJ KBug (an awesome DJ who spins world beats). It was a "dress in drag" party and my tie was flapping around as I busted my bhangra, garba and filmi movies. Tonight is Dhamaal -- the big SF Desi party, with two floors of music. This DJ collective got a Best of the Bay award from the Guardian this year and their party is always packed with a diverse crowd. And you can usually find me in the basement sweating through 4 or 5 hours of beats at this party.

I have been hounding my more musically knowledgeable friends about why South Asian music has become so popular in terms of electronic fusion. Now, somebody please correct me if I am wrong, but I don't really see the same thing happenning with Chinese or Korean or Japanese classical music. Some say it is because the free from of South Asian classical music -- similar to jazz -- makes it especially compatible with turn tables and collaboration. Others says it has to do with the commodification of South Asian culture that dates back to the 1960s with the Beatles going to India. Everyone should check out Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music, for a little history lesson in the origins of the Desi music scene. It really gives you a perspective on how long this scene has been a formidable force in music -- and it goes way back before that annoying Truth Hurts song.

I am also especially interested with the study and play of classical Indian music by young people in this country. Masters like Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan were young men back in the 1960s and there was an explosion of interest in instruments like sitar and tabla. But now there really is a new generation of Asian Americans playing this music and continuing this ancient tradition on. In fact, tonight Alam Khan -- Ali Akbar's 22-year-old son and prodigy -- will be playing one of his first solo concerts ever with tabla master Zakir Hussein. I met Alam back when he was 20 and found him fascinating. Here was a kid who grew up in San Rafael, California, listened to hip hop but has dedicated his life to the study of the sarode. I am equally as fascinated with Anoushka Shankar, Ravi Shankar's daughter.

Then there is Oliver Rajamani, who will be in San Francisco on Sunday night. Honestly, seeing this man live is absolutely mind-blowing. Identifying as Indian and Roma (or Gypsy), Rajamani is based in Austin -- so you Texans should check him out on his home turf. He is a world music extravaganza -- his set travels from Southern India up to Spain down to Africa and then over to Brazil. I know world music often gets a bad reputation for being cheesey, but this man is just pure musical genius. He just keeps singing and picking up different instruments and the audience goes nuts.

Anyway, among all these outlets, I really wonder what will happen to these forms of music a few generations down the line. Will electronic fusion become as common a genre as r&b or country? Will classical music become the hip thing to do for young South Asians? I can't wait to find out.




The Desi party scene in the South Bay is incredibly networked. They throw these huge jawns in Sunnyvale and bring in a ton of DJs, drummers and its packed out. Young kids taking hold of nightclub culture and putting their own spin on it, literally. And the beats are hot too. I'm jealous and intrigued.