Tuesday, August 25, 2009

\\\\\ south asians in western music

this might be a long one. i guess i'll make this part 2 since i touched upon south asians and music before - part 1 : \\\on psychedelia and america and india and hinduism and marijuana and hippie culture and stuff

***note: i started this piece as a kind of outline of south asians in popular western music though it evolved into a comparison of uk and us south asians in music and a comparison of what socio-economic factors contributed to a larger prevalance of south asians active in uk music. its still scatterbrain and a work in progress but whatever yo, im at work right now. also some of this might be bullshit, admittedly, but again, whatever yo im mad bored at work***

though i came across the xx on gorillavsbear some time ago i never really gave it a listen. today, coincidentally on the death anniversary of aaliyah who they cite as a huge influence and cover here, i finally gave them a listen and as you can see by the post below i'm a buyer. (quite literally, i intend on buying the vinyl today). i was g-chatting with a friend about them and how, though admittedly on some heems self-absorbed shit, i saw parallels in some of the things d.r. and them do musically - writing over internet chat (though gchat > ichat), minimalist production, influences that range across mainstream (camron/aaliyah) and indie music (kmd, etc./chromatics), coming out of a school thats produced other popular musicians of late - and i realized another similarity was the presence of a south asian. the name of their guitarist/keyboardist baria qureshi poked out at me. because of the historic lack of visibility south asians have had in popular american media, though changing very much now, i've always had an eye on the presence of south asians in music. nothing against tony kanal from no doubt and the brown drummer in sum 41, but their music - beyond straight boring me - didn't address me. beyond topic matter even on the level of fashion as identity i couldnt fuck with them because they didnt look and dress like me. i never had brown musicians that I respected to listen to.

more recently there are bands and musicians I listen to now that have popped up with both south asian influences and some with with south asian members. of the latter i can shoot the following off the top of my dome - amazing baby has/had a sri lankan drummer, yeasayer has the homie anand wilder, natasha khan and bat for lashes, shilpa ray and the hookers (she even plays a harmonium), m.i.a., the homies in popo, stones throw recording artist koushik (ghosh), king khan and the shrines/bbq, and im sure others i cant recall. more to the point, a guy like jay sean recently signed to cash money and with the help of a weezy verse like drake, nicki minaj, and eric rudolph has catapulted into mainstream success. the key being his success isn't limited to his backyard of the uk where he's been successful for a considerable ammount of time - both amongst south asians and non - but even in the states. jay sean was on the radio with cipha soundz today?

also what y'all know about farrokh bulsara? farodh bulsara was a parsi who grew up in india, born on the indian ocean island of zanzibar and educated at boarding schools in Bombay. farodh learned piano at st. peter's school in panchgani. . most of you know him as freddy mercury was a parsi who grew up in India. as time magazine put it: "Bulsara duplicated in popular music what other Indians—such as Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth—have done in literature: taking the colonizer's art form and representing it in a manner richer and more dazzling than many Anglophones thought possible. But in his case, the empire wasn't merely writing back—it was singing its heart out in arenas all over the world in a voice that spanned nearly four octaves." y'all may know farodh better as freddie mercury.

thus up until recently, when i thought of south asians in music it was restricted to british "asian bands". though "asian" refers to east asians in the states, as south asians were the first to immigrate to britain, their colonizer, for manual labor (much like east asians and the railroads here) the term refers to them in the uk. it was always the brits.

a big fan of Real World in my adolescence (THOUGH THEYVE NEVER HAD A BROWN PERSON (my kind of brown, no victor) IN ALL OF THEIR SEASONS) i came across the band Cornershop on that show. I think the cast worked at KEXP and cornershop came in for a live performance of "Brimful of Asha". though the catchy hook of "everybody needs a bosom for a pillow" is what got me, upon following up on their music it was exciting to hear mohammed rafi and asha bhosle referenced in a song written and performed by a guy named tjinder singh who played dholak in a band I didn't entirely hate. the only thing I still have from my 7th grade trip to India was the dholak I bought.

when Dap and I were in high school we became fond of a band called Asian Dub Foundation. ADF was groundbreaking to me: they referenced Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, spoke about factory workers and the duality of modernity vs. tradition, had a swagger akin to what I'd like to think my own was like, and dressed in baggy clothing.

Every sunday morning in front of the tv
Recording with a microphone naya zindagi
Pioneer gurdas maan
Nusrat fateh ali khan
Kept our parents alive
Gave them the will to survive
Working inna de factories
Sometimes sweeping de floor
Unsung heroines an heroes
Yes they open de door
They came a long time ago
But now it seems weve arrived
Naya zindagi! naya jeevan
New way new life




I'd never seen this video but I recall when I saw Marc Klasfeld's 1998 video for Juvenile's "Ha" - with its authentic imagery of broke folk in the hood which has since seen a return with video's like Pill's Trap Goin' Ham amongst many others - I couldn't help but imagine a video shot in my own neighborhood with old brown ladies walking down the street in full saris and little brown kids playing handball at 172 and shoeless kids in kurtas outside the Hindu Center in Flushing queens and the lady with the mustache behind the counter at Maharaja Grocery down the block and the India Day Parade fights. The video above isn't much different to me than what I could have came up with.




musically, they incorporated reggae, dub, bhangra, rap, psychedelia - some potpourri shit that only living in a working class uk neighborhood alongside equally colonized and oppressed caribbeans could produce. ADF was far from the only "asian band" of the 90s and early 2000s. You can add Fun^Da^Mental (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fun-Da-Mental) to the list, who also consisted of not purely south asians but addressed issues of concern and utilized samples similarly to ADF. further you had bands like state of bengal, talvin singh, apache indian, and several others who also, not entirely but often, incorporated carribean elements from their neighbors. vivek bald (who also made the documentary Taxivalla/Autobiography on south asian cab drivers in new york) did a great job highlighting that scene in his 2003 documentary "mutiny: asians storm british music" which i can't track down. what i can track down is a small clip and if you're interested thus far i suggest you peep it:

http://mais.uol.com.br/view/a56q6zv70hwb/mitiny-04026AE0B183A6?types=A&

so where was the american scene of south asians creating music? why did it occur in the uk and not the us? why didn't i have cool shit to peep and identify with as a south asian american? why were british asian youth more likely to make music than their american south asian counterparts?

this is where shit might get really scatterbrain - my bust.

the nature of immigration to the us and the uk were very different from the beginning. like black folk in the us, brown folk in the us had a history of oppression that dated back hundreds of years. kids in the uk had something to speak out against -

when the national front, an anti-immigration pro-white political party, decided to have their big meeting in a predominantly south asian neighborhood the brown people there, previously seen as docile, were finally like - THE FUCK? FOR REAL? NOT COOL MAN. "an orgy of violence" followed in 1979's southall riots. brown kids and their parents who they'd never seen in such a light finally bridged the generational gap and stood up for something:



more on the 79 riots

again in 1981 a bunch of skinhead "oi! music" bands with lyrics about beating blacks and asians thought it would be great to play a show in predominantly asian southall. they started the day with beating elderly asian men and women and throwing national front symbols on south asian businesses with no response from the police until asian (south asians in the u.s.) youth threw malatovs at the venue and burnt it down on some awesome RACE WAR shit. (sorry?)




south asian immigration to the u.s. was far and few prior to the immigration and nationality act of 1965. the us did have punjabis on the left coast working the fields and in 1929 (i think) they formed the gadhar party to stand up for their rights. you also had other instances of south asian immigration pre 1965 like these cool bros who vivek bald, and vijay prashad another dude who's something like an idol of mine, wrote about:

"In his paper ‘Search of Bengali Harlem: South Asian Migration and Settlement in New York City, 1910s-1950s’ read at Wisconsin, Bald gives a peep look into the fascinating and little-known history of South Asian New York before 1950.

The existing literature tells us that immigration from the subcontinent was merely a trickle during that period. But, starting from the stories of three Bengali Muslim men who migrated undocumented to New York during this period, Bald draws on scholarly literature, archival material, and oral histories in an effort to answer the question: what exactly did the Indian presence in New York look like in the first half of the 20th century?

His answer to the question leads us to the histories of Indian lascar sailors along the New York waterfront and to a community of former-lascars who settled in Harlem in the 1920s-1940s. These men married Puerto Rican and African American women from their adopted neighborhood and worked as dishwashers, cooks, and factory workers.

Bald reveals that by the late 1940s, they had opened some of the city's first halal butchers and Indian restaurants, and also became a significant part of the larger Harlem landscape and were building links with local religious and political figures, including Malcolm X." (Source: http://www.indolink.com/displayArticleS.php?id=101405100320)

approximately 90% of the immigrants who arrived before 1975s family reunification act had PhDs and masters degrees. immigrants who followed didn't really know of a south asian working class so the the illusion or reality if you're an optimist of an american dream was there for you. and to be fair, making money was its own form of activism for those south asians who didn't face a lack of hardships for their accents and skin colors. on the flipside conservatives would turn that activism on its head to point to a model minority theory to further oppress african americans by positioning them against the other immigrants - if the asians could do it, why can't you black dood?

further, indians here grew up in the middle and upper class because of that immigration trajectory and thus their children would have less barriers to pursuing the secure fields of medicine, pharmacy, engineering and in more recent times business and law. though wealthier people have more means of production, poor people (in my opinion, all of this really in my opinion) make better music. if you give a sampler to every kid in the hood right now panda bear's mpc album probably wouldn't hold a candle to some of the shit coming out. to be fair there are a great deal of working class south asians though they're typically more inclined to make money money make money money money than create art. unless they rap and that's where the issue of authenticity comes up.

south asian youth in the us had no preexisting culture in the states to follow in the footsteps of so the most accessible culture was that of african-americans who physically resembled them more. this stands in great contrast to south asian parents who wanted to get ahead at all costs and yes-man'd their way to whites up the ladder of course. additionally this is more true for south asians in areas like new york, texas, dc/maryland/virginia and california where they represent larger portions of the population and saw less need to assimilate. thus after the age of 8, i grew up around indian kids who may have been middle class but acted as if they were working class. sometimes people are what they pretend to be and if you put 50 indian kids who like violence in a neighborhood and they think they're "hard" and act like they are, chances are they'll do some "hard" shit. i've seen middle class kids stab people before. though to the american consciousness indians aren't "hard". like east asians, the american stereotype is that of someone docile and well-educated. on the flipside, unlike east asians, south asians are more likely to hook up with white ladies, the lightweight embodiment of nationality, in tv and film. thus they're positioned somewhere above whites in a certain way but below african-americans in terms of masculinity and when it comes to music like rap that's rooted in masculinity, it didn't seem authentic. it still doesn't. i don't seem authentic. what is authenticity?

further, you have SOME south asian brits growing up in working class neighborhoods around working class whites who listened to rock music and would be much more likely to pick up a microphone than turntables. why aren't there as many south asian guitar players in the us - why is the m.o. of american south asians rap music 90% of the time? american south asian youth, beyond not being present in large numbers during the late 70s when punk music came to prominence (as thats when most parents came), were not growing up in manhattan around bands like television and the death boys. they were in queens. and yes, thats where the ramones came from, but there werent brown folk in forest hills back then. they'd be much more likely to settle in jackson heights or flushing queens or elmhurst, or as more money came into the community, neighborhoods like glen oaks and bellerose where i grew up.

even in the uk south asian rappers lik chandrasonic of adf and riz mc are able to come to more prominence as there's a history of mutual colonialism amongst caribbean grime cats and south asian grime cats. on our side of the ocean that solidarity, though existent as exhibited by the nation of islam cats who got their halal from the aforementioned bangladeshis or rastas who had matted hair and smoked weed like shivites sent to jamaica as indentured servants, wasn't en masse. in a lot of ways what the south asian bands were doing in the uk is what 5% rap was in the states.

post-9/11 you do have the taqwacore movement and bands like the kominas making music much akin to adf in terms of political lyrics and visibly a band of south asians but i'm not really buying that shit. according to wikipedia, and excuse me while i vomit, they describe their sound as "bollywood punk". i like a lot of what they write about - homophobia in islam (rumi was a homo) and islamophobia in america (most of their stuff), but musically its just not doing anything for me. they do have a south asian following but i think thats more related to american south asians who dont limit themselves exclusively to bhangra, hindi, rap, reggae, and r&b (like most kids i grew up with) not having anything to attach themselves to.... again. also this michael muhammed knight cat who wrote about these bands and brought them to the forefront of whatever they're at the forefront about was probably just trying to make some guap. that might not be a fair statement - i don't know dude - but something just doesnt add up.

ultimately it could seem like we skipped our need to react against anything and make the hip-hop or more punk, what i'll call "angry" music for lack of a better word, of the uk's south asian bands. thus south asians who make music do so now in not so political a fashion. furthering that point is the increased visibility of south asians in popular media - your saieds on lost, mohinders on heroes, and kal penns on house - and the appearance of south asian wealth and development as a result of post-1991 liberalization. that of course misses the boat on the vast disparity of wealth distribution amongst the wealthy and poor. further, generally with globalization and the mask of multiculturalism (and how you cant read an article with the word multiculturalism without mention of obama) there doesnt SEEM like south asians have anything to stand up to and against. that's false of course and the unifying factor amongst those more political and straightforward "south asian" bands and bands that have south asians in them and may not lyrically or musically reference south asia is the fact that solely by being visible in american culture as a dude whose brown and plays guitar or raps you're changing the way people view south asians. a band like popo doesnt NEED to go out there and talk about being brown like the kominas because solely by being a respectible, good fucking band of three brown dudes who visually stand out the way they do, they're saying something. and similarly a guy like dude from yeasayer or a girl like natasha khan are changing the way tons of brown kids think of themselves.

so.....

i forgot what the point of this was but hopefully there's a couple of interesting things in there. IM AUDI 5000 now. i gotta go to the afghani hindu temple in long island now for a memorial for a relative who passed away - aka to paraphrase noreaga "my relative died, and i dont wanna blog no more, my relative died."

SO THATS TODAYS MATH.

PEACE KIDS.

5 comments:

Dap said...

LOOK AT THIS SHAMBLY BAMBLY MOTHERFUCKER OVER HERE, JUST SHAMBLING HIS WAY THROUGH THINGS

umm i don't 'buy' the kominas cause their music sucks, but i'm 'glad they exist.' you can replace kominas with a handful of other south asian acts i've heard in the US/England.

michale muahmmad knight is alright, his books are annoying and there's something about the dude, but i think he's 'genuine'

i'll comment piecemeal cause i gotta go get my kettle. also, YR A WEIRDO.

Fawzia said...

HULLO HIMA. one ting. Aziz Ibrahim of Stone Roses deserves a mention.

Basim said...

cool post!

I actually do really respect ADF, Hustlers HC, Fundamental, all those cats.

They're really powerful. Thanks for the kind (though tempered) words!

Basim
(The Kominas)

Despot said...

FOREST HILLS not fucking forrest hill. you sure you from queens?

Shobhna said...

Reading this several years later, but this was great Hima!

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