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Desi Dance

There's a new dance in clubland. It begins with a solid wall of dholak beats emerging from a swirling mix of hip-hop and disco. Then out snakes a groove of tabla, and all the dancers let out a loud whoop and throw their arms high in the air, as if welcoming guests to an abundant feast. Then the feet begin a syncopated stomp, and the shoulders a downbeat shimmy, and the chin sways from left to right like the chin of a coy Hindu goddess who won't say yes or no, and the arms stay up, up, up, and the wrists -- really, the bhangra is all in the wrists -- give a peculiar little thrusting wave over and over, Come in! Come in! Sit down! Sit down! Ek ... do ... teen ... char ... STOMP-shimmy-chin-wave, STOMP-shimmy-chin-wave.

Hold on to your turban, stomping fool: It's bounty time in the old country, in Punjab, land of the five rivers, because besides being fairly new, bhangra is also a traditional harvest dance, and very, very old.

You can dance the bhangra at Houston's trendiest clubs: at Revere, at the Roxy, at Crystal, even at Club Blue Planet out on the Richmond Strip. At one time, you could dance the bhangra at Pete's Wild Life, but then it closed down. But you can't dance the bhangra on just any night. It has to be a Desi night, a Desi (pronounced "daisy") dance, when the club is filled with Punjabis and Malayalis, Pakistanis and Gujaratis, Bangladeshis and Ismailis and Konkanis -- anyone from the subcontinent is a Desi -- when, at the peak of the evening, 15 to 20 minutes can pass before you hear an American song amid the bhangra, the Hindi filmis and the qawwalis.

But for all of that time, for all of that 15 or 20 minutes, you'll hear a familiar beat, a Western beat, because this is fusion music, remixed to dance floor specifications, Hindi movie songs from 20 years ago with added spice -- that's what they call it, spice -- from Madonna, MC Shy D, the Digable Planets and NWA.

It's an early Sunday night at Club Revere off Kirby Drive. Renu and Ritu, the twin sisters of the Desi scene, are the only ones dancing, wearing long dark hair and trendy flared pants. The DJs, a posse called Kumba flown in from Los Angeles for the occasion, are warming up the turntables with some basic

American disco. They've yet to get serious. Their leader, Hooter, is a Mitsubishi engineer. Another of the DJs is a computer technician. Tonight is their casual night: baseball caps pulled backwards, Hilfiger clothes. Their hangers-on, L.A. college boys, are looking for a place to get high -- after all, the word bhangra comes from bhang, meaning hemp -- though the DJs don't know that. Lights are flashing, and the video screens say: Welcome to Music Masala Night!

This is the classiest club in town, Sunil Thakkar, the man behind Music Masala, told the DJs when they arrived from the airport. Right in the middle of River Oaks. A slight exaggeration. Still, it is very classy -- plush cushioned ottomans and funky light fixtures -- and it's filling up. A phalanx of dark-skinned men line the bar, facing the dance floor. They wear khakis, jeans with belts, polo shirts, Gucci-style loafers. One Pakistani with a Chippendale's body and Jheri-curled Fabio hair hangs back, arms folded across his tight, shiny, zippered T-shirt, watching. They are all waiting, waiting for bhangra, when men can dance together shamelessly, welcoming each other to their great feasts.

The women are in the bathroom, dressed in little tops and short skirts, midriff-baring blouses and low-slung trousers, their lipstick carefully applied. "And then my parents found out he was a Gujarati..." They are business majors. Every single one of them is a business major. A short -- actually, tiny -- girl who claims to be 19, wearing a thick ponytail and platform shoes, shrugs sweetly. "I come here to meet the cute Indian boyzzzzz. It's fun, it's cool," she says. At the bar, two female Muslim college students sip forbidden alcohol -- their parents don't know they're drinking, but their brothers and cousins are here to keep a slightly more relaxed eye on them. One of the girls has straight, long hair and a cheeky smile; the other has eyes the color of the sea. They've come to dance, not to meet cute boys. "Are you kidding?" Miss Cheeky Smile says with cutting disdain. "Do you think any of the men here are actually attractive? They're FOBs!"

Fresh off the boat. Nothing could be less desirable, but never mind, never mind, the first bhangra beat of the night starts up, and everyone crowds onto the dance floor, arms in the air as a high-pitched Punjabi voice hollers over the sound system.

 

To anyone familiar with traditional subcontinental culture, which does include bare midriffs but doesn't include club kids, the whole scene is a bit surreal. Things which go hand-in-hand with clubbing -- pills and powder and heavy drinking and sex -- are all still more or less taboo here at Club Revere's Masala Night. Many of the guests are in the know simply because they're on the right e-mail list. This scene is not a product of traditional subcontinental subculture. No, it was made in London, which has a large Desi population, and as it caught on there it spread to Toronto and New Jersey and Chicago and L.A. and ultimately Houston, all these being the places where the Indians are, and suddenly there was Outcaste and DJ Jiten and Apache Indian and DJ Sunil and DJ Spice and Kumba. And the second generation, the Indian baby boom whose parents emigrated in the 1970s, is coming of age, and South Asian girls who didn't use to be allowed to go out are persuading their parents to let them go clubbing at night, at least on Desi nights, and their parents are letting them go.

It is all new, all this. It wasn't that long ago when Houston Desis who wanted to meet other Desis had to do so at religious festivals and at the Indian Student Associations of the University of Houston and Rice, or through their parents. But now ... now, there is a high school in Sugar Land, Clements, where there are so many South Asian students that they refer to their campus as "Desi-Town." There are radio shows for the younger generation. There is NetIP, the Network of Indian Professionals, whose current president is a 24-year-old law student. There are Desi DJs and Desi parties, and best of all, spicy Desi music.

There is, as novelist and UH graduate Vikram Chandra told Time magazine last month, "a new way of being Indian."

The old way of being Indian -- at least, being Indian abroad -- was set about 30 years ago, at the beginning of the subcontinental brain drain, when immigration was easier and engineers and doctors were in demand. Being Indian meant settling near NASA, or in southwest Houston, the gateway to which was the cheap commercial real estate of the Hillcroft strip, where Indian restaurants and groceries drove out the adult bookstores. It meant gathering around the rare VCR with other families to watch Indian movies, listening to Meena Datt's Music of India radio show on KPFT, looking for the best schools for your children (in Alief, at the time) and reading the Indo-American News.

But the new way -- well, first of all, the new way is not just Indian. The new world is a Desi world -- a term which comes from "desh," meaning homeland, which old-timers will tell you refers to an Indian, but which the new generation, the bhangra generation, thinks of as anyone from the subcontinent, the old country. A Desi. A homeboy.

A white person is a gora -- you can go to gora parties at gora clubs with your gora friends, but are they as fun?

In private -- not in front of their parents -- the second generation uses words such as FOB (fresh off the boat) or SOB (still on the boat). Poor FOBs -- in the eyes of those Desis who have grown up here, FOBs don't know how to dress, or act, or bathe, or speak English. For the most part, they are men who traveled here for their college or graduate educations. They miss their mothers. They hang around with other FOBs. They go to Desi parties and say things like, "Which village are you from? ... My father lived near there!" and the super-polite, "What is your good name, please?", and, if they're not too shy, they try to get girls to dance with them.

But FOBs won't be FOBs forever. And they counter with their own term of derision: ABCD (American Born Confused Desi). Then there's "coconut," which is like "Oreo" for blacks or "banana" for Asians. White on the inside. Too assimilated. Coconuts are the ones who pretend they're not Indian.

Balbir Singh remembers his coconut phase. His family, a strict Khalsa Sikh family, were early migrants to his birthplace, Toronto. They came before the wave. Canadian kids harassed him and made fun of his turban, which the Sikh religion requires him to wear. When other Indians started to arrive in Canada, Singh says, he and his brother distanced themselves from them, because they were FOBs. "They looked bad and smelled bad," he recalls. "We weren't like that. My parents were high class, businessmen."

 

It wasn't until more than a decade later, after moving to Houston in 1991 and being dragged to an Indian wedding reception here, that Balbir realized that much had changed since his childhood. Now the rounded, prosperous-looking Singh is the president of the Indian Students Association at the University of Houston. Like many second-generation Indians, he is conservatively and fastidiously dressed. He wears a white T-shirt, a black polo shirt with argyle accents and a Calvin Klein belt with his jeans. A neatly turned black turban sits on his head, a thick gold chain around his neck. He is bearded -- again, a Sikh trademark -- and when, occasionally, his teeth flash, they are the whitest teeth imaginable. He lives with his parents. His brother is in medical school. He will marry a strict Sikh girl who meets his parents' approval, he says. At the ISA, he works hard to meld the FOBs and ABCDs into one cohesive group, but it's not easy.

The other day at lunch in the UH University Center, where Singh is often surrounded by a circle of Desis, he saw an Indian girl in the full pants and silky tunic of her native dress.

"It was a nice suit, very fancy, but with her pants she was wearing a pair of white running shoes," he says, shaking his head. "She just didn't know. I felt sorry for her. She was sitting all by herself. I should have asked her to join us." There's a note of true remorse in his voice when he adds, "But that day, I lacked courage."

Now, to his surprise, Singh says, "I don't have a gora friend. I would rather hang around Indians, people I can speak Hindi to." Like most other Desis, Singh feels distinctly non-white, a feeling that prosperity can mitigate but not erase, especially if you wear a turban.

"I would stand out like a sore thumb if I went to an American club," he says. "I can't get in, anyway, because there's a rule that says no headgear. As a child, I went through my fair share of people noticing, people laughing, people pointing. The Indian crowd won't do that to you."

It is Saturday afternoon and Sandhya Thakkar answers the phones at the office of Music Masala, the organizers of the Club Revere Masala Night and monthly Masala Nights at other clubs around Houston.

The office, which includes a glass studio booth and a plain office with two desks, is in a southwest Houston office building. On the wall, a speaker turned low monitors the goings-on in the studio. Between rings, Sandhya recounts the history of Music Masala, the weekly AM radio show she and her husband, Sunil, started four years ago, and which lends its name to their club nights. At one point, Music Masala tried unsuccessfully to change radio stations, and the manager at the new station decided to bump back a Pakistani radio show to accommodate Sunil and Sandhya, without informing the Pakistani host. In the gossipy Desi community, a rumor started that an Indian show had tried to "muscle out" a Pakistani show, and Music Masala backed off.

"Never get involved in an India-Pakistani debate," Sandhya says in a tone that often hits somewhere between serenity and world-weariness. "You'll never hear the end of it."

Pakistan and India, of course, split violently apart when they won independence from Britain in 1947, and the two have never been friendly neighbors. Yet Sandhya's offhand neutrality is part of the success formula of Music Masala, which makes a concerted (and business-savvy) effort to unify rather than divide. In part by sponsoring secular versions of events usually associated with religious festivals, Music Masala promotes a One Desi World culture that ensures a large audience and makes the show hip for a new generation. Last weekend, for example, 4,000 Desis -- Music Masala listeners and their parents and siblings -- filled the Astroarena to perform the Masala version of the Dandia Raas, a Gujarati stick dance which usually celebrates the birth of Krishna.

Sandhya pauses to listen to Sunil on the studio monitor as he praises a performer who will sing at an upcoming "Desi Star Search," a first-ever talent show for Desi youth in Fort Bend County.

"Sunil is such a bullshitter," Sandhya says, with a gentle roll of her eyes. "You have to be, on the radio."

A natural ham with the height and strong, sloped brow of an Indian movie star, Sunil started Music Masala in 1993, in part because he wanted an audience. At the time, there was only one Desi radio show, Meena Datt's Music of India. Datt had been on the air since 1976, playing a sometimes nostalgic mix of classical music and Indian film songs, anchored by Datt's soothing Hindi patter about people's birthdays and upcoming community events.

 

Sunil, Sandhya and their friends thought Houston's Indian community could support more than one voice. Thus began Music Masala -- with quizzes, and jokes, and listeners' faxed-in poems, and a weekly top ten and a gossip segment on Bollywood -- the nickname for Bombay, the Indian film capital where more than 200 movies are made each year. Bollywood, which produces mostly musicals, has a huge impact on the popular music industry in India, since virtually all the radio hits come from film soundtracks (the songs are called filmis).

Building on their instant, almost captive audience, Sunil and Sandhya have capitalized on voids in the Desi community -- not just with the radio show, but with the many parties and other events they host. The show now airs on Saturday afternoons on KYND/1520 AM, but on October 3 will move to a station with a stronger signal, KENR/ 1070 AM, on Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m.

There's no telling how many people listen to Music Masala, since ratings services have trouble counting such a specialized audience, but the show is definitely a pioneer in the Houston Desi scene. Sunil recently came out with Houston's first Desi remix CD, Masala Mixx '97 ("masala" actually means "mix," making the title endearingly redundant). The cover of the disc shows Sunil in a plaid shirt, obscured by computer graphic effects, the title drawn using a "spray paint" tool. By featuring a particular song on the air, Music Masala can boost sales in local stores that carry Indian music. The program threw the first Desi night in a local club in 1994, at an Indian-owned nightspot called Betty B's, and can draw 1,000 guests to their now-monthly events.

At first it wasn't so much the music Sunil and Sandhya played that set their show apart from Music of India. Rather, it was the Music Masala attitude, determined largely by the age of its creators, that appealed to listeners.

At the start, Sunil and Sandhya were still playing the melody-based qawwalis (Muslim devotional songs) and ghazals (ballads) and Hindi filmis. But in 1994, something happened that would put more of a gulf between the two shows. Bollywood Flashback, the self-proclaimed "most modern Hindi album ever!!!" was released worldwide by Sony.

On the album, London DJ Bally Sagoo remixed film songs to rap, hip-hop and techno beats. Sagoo came from a strict Punjabi family but was raised in a black neighborhood, prefiguring the experience of many Houston Desis who grew up in white-flight neighborhoods listening to The Box. Sagoo has remixed bhangra, Hindi reggae and, with a gentle touch, an album of songs by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the late world-music superstar. Sagoo wasn't the first Desi remix artist, and Flashback wasn't his first album, but Sagoo's coup was going legit -- obtaining the proper copyrights and rerecording many of the songs instead of illegally sampling orginals -- and using Hindi film soundtracks. Sagoo's big hit was a remix of "Choli Ke Peeche," a risque film song which asks in Hindi, "What's beneath your blouse?" The answer? "My heart."

Bollywood Flashback hit big -- two of the songs even crossed over to become top ten hits in Britain. The new sound was obviously in keeping with Music Masala's mission: bringing traditional culture to young Desis. Other Desi DJs quickly tried to get in on the action, and soon remix discs flooded the market.

Overnight, Desi music became danceable music, and a logical progression took place: Danceable music was cool. Therefore, Desi music was cool. And so being Desi was cool. The second generation turned on.

In Houston, what they turned on was Music Masala. The show has given rise to a spate of imitators, including one featuring a young DJ who learned to trill his Rs in the same affected way that Sunil does.

Sunil is very into being a DJ and a promoter. He likes to dramatize Music Masala's very first moments on the air thusly: He began to read a welcoming script he had sat up half the night preparing, then suddenly he stopped. "I want to know if anybody's out there, listening to me," he said. "If you're listening to me, call in now." Instantly, all five phones lines lit up. Somebody was out there.

Though Sunil, 31, and Sandhya, 27, are careful to balance out their show with old Indian favorites from the '70s and '80s, their listenership is made up primarily of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings. In fact, the Thakkars are shining examples of their own demographic, living the Desi dream. By Indian standards, they could hardly be more perfect.

 

Sunil, a Hindu, was born in India; Sandhya, a Jain, here in Houston ("I've been to every freakin' national park in this country," she says). He has a business degree and works for Shell and occasionally smokes thin imported clove cigarettes; she's a stockbroker who accepts the added responsibility of an Indian bride: running the household. Sandhya likes to watch Bollywood movies, Sunil prefers Hollywood.

The Thakkars have a two-year-old sports utility vehicle, a one-year-old house in Sugar Land and an eight-month-old baby daughter, Simran. Their house is decorated with Indian art and Italian leather furniture, with a little altar to Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god, in the phone nook. Just like every other Indian family, they serve beverages to guests in metal tumblers on a metal tray.

Sunil's mother lives with them and takes care of the baby (in India, the situation would be reversed -- Sandhya and Sunil would likely live in his mother's house. As it is, Sandhya says resignedly, mamaji just thinks it's her house). Out back, there is a swoop of patio concrete where the swimming pool will be when Simran gets old enough. But Sandhya doesn't think the prosperous couple will be there long enough for that. "We'll have a bigger house," she says.

Like many ABCDs, Sandhya didn't pay much attention to Indian culture and music in her younger days. She would watch Indian movies with her family; she would listen to Meena Datt. She thought it was kind of cool, being Indian, but she didn't get really involved in the community until she entered college at UH and joined the ISA in 1987. "That's when I converted," she says. "There were so many people at UH. You have to find something to assimilate to and relate to."

ISA is where Sunil and Sandhya met many of their current friends, and where they built the support base that has been partly responsible for Music Masala's success.

Already as much of a celebrity as the Houston Desi scene has, Sunil's star rose a little higher when he landed a small role in Prithvi, a Bollywood movie that was partly filmed in Houston last year and premiered here earlier this month. During a song sequence typical of Indian musicals, the leading couple prance and dance in Town and Country Mall, the grand foyer of the Wortham Center and in front of the Transco Waterwall. The heroine changes clothes in almost every shot, switching back and forth between luxurious saris and thigh-baring miniskirts (worn with flesh-colored hose).

The incidental lines of the few white actors in Prithvi are dubbed -- not in Hindi, but in Indian-accented English. One exception is the final scene, which takes place in a Houston courtroom. The white good-old-boy judge pounds his gavel and instructs everyone to sit down and swear in -- all in perfect Hindi, which caused the all-Desi audience at the premiere to burst out laughing.

DJ Scoop looks like he could be in a movie as well -- he resembles nothing so much as a Pakistani Spike Lee. Compact and sharply dressed in a button-down shirt, Scoop is hanging out today at the Dolce & Freddo on San Felipe, with a stack of square, full-color fliers for a big party he's promoting on the table in front of him. He hands these out to everyone in sight.

It's an American music party, but most of the people who walk into Dolce are Desis, and they all know Scoop. He works at KBXX/97.9 and KHYS/98.5 FM. He goes to the University of Houston and volunteers at his Ismaili mosque in Sugar Land. He is Music Masala's house DJ, backing up the out-of-town DJs at the Masala Nights and fulfilling requests to work as a DJ at parties and weddings.

With the help of his older brother's friends, Scoop used to sneak into Houston clubs when he was 13 and 14 years old. He would head straight to the booth and watch the DJs spin up a party. One day, at a Desi birthday party, Scoop noticed that when he played an Indian song, all the older Indians would get out on the dance floor. This intrigued him, but it still wasn't quite his scene. The music wasn't spicy enough.

Scoop started playing more private Desi parties -- weddings, ISA events, that sort of thing. "It's my culture," he says. Then, in 1993, a friend from Toronto played him a DJ Jiten remix. "It was a whole different sound," Scoop says. "Finally, somebody did something!" Now the music is in demand. At the clubs, he says, "They don't hear Indian songs, they will get on your ass."

 

Scoop talks like an emissary from rave culture -- love, peace and fun on the dance floor. But there's more to it for him, as well as for the Music Masala staff. They want to preserve their Desi heritage, their Desi languages, their culture. In a way, this is what the parents of the younger Desis want to do, but the parents are clinging to an older, stricter India -- the 1970s India that they left, not the MTV India of the '90s.

That's to be expected: It's very much a part of any immigrant's struggle to hold on to the past. Their children, though, are not following the typical second-generation profile -- to assimilate at all costs. Sure, it's important not to act like a FOB, but they do take pride in their culture -- even if they spice it up. That's no different, they say, from Indian culture in India today. The kids know that India is far more liberal than their parents will admit. "If your parents tell you that Indians don't have sex before marriage," quips one Desi student, "you believe them." Until you grow up.

While first-generation Indian immigrants were listening to Meena Datt's soft Hindi monologues and golden Hindi oldies, their older kids were for the most part overachieving, and their younger kids were for the most part listening to rap and Tejano and hip-hop, and going to school in Alief -- where the oil bust precipitated massive white flight -- and buying baggy jeans, and eating meat (even if their parents' religion discouraged it), and forgetting, or never learning, how to speak Hindi or Urdu or Punjabi.

Some Desi parents lament the rise of the remix -- "it's scrap music," says Houston businessman Ramesh "Bapu" Bosamia, the largest distributor of Indian music (classical, filmis and legit remixes, which are few and far between) in the U.S. -- but really, remixes simply put Indian music to younger siblings on their own terms, on masala terms. In this effort, the older siblings are the leaders -- they put great value on their heritage, but at the same time recognize the need to repackage it for their own generation.

It works. Many of the younger Desis who have been turned on to the "new" music say they would never listen to the classics if they weren't remixed, because they don't have a hook. Even Bapu admits that "scrap music" serves a purpose. It prompts his own kids, whose ears are perhaps better trained than average, to ask him for the original versions of the songs. "Then my son says, oh, the first one is better," he notes proudly.

Another fringe benefit of the Desi party scene, hopes Sindhya Vallappollil, the co-president of the Network of Indian Professionals, is that it may relieve religious festivals of their largely social function. Such festivals often draw Desis who are not members of the religion associated with the holiday, because they see it as a chance to meet other Desis. (Meeting other Desis, it should be noted, is not the same thing as picking them up. Most people come to Desi parties in large groups, and tend to meet friends of friends rather than strangers, and generally don't go home with more than a phone number.)

The Desi community is tightly knit, and to many Desis it represents the sum total of their pool of eligible mates. In such circumstances, respectability is almost as important as dressing well ("What's the number-one pickup line at a bhangra party?", one joke goes. "I have ten other silk shirts just like this one....") At a regular club, Scoop points out, a Desi girl might "mess around. She'll freak a guy. At a Desi party, if you mess up with a guy, you're the clown of the town. When they come to the Desi party, they're careful."

It's true that many Desis who go to these parties do so not just because of the music, but because of the company. But within the great Desi melting pot, the second-generation apolitical rave, there are many subtle cultural lines that don't get crossed. One of the early British Desi stars, Apache Indian, probably summed up the situation best in his rap song about how he's ready for an arranged marriage, but "When is the right time," the song finally asks, "to tell me girlfriend?"

The subcontinent is made up of regional peoples, divided by language, religion and custom. They interact socially in varying degrees ("Guys think that Indian girls will do what Pakistani girls won't do," explains one partygoer. "And they think white girls will do what Indian girls won't do"), but many Desis want to marry within their group -- that's what they were brought up to do, after all. And otherwise, how would their children know who they are? It's bad enough being American-born and confused -- intermarriage would only exacerbate the issue, even if many ABCDs claim they get to choose the best of both worlds.

 

"They're like salmon," notes Rice electrical engineering graduate student Vivek Pai. "They swim back upstream to spawn." Pai takes a slightly cynical approach to the party scene. Too often, he says, it's more about business than culture. "It's not like, oh, we're all from one culture, let's party together in a great lovefest. It's like, you're dark-skinned, I'm dark-skinned, so why don't you give me your money?" He also argues that the Desi parties are a function of a largely assimilated group whose members still want to marry inside their mother culture.

Still, for Houston Desis, the parties are a point of pride, a new visibility, a sense that India -- which is now celebrating its 50th year of independence -- and the subcontinent may be finally taking their place in world culture. The odd thing is that they may ride there on the back of a crossover remix hit -- DJs and producers such as Bally Sagoo and Talvin Singh are already working with popular mainstream artists such as Bjsrk and DJ Spooky. Hispanics and a few white faces have begun to show up at some Desi parties, and to that the DJs say so much the better. But mainly, at the moment, the parties are a new way for Desis to socialize with Desis.

After all, Scoop recalls with some dismay what his Desi friends used to do before the Desi parties began. "They'd go to a Paki restaurant and eat," he says. "Then they'd sit in their car and listen to Indian music."

Another Desi party, this time at the Roxy, a Galleria-area nightclub with a strict dress code. It's a school night, and so the crowd is skewed toward older Desis, thirtysomethings even, "professionals" -- an important word in the Desi community. Tony Talwar and Sonny Singh, a.k.a. T.S. Soundz, who are among the best-known Desi DJs in the States, have flown in from Chicago to spin.

The two men, both turbaned Sikhs who were born in Burma, are playing a bit too much American music for the crowd. In other cities, Desi parties often play more American music than Desi music, and both music and dress are flavored with hip-hop influences. In Houston, baggy jeans and what Sunil calls "gang wear" are discouraged, and the conservative, more tradition-minded crowd prefers Desi songs.

Underneath graphic black-and-white S&M paintings, everybody dances to bhangra songs about allegiance to Pakistan and fine girls walking by on the road. At one point, a new song begins and two veiled women dressed in white salwar-kaneez, each carrying two candles, make their way to the Roxy stage. They perform some mystical moves with the candles, perhaps in a reference to a classical Indian lamp dance, set them down, and part ways.

As the music picks up, 22-year-old Sameer Chishty pops out on the stage, belting the words to his one rock song and reaching one arm out to his friends, who press up against the stage like fans. A newcomer to the Desi music scene, Chishty does a perfect imitation of a real pop star, albeit one who, like Kris Kross, performs without a band. Then he pops back off the stage and the music continues. Brief and unsatisfying as it may have been, Chishty's performance represents the wave of the future -- not just remixing, but original music.

At 2:30 a.m., the Roxy parking garage is suddenly a scary place. Cultural pride gives way to drunken stunts, and expensive Hondas, Acuras and Infinitis screech loudly, revving their engines. All the women have gone home, even Renu and Ritu, and only the men are left, shouting, pushing, jumping into cars. DJ Sonny Singh sits on a park bench explaining why he thinks people go to Desi parties. "You have the common bond of being an American and being a Desi," he says, simply. "Those two elements are presented here."

Plus, he adds with a twinkle in his eye, it's comforting to be with your own kind. "If they go to a regular club, they have to compete with white girls then. They feel they can't compete with them. They have the inferiority complex of being colored."

Singh is tremendously excited when he talks about Desi music. It's going to blow up, he says, like reggae. "When I have a foundation, I can build on top of our foundation. When Indians learn the power of the media, man! We can set trends that will impact the world." The DJ speaks, and he is motivational.

 

Screeeeeeech! A window rolls down, and bhangra comes blaring out. It is a galloping beat, a masculine song.

Singh giggles and opens his arms, almost as if to start to dance himself, but ends up by gesturing at the cars.

"And where else can they act like this?" he says. "Like Kings of America? That's why they come here.


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