Pop music: Bollywood Beatz bites back at The Blue Note

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Apache Indian, Jazmann, Jyoti Mishra. Remember them? No. It is not surprising. In the last 10 to 15 years there haven't really been many Asian artists who have broken into the mainstream, or captured the imagination of clubbers and gig-goers. Is it that Asian dance music isn't cool? Is it because Asian dance music just conjures up images of twangy sitars, wailing vocals and Crispian Mills out of Kula Shaker? The fact is that Asian artists haven't been taken seriously until now. Their music is all to often marginalised (by the music press) by being categorised as "underground", when in fact its influence has crossed over to a variety of mainstream bands and artists.

A number of Asian artists have successfully worked with mainstream bands and artists: Cornershop are currently on tour with Oasis in America; DJ and producer Talvin Singh have worked with the likes of Bjork, Neneh Cherry, Massive Attack and DJ Pathaan completed a 15-date tour last year with that "Little Wonder" himself, David Bowie.

DJ Pathaan is currently hosting the "Swaraj" nights at the Blue Note, as well as launching an independent label of the same name on 2 February. These nights showcase the best of young Brit-Asian DJs, who combine the latest hip-hop, drum 'n'bass, ambient and dub loops to create a refreshing musical sound on a par with the likes of Spiritualised or the Propellerheads. According to DJ Pathaan: "The Swaraj nights are trying to steer away from the Sounds of the Asian Underground label. It has often been the case that Asian dance music has been categorised as `second-generation', or called `Bollywood Beatz', which is a bit patronising, to say the least." Pathaan is aware of these labels, but he is not deterred.

"The underground label was very marketable, but anyone can see beyond that now."

Pathaan is not the only Brit-Asian DJ who is doing something to dispel the stereotypical image of Asian dance music. In 1994, Shabs Jobanputra set up his own record label, Oucaste, in order to release records by young Asian musicians: "As a label, we aim to be a cultural force that makes sure that Asian people get the props they truly deserve." So far, Brit- Asian DJs such as Ritu, Badmarsh, Mo Majik, Shri, Aref, and Nitin Sawhney feature on his label, as well as doing a monthly night at the Notting Hill Arts Club. Sawhney, like Talvin Singh, has achieved mainstream success with appearances at Glastonbury, Respect, Womad festivals, and Later with Jools "boogie woogie" Holland. His sets are impressive, combining Indian classical music with flamenco, dub, ambient, ghazals, tumbi and sarod sarod. This depth and variation can be attributed to his influences, which include the Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin and Courtney Pine. Sawhney is currently working on an album which, according to Shabs, is going to be "big", along with the Outcaste record label itself, which has just struck a deal with Tommy Boy records.

With new record labels being set up by Brit-Asian DJs, outside interest expressed by corporate record labels, and successful weekly and monthly club nights, the Asian dance music scene seems to be flourishing. Far from remaining "underground", it is definitely going "overground".

Sabuhi Mir

Outcaste , 8pm-1am, Notting Hill Arts Club, 21 Notting Hill Gate, Notting Hill Gate Tube, pounds 5 (pounds 4 concs). Monthly from 31 January (details, 0171- 460 4459).

Swaraj, 9:30pm-3am, The Blue Note, 1 Hoxton Square, Old Street Tube, pounds 5 (pounds 3 concs). Every Monday (no entry after 12:30am).