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Last month, some of the hottest urban desi music stars descended in New York for Urban Desi Conference and Concert 2016. Also Read - Salman Khan To Resume Radhe Your Most Wanted Bhai Shooting From October 3, Sohail Khan Shares Safety Guidelines
The concert and conference—presented by India.com, produced by Desi in NYC and co-hosted by BrownGirlMagazine.com, was an effort to revive the desi music scene in North America that was at its peak over a decade ago. The conference held on March 24, saw some of the greatest names in the urban desi music industry today including Raghav, Mickey Singh, The PropheC, KV Singh, Amar Sandhu, Raxstar and DJ Rekha. They discussed the history and future of urban desi music—including some of the pressing issues the industry is currently facing. Also Read - Sara Ali Khan Admits Dating Sushant Singh Rajput, Says He Was Not Faithful To Her During Brief Relationship
The artists also talked about their experiences working in both North America and India. And almost all artists unanimously spoke about the poor treatment of desi artists in Bollywood.
“It’s absolutely horrible working in India. I would be straight honest,” The PropheC said. “We have such an amazing system in North America, and I think we are really downplaying that by going to India and trying to break into something that wasn’t originally what they did.”
According to The PropheC, the biggest difference between working in India and North America is the lack of rights and royalties. “They [Bollywood] want our sound and then break it down to whatever they want,” he explained. “The rights, and royalties that we get in North America and Europe, we are not going to get that in India.”
Over the years, Bollywood has been notorious for taking songs from popular songs and recreating them. Raghav blames it on the lax enforcement of copyright laws, which eventually affects desi artists abroad.
“When ‘Angel Eyes’ came out, it was very annoying to see someone else do their take on the record two months later—totally copied,” Raghav revealed. “In India the word ‘copyright’ means that they have the ‘right to copy.’”
“We have been called the underdogs here for a reason,” adds The PropheC. “We could have gotten publicity; we could have done this stuff, but they don’t want to give us credit. We all have fans there. But the gatekeepers of the industry, they want to keep us out. They want their artists to have our sound and to get big there.”
Urban desi music emerged first in the U.K. in the 1980s and saw a meteoric rise in the early 2000s. With hits like “Mundiya Tu Bach Ke” by Panjabi MC and Jay-Z, it put South Asian artists and their music on a global platform—and in prominent night clubs and party scenes across England and North America. Many other artists during this era were doing well and making their mark including Rishi Rich, Jay Sean, Juggy D, M.I.A, Bohemia, Apache Indian and more.
They helped popularize the genre even further by breaking into the mainstream with their fusion sound. These artists enjoyed the freedom of not having to choose between two worlds.
The urban desi music industry, however, experienced a downward spiral 2006 onwards, especially in India with MTV and Channel V’s no pop policy, losing young audience there. This majorly affected the desi scene in the western world.
“That kind of era between 2004 and 2006, when we were really doing well in India, was the last time pop records played commercially 24 hours a day on MTV or VH1,” Raghav said while talking about desi music’s inability to create the same buzz that he and other artists enjoyed a decade ago.
The desi industry not only suffered in North America but also in the U.K., perhaps more as it was the major hub of urban desi music.
“It’s a shame because the U.K. used to be at the forefront of this whole scene,” Raxstar added. “The scene has really suffered in the last five years. For those who have been clubbing for six and seven years, they have seen how it’s gone from four nights a week to like one or two nights a month. And that is what dictates what Indians look at.”
Raghav said he believes that the only way to grab the attention of Bollywood is to “have hits here that hold our sound to a level that they don’t expect.”
Another major issue artist’s face is the unfair payment for their songs by label companies forcing artists to believe that shows are their only source of income.
“In no other industry, people would expect you to spend all this time, make a product, work at it, package it and then give it away at a loss,” Raghav explained. “So that’s something we need to fight for.”
The panel also discussed points about the lack of infrastructure and good curators for putting on a live show, where artists have suffered the most.
“Majority of the shows I do in North America, the promoters are dentists or cardiologists, and we thank them, without them I would not have a live career,” Raghav said. “However, that is the most drastic change in our industry that the promoters are not full-time party music scene promoters who live this scene.”
Despite the challenges the industry is currently facing, all the artists on the panel believed that there could be a scene and urban desi music could regain its lost glory. And DJ Rekha already has a plan for that.
“I know where the scene is, it is in colleges,” DJ Rekha revealed. “I think there is a youth audience that loves these guys, follow what they do, It’s exciting to see the youth energy.”
Apart from the experienced artists and popular DJ’s, including DJ UPSIDEDOWN, DJ ICE, DJ JP, Pranna and Peter Madana, the conference also saw some of the local emerging artists.