Anjali and I spent a week on the beach in Mexico at the end of April and got back the day before our April Andaz party. Other than a boutique called India Bazaar right outside the Zocalo in Mexicio City which was playing current Bollywood hits, we didn’t hear any Indian music in all that time. (I did have Jay Dabhi’s bhangraton remix of Taz’s “Jawani” running through my head the entire trip, however.) This was very different than our usual routine which involves lots of listening to popular Indian music. We had to really switch gears from lazy days in San Pancho to playing Indian dance music for hundreds of people at the Fez.
Anjali started out with an hour of Asian R&B. Not sure how much this threw people off, either first-timers, or long-time attendees, who may have wondered about the lack of filmi and bhangra tunes. It took quite a while for us to start laying down the bhangra and Bollywood. I started my first set with quite a few Hindi-ton and bhangraton songs. The crowd seemed rather listless and less than energetic, and I couldn’t tell how much that had to do with the music I was playing, and how much had to do with the beautiful sunny day that much of Saturday had been before our club night started. I eventually got around to playing some bhangra and filmi, and then Anjali took over. She played a great all-Panjabi set, that featured new songs by Tigerstyle and Aman Hayer.
Towards the end of her set I was getting ready to go on when a Panjabi man standing outside the booth got my attention in order to make a request. He really didn’t want to tell me directly, probably assuming that I don’t know any Panjabi names or something, but when I forced him to tell me, he said he wanted “Tera Yaar Bolda” which, just to show him, I asked “Oh, you mean by Surjit Bindrakhia?” knowing that, of course he wanted the song by Surjit Bindrakhia. He seemed surprised that I knew him, but come on, if you play a single party in your life to a group of Panjabis, you will probably get requests for Surjit Bindrakhia, and Anjali and I have been playing to Panjabis for nearly seven years. Give me a break. Of course I know about Surjit Bindrakhia, but as much respect as the singer has earned, that doesn’t mean dropping his songs at the peak of the night to a mixed dance floor is a good idea. So I hear this man’s request, and then I look at the request sheet to see that there is an hour-old generic request for “fast filmi songs.” Well, I know that none of those got played during Anjali’s all-bhangra set, so stepping into the booth I am already aware of two highly-conflicting sets of desires at play in the crowd.
I get anxious in the presence of these oppositional hungers. I lose touch with anything I might want to do outside of these desires, fearing disappointing or potentially angering one segment of the crowd or another. While sometimes I play a raft of filmi-house, I wasn’t particularly in the mood at the time. As much as I love playing Surjit Bindrakhia songs for appreciative Panjabis, I knew what a bad idea it would be to play any of his songs at midnight, as I was going on, during the peak of the night, with the particular group of dancers I was facing. How can I explain this to an aggravated Panjabi? “Hey, I love Surjit, can you wait a few hours until when it might be more appropriate to play him?” Yeah, that will go over really well. Panjabis love goras telling them why they can’t play their requests. I have much less trouble blowing off requests in situations other than Andaz, but since Andaz is devoted to Hindi and Panjabi music, and I am a farangi, it is difficult for me to dismiss the desires of people who have far more of a cultural connection to the music than I do. I am just a gora, that thanks to Anjali, discoverd this music in my late-twenties and have been highly devoted to it ever since. So yes, I have been a slavish follower of this music for over seven years, but that is hardly a lifetime, and I cannot pretend to be as connected to the music as someone who was raised with it, fluent in the language, and appreciative of all the subtleties of meaning and emotion contained in the lyrics. I just know a song that moves me when I hear it, and bhangra and filmi move me, gora that I am. So I can play a mainstream party and ignore requests all night long, and not have any qualms about it, but I have a hard time ignoring requests by Hindi and Panjabi speakers who are often very emotionally involved with the music we play at Andaz.
I am lost. I am at sea. Even if only one person in the room wants to hear Surjit Bindrakhia; I know he is out there. I know he has returned to make his requests several times, from looking at the repeat handwriting on the request board, and I know I will have to continue dealing with him if I do not honor his request. And probably will still have to deal with his additional requests, even if I decide (foolishly) to play his Bindrakhia request. And what to do with the long-ignored request for fast filmi songs? Lost in all of this is any concept of what I might want to achieve or what I might want to share with the crowd. Although there are certainly people who come to Andaz with the idea that Anjali and I are jukeboxes there to play nothing but their requests, who knows, there might actually be people who trust Anjali and I to do what we want to do, and play what we want to play, but those people are often bound to be disappointed by my sets, because I am often influenced unduly by the demanding people besieging me in the booth, telling me to play what they, and not I, want to hear.
How did I start my midnight set? I don’t even remember. Maybe I started off well, but I know I was floundering before long. There was some angry woman in my face who I couldn’t hear, who refused to write in the request book, and instead slammed the request binder several times on the edge of the DJ booth in a futile attempt to get my attention while I was trying to focus on the task of DJing. She came back several times angry and intense, and without any written communication from her, or any way to hear her over the DJ monitors, I have no idea what she wanted. At one point in my set, I got around to playing my new favorite Bollywood cheeze anthem, “Dekho Nashe Mein [Latin Fiesta Mix], “which probably drove a certain portion of the crowd out the door with its unrelenting cheeziness. Feeling a need to return to Panjabi I mixed the track into the very uptempo “Lottery” by Guddu Gill and Miss Pooja, in an attempt to change languages, without drastically altering the pace. I had been enjoying the song earlier at home, but very few people in the crowd seemed to appreciate it. In fact, I felt it seemed to quickly encourage large members of the audience to leave the club and make their way home. To make matters worse, it was a long track, and I found myself indecisive as to what to do next, so the whole track played out. As every minute of the track played, I watched more and more people leave the dance floor, yet I was paralyzed with indecision, even in the face of a mass exodus.
The Bindrakhia requester came back with more slow Panjabi song requests that no one but him or perhaps a few other Panjabis were going to dance to. Maybe he figured if he kept writing down requests I would eventually play one of them. Well, it worked. He requested “Collaborations” by Sukshinder Shinda, which is an amazing track, if not the best club banger for a mixed crowd. After ignoring so many of the man’s requests, I ended up playing “Collaborations,” and feel like, as I expected, it didn’t connect very well with the crowd. Normally it is the 1am -2am DJ shift that clears the crowd, and here I was thinning out the dancers an hour early. No good. No good at all. At this point, at my most hopeless and disheartened, I got another request. A helpful request. A request that got me back on my feet and right where I needed to be. The request was for “Sajnaji Vaari Vaari” from the Honeymoon Travels Pvt., Ltd. soundtrack. A song I’ve probably played at every single one of my appearances since it was released the beginning of last year. A song that I have rinsed, hammered, flogged, you name it. And here was a request for it. Perfect. A kindly Fiji-Indian set me right by reminding me to play one of my favorite Bollywood songs. Thank you. You saved my set. From that moment on my set went from one filmi hit to another, and while it may not have been to everyone’s taste, I at least did a solid job of pleasing one faction in the crowd.
Anjali started her set with the longest string of Bollywood house numbers I’ve ever heard her play. She claims she plays that many Bollywood songs all the time, but outside of Indian weddings and private parties, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her play such a stretch of filmi house. She eventually began playing Panjabi songs, and by the time I went back on at 2am there was still an enthusiastic group of dancers left on the floor, including the wonderful Purnima, Raminder, and Prashant, along with Anjali herself. Anjali finished up her set with PMC’s wildly alternating in tempo “Kori (Giddah).” There was some manic dancing going on, and as I looked out on the floor at 2am, I wondered, how could I possibly follow this? I decided to stick with crazy and wild and abrubt tempo changes by playing Preet Brar and Miss Pooja’s “Boliyan.” Not everyone left, and we actually had a spirited dance party going for quite some time. Anjali passed on Purnima’s request for a “rail” song, and the two of them led the whole club in a train for “Rail Gaddi.” I managed to keep at least the core dancers going until 2:45am when I finally got around to playing “Dupatta Tera Satrang Da” by Surjit Bindrakhia, hours after it was requested, and hours after the requester had left, no doubt in disgust. I failed to line up something in time to follow Bindrakhia, so as the last tones of the song faded away I asked everyone if they had had enough, and a little shy of 3am, everyone agreed they were exhausted and it was time to go home.
Thanks to everyone who came out and danced. Thanks to the hard-working staff at the Fez Ballroom, and thanks for the “Sajanaji Vaari Vaari” request.