Last night’s Andaz was quite a different party than the month before. As I watched the rain pour down early in the afternoon I worried about how many people were going to brave the weather to come out and dance. As we arrived at the club the club manager warned us that the month had been marked by low attendance and that February is the worst month for nightclubs. “Oh well, let’s see how it goes,” I thought. Only this week did Anjali decide she wanted to give an early bhangra dance lesson. After two separate attempts at teaching the few early attendees some moves, and not having much luck getting people to stay with it, we moved on to the DJ portion of the evening.
As I was preparing for the gig over the week I was listening to a lot of new Bollywood soundtracks that had me really excited. There were quite a few requests for newer Bollywood songs at the last Andaz so I decided to research some of the very latest soundtracks that have come out. I especially love tracks off of “I See You,” ” Nehle Pe Dehla,” “Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd.,” and “Barso Re” from the “Guru” soundtrack. I had really hoped to play a lot of these but realized that most would probably be too new for people to be very excited about them. I also know that the tracks I get really excited about are not often the same as the ones that end up being really popular. I started my set with some of the newer bhangra songs from the Panjab that I’ve been in to lately. Eventually I moved on to filmi and dropped the Sunidhi Chauhan-sung Gwen Stefani rip from “Bhagam Bhag,” as well as “Chakna Chakna (Remix)” from “Namaste London,” and “Afsana” from “Aap Ki Khatir.” At this point one of our regulars requested the new Himesh Reshamiya track “Afreen” from “Red” and despite my fears of overkill I obliged her for a Reshamiya-threefer before getting all chutney with “Signal,” also from the “Bhagam Bhag” soundtrack. This was a lot of filmi for this time of the night. Early on the night is usually filled with goras and we will play all bhangra since that is mostly what they want to hear (Yes, I know some of the goras come to hear Bollywood as well.) We usually only start playing more filmi when the Hindi-speakers start showing up a little later. I felt like I really pushed the filmi at this point, and little did I know that this was the most filmi that would be played all night, since the Panjabis turned out in force.
Anjali went on and played an all-bhangra set except for a mini filmi set of “Say Na, Say Na,” “Sabse Bada Rupaiyya,” and “Kaja Re.” I was shocked when she went into B21 next and one of our Hindi-speaking friends said, “Good, I’m glad you’re moving on to bhangra.” Not the typical attitude I’ve encountered from Hindi-speakers. The night was dominated by a large number of Panjabis who gathered from all over the state (and Washington too!). They packed the stage and did their thing throughout the whole night. Other than a few filmi requests from a gori (I finally played “Chaiya Chaiya” really late and I don’t know if she was still around by then.) I got nothing but Panjabi requests all night. This is unprecedented. Where did all the Hindi-speakers go? Finally fed up with all the bhangra? I hope it is not a permanent state of affairs as I am now so deep into filmi appreciation that I would be bummed if no one came to Andaz looking to hear filmi any more. I didn’t even get a chance to drop any of the latest Bollywood songs I was most excited to play. When I started my second set there had been a Jazzy B request and since Anjali hadn’t played any yet I knew that was an ideal place to start to please a stage full of Panjabis. I started out with “Yaari” and then went for a twofer with “Ral Kushian Manaiye,” both to rapturous receptions.
At this point came what I feel was the nadir of my evening. I got a hip-hop request. Previous posts attest to how tricky incorporating hip-hop into Andaz can be. Many “desi” parties around the US feature more mainstream hip-hop and R&B than they do Indian music. A lot of young Indian-Americans don’t feel “cool” unless they are listening to overplayed top 40 African-American music. Many parties dedicated to helping Indian-Americans “network” or “get drunk” feature only a sprinkling of Indian songs amidst the Nelly and 50 Cent. That is why Andaz has always been such a different party. Andaz has always been dedicated to Indian music, not necessarily the music that Indian-Americans want to hear.
When Andaz started in 2002 I had been to several “desi” parties that featured a lot of (if not entirely) bad mainstream hip-hop. Since bhangra and Bollywood remixes feature so many hip-hop samples I saw the need to incorporate some of the root material at our party, but I wanted to go about it in a different way. It was easy to tell from listening to Bollywood remixes that many Indian-Americans’ knowledge of hip-hop didn’t go back before Puff Daddy. There was a real desire to appropriate African-American cool by Anerican desis without any knowledge of or appreciation for the real history of hip-hop. I thought our party could be different because it would feature classic and underground hip-hop alongside bhangra and filmi instead of the lame top 40 crap featured at the other Indian parties. What I soon learned was that the large gora audience that would come to our parties were only interested in listening to Indian music. They would only stand around and look confused on the dance floor if a hip-hop song came on, as if they had never heard anything like it in their life. I remember playing the Coup and Missy at our first party at Lola’s Room and those songs being responsible for the least active dance floor of the evening. Over time I would try playing things like De La Soul, the Roots, and Nas and nothing ever worked except to inspire a few break dancers in an otherwise motionless dance floor. Over time I started to realize that the hip-hop songs that worked best were always the most pop and the most over-played. Eventually if I bothered to play any hip-hop at the night it would always be closer to the type of stuff I wanted to avoid playing rather than the stuff I was really excited about. This really upsets me as I am a huge follower and collector of quality hip-hop and I don’t like just playing the same old crap. Since contemporary bhangra (and more and more Bollywood) are so influenced by hip-hop I really feel a need to incorporate some of the real deal while somehow maintaining interest on the dance floor as well.
So like I said, I got a hip-hop request. From an Indian boy. I thought, “alright, I’m gonna do this my way.” I adore dead prez and decided that since “Hip Hop” was featured in the Dave Chappelle movie I could simultaneously play a righteous track and one that people would probably know. So I lined the record up and went into it after Jazzy B. Playing vinyl can be highly problematic at the Fez. 99% of contemporary bhangra and 100% of contemporary filmi is not pressed on vinyl. In fact, along with my interest in meren-rap and reggaeton, it was my introduction to Indian music that necessitated my ceasing to be a vinyl-only DJ. What this means is that at the Fez we will be playing almost entirely CDs unless we decide to throw in some hip-hop. We keep the bass loud with no frequency roll-off at the club. This doesn’t pose a problem when playing CDs. It just means there is huge, loud bass. However, turntable needles will pick up these bass frequencies and often start feeding back. So, if we are playing bhangra on CD, and then switch to hip-hop on vinyl, there will often be a loud rumble and a very muddy sound, necessitating turning down the volume, so that the hip-hop track sounds like a quiet, muddy rumbling. That is exactly what happened when I put on dead prez. (This is really sad, because when dead prez played the Fez year’s ago the track sounded incredible live.)
I felt an aura of confusion and dissatisfaction emanating from the dance floor. Often at this point I give up and go into a bhangra or fimi smash. This time I didn’t want to give up so easily. I have the new Roots on both CD and vinyl so I loaded up “Here I Come” on CD. I knew that just about no one would know the song but I wanted to play at least one loud, kicking, quality hip-hop song before going back into Indian music. I don’t think anyone appreciated it. Oh welll, it was for me.
So after going back into Indian music the hip-hop requester comes back to me. Well, of course he did, did you think he wanted to hear dead prez and the Roots? He asks for some R&B song I’ve never heard of. I’m sure it’s a current top 40 smash. I tell him we don’t really play R&B at Andaz. Then he asks for 50 cent. Arrrrgh. This is totally what I’m up against at this night. I didn’t give him any assurances and sure enough I didn’t go anywhere near 50 cent for the rest of the night.
I did however get a chance to go wild with Preet Brar, who was requested numerous times. At one point it felt like the bulk of my set was spent going back and forth between Jazzy B, Lehmber’s “Chalakian,” and Preet Brar to satisfy a flurry of requests. I did throw in the new Diljit “Revolver” track and the stage exploded. I figured they’d appreciate it. I even attempted some classics throughout the night such as old school Babbu Maan and even older school Gurdas Maan. I also played some ’70s Hindi classics which was about all the filmi I played in my later sets. We had so many Panjabis up until the very end. As well as a showing from our friend Sonu, we were also surprised late in the night when our friends Deep and Cheema dropped by, straight from driving back from a trip to California.
Now Deep is more a hip-hop guy than anything, so Anjali suggested I drop “Boys in the Hood” by another Deep: Deep da 1 from Houston, Texas. I looped the “This is your boy Deep” vocal intro as a shout-out and then went into the track. Despite how poorly my hip-hop songs had gone over earlier I decided to play some more rap, but take a different approach. Our Deep is a West Coast hip-hop fan (reppin’ Tupac the most) which inspired me to play the Game “One Blood” (on CD, no more muddy feedback for me, thank you) track next. I did. Did it work? Yeah, more or less. It wasn’t the biggest hit of the night, but it didn’t clear the club either. At one point I also got a chance to play more of the Roots. I didn’t appreciate how unfamiliar people seemed with the Roots when I played them because Jazzy B’s “Romeo,”a hugely popular Panjabi Hip-hop crossoever tune, uses the beat from the Roots “Don’t Say Nothin’.” When I got a “Romeo” request I made sure to play a big chunk of the Roots original first before going into the Jazzy B song. The dance floor got super-excited from the moment the beat came in but I doubt that many people knew I was slipping some more of the Roots in at first.
Andaz has never been the same party twice. As much as Anjali and I think we know what to expect, it is always a little (if not a lot) different. Sometimes it feels like an entirely new crowd that doesn’t know any of our songs. Sometimes the club is filled with Hindi-speakers requesting filmi hits. Sometimes it is a stage full of Panjabis directing the musical course of the evening. I am really curious to see how much Saturday’s party is a new status quo, or if the filmi lovers will come back in force. Stay tuned true believers.