emerging and emergencies: new south asian film-making from britain

While Anjali and I were in NYC the Asian/Pacific/American Institute of New York University presented a film festival entitled Emerging and Emergencies: New South Asian Film-Making from Britain. We saw a documentary about young Muslims in the UK post 9/11 called Young, Angry, and Muslim directed by Julian Hendy. It was shown with a made for BBC TV dramatization called Bradford Riots by Neil Biswas about July 2001 riots in Bradford by mostly young UK-born Pakistani Muslims . In the aftermath of the riots 191 men were jailed for a total of more than 500 years. The soundtrack was by Asian Dub Foundation, and Steve Savale, the guitarist for that band, led a discussion after the film. The movie was well-done despite having elements of that made-for-TV feel. Anjali and I also saw a double feature of Skin Deep by Yousaf Ali Khan and Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music by Vivek Bald. Skin Deep is a very affecting thirteen-minute short about a self-hating half-Pakistani, half-English teenager trying to pass for white in racist ’70s Britain. Mutiny is a movie that Anjali has been wanting to see since it was finished in 2003. She even tried to bring Mutiny to Portland years ago, but Vivek turned down her request to show the film in Portland, and cancelled a scheduled Seattle showing. He is very selective about letting the movie be shown. In the program guide for the festival Mutiny is described as “rarely screened in New York.” Yeah, rarely screened anywhere. Which is a shame, because it is such an exciting and inspiring movie. It traces the roots of British-Asian second generation music from the dub/ska/punk and hip-hop scenes in the ’70s. All sorts of musical figures that I associate with the late ’90s are shown as early punks and break-dancers. Archival television footage from the British ’80s included in the film showing desi break-dancing crews is just too cool. Mutiny features Asian Dub Foundation, State of Bengal, Talvin Singh, Fun^Da^Mental, DJ Ritu and great footage of the British Anjali, both as a hard-rocking member of the Voodoo Queens, and in her new sultry lounge singer incarnation. Most of the footage is from the late ’90s. Steve Savale from Asian Dub Foundation, who talked about the film afterwards (along with Vivek Bald and NYU’s Professor of Punk, Vivien Goldman), said all of the Asian Dub Foundation tour footage in the film was from 1996.

I remember reading about a lot of this music in the British press at the time. Looking back it was such an incredible flowering of talent. Unfortunately major labels stepped in, swallowed up, and spit out many of the promising Asian bands at the time. Most of them without ever releasing an album. The movie chooses InvAsian as a new (at the time) artist to feature as the bright young hopes, since Vivek didn’t want to end the film on a pessimistic note. They look and sound great in their first performance and I have to wonder what happened to them. Nowadays there are many young British Asian producers that show a clear debt to the sonic pathways forged by the late ’90s innovators. I only wish that more of them shared the insight and politics, and not just the sonic thunder.


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