New York trip including Basement Bhangra and Mehanata gigs


Anjali and I are leaving for NYC again tomorrow, and I haven’t even written about our trip two weeks ago. We took a red-eye to NYC and arrived Thursday morning, June 21st, the day of Anjali’s gig at Basement Bhangra with DJ Rekha. Anjali began the night early, before Rekha even showed up, around 7:30pm. Anjali played a lot of British Asian hip-hop, and at least one person came up to complement her on featuring music that never gets played at Basement Bhangra. When Rekha did show, Anjali had a dance floor grooving to ragga-style Bollywood remixes. Rekha got on the mic to greet everyone, and in addition to shouting out Anjali, she even shouted out myself, lounging in the corner. That’s the first time I’ve had the honor of being shouted out at a night at which I wasn’t even playing. Up next was the Bhangra dance lesson, which Reena conducted. She had the crowd hyped! She took them through all sorts of challenging routines and the crowd was excited and cheering the whole time. It was quite a performance.

This edition of Basement Bhangra featured the desi rock band Jungli. Their sound was a far cry from the Bhangra sound that usually rules the night. Lots of guitar and angry female vocals. They covered Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” and played a final song that was a fast hardcore-styled number that had Dave Sharma going wild on the drum kit. I hadn’t seen him play on a standard drum kit before, and he really impressed me with his energetic attack. Unfortunately we weren’t able to bring him to Portland this summer (in his Sharmaji guise) but it will happen some day.

Rekha and Anjali alternated playing short sets for the rest of the night. Anjali had planned on playing all her newest and hottest stuff, but the crowd wasn’t exactly feeling it. People seemed largely unfamiliar with her songs, and people kept coming to the DJ booth asking for more “familiar” stuff. People knew “Sanehvaal Chounk,” which Rekha played, but no one seemed to know anything off Specialist and Tru-Skool’s second album. They weren’t familiar with PJD either. Of all the tracks Anjali played “Aaj Me Peeni” seemed to go off the most. Even when Anjali was trying to cater to people who wanted more “familiar” material, she played things like “Tharti Hilde” which didn’t seem to register much with the crowd. Rekha showed that she knows her crowd more than anyone when she played the biggest song of the night, which ended up being “Mundian To Bach Ke.” Nine years after its initial release, it is still ruling New York. The one thing that Rekha and Anjali’s sets had in common was Lehmber, Lehmber, Lehmber. It was a Lehmber love fest all night.

Rekha had her exclusives as well. She played the Basement Bhangra theme song, and a Gunjan exclusive off her forthcoming Basement Bhangra album. Sounded great. Rekha did take a break from vocal tracks to drop our favorite dhol instrumental by Aman Hayer. She played a lot of current hip hop and dancehall tracks along with the bhangra, and later in the night dropped oldies by A Tribe Called Quest and Black Sheep. Her final songs were several tracks by the Police, whose reunion show she is eagerly anticipating.

Late in the night Juggy D and Tina “Tabla Girl” Sugandh come up to Anjali looking for Rekha. This is the second time Anjali has played for for Juggy D in just six months. He was at Basement Bhangra along with Ameet Chana, who had both been in New York for Bibi magazine’s Sexy South Asian man event. Ameet was very sweet and gracious. He swore they would all come to our Mehanata gig on Saturday, along with Raghav, who they would be paling around with, but unfortunately we never saw them that night.

We had Friday night off, and I swore I wouldn’t do what I usually do when we stay in Queens, which is to blow off every cool-sounding show. Well, it happened. I didn’t go to Turntables on the Hudson, didn’t go to a drum’n’bass gig recommended by Sharmaji, didn’t go to an electronic Brazilian night, and didn’t check out Joro-Boro’s night at Mehanata, which we would be playing on Saturday.

When we did make it to Mehanata on Saturday night we were running late, but neither Joro-Boro or the owner Alex seemed concerned. They set us up in the downstairs bar, where Joro usually plays, and he set up upstairs. I started with a set that managed to be entirely international, while avoiding a single Indian or Latin song, which is quite a feat for me. French hip-hop, Arabic hip-hop, Rai, and things of that nature. People were very complimentary from my first songs, and when Anjali took over I already had a dance floor. She played a mostly Bhangra set, which surprised me, given the latitude we had at the night. It went over really well, and the dance floor was really cooking. I went upstairs to check on Joro-Boro and he was playing the new Specialist & Tru-Skool, so even if the Panjabis at Basement Bhangra don’t know it, somebody is repping it in NYC. I felt bad because he was playing all this great stuff, and everyone was downstairs. Well, he got the last laugh. Anjali played Deep Da 1, and the crowd was NOT feeling the hip-hop, Panjabi or not. People began migrating to the upstairs bar. She played some reggaeton tracks after that, and the migration upstairs continued.

When I began my second set there were only a few dancers left. I played a lot of Arabic sounds. Because Mehanata has such a reputation for Balkan and Gypsy music I thought those would be the type of requests I would get. Instead, my only requests were for “salsa” (I hadn’t brought any, so I played a lot of salsaton and salsa-hop instead) and “Youm Wara Youm” which I hadn’t brought either. Anjali met Ori from Balkan Beat Box, who was in attendance, and he confirmed that he will be playing our September Musicfest edition of Atlas. He was very nice and had a Balkan Beat Box baby-tee for Anjali and some stickers for me (guess he wasn’t hitting the clubs with the Extra-Large tee in tow). During my set there were plenty of people at the downstairs bar, but only a few dancers. I decided to play some Balkan music to see if that was what people were waiting for. I put on “Que Dolor” by Fanfare Ciocarlia and EVERY SINGLE PERSON at the bar gets up and goes upstairs. Wow, I guess that wasn’t what they were waiting for. At this point I figure, “fuck it” and play a bunch of punta rock to an empty room. Ori remains and is very complimentary, but it sucks to come to New York to play to an empty dance floor. Occasionally someone would come downstairs and pop their head in, but when they realized the party was upstairs, they would turn right around and head back up. Eventually the owner comes down and tells us that unfortunately it looks like the party is upstairs this time, and we should just pack up. We were supposed to have stopped at 4am, and that was still hours away. Oh well. We trudge upstairs with our bags to watch Joro-Boro inspire hours of frenzied dancing. As depressing as it was to have our dance party sputter out early, it ended up being for the best, since we got to watch Joro-Boro in action. He played Bhangra, Funk Carioca, M.I.A., Balkan Beat Box, and a shit-ton of hyperspeed Eastern European stuff that was awesome, which I didn’t know. The party at Mehanata that night doubled as the Golem after-party, and the crowd did not want to go home. At one point the guitarist from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs walks through the dance floor and I remember I’m in New York City. It seemed like Joro played last song after last song. Manic, crazed, Gypsy madness, and Joro was the calm, cool and collected center of the hurricane. He kept playing and playing, and even after the lights were turned on, and it was 4:30am, people still did not want to leave. Joro impressed me as much, if not more, than any DJ of international music I have ever seen. He will definitely be making an appearance at Atlas, hopefully as early as this August. After he was done we were treated to a video of a transvestite performing “Choli Ke Peeche.” Joro invited us to the Manu Chao after-parties occurring at Mehanata later in the week, but I continued my streak of blowing everything off, including the Funk Carioca party: NY Loves Baile.

Anjali and I did see “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom” at the Imaginasian Theater in midtown. It was so bad in its first half (even knowing that it was a set-up) that I seriously considered leaving at the intermission. Somehow we ended up enjoying it by the end, even if I think there was only one good song (albeit repeated over and over). –Anjali likes “Halke Halke” as well.– There was a brief blip of Kais’ “Mundeya De Dil Hilgaye” at one point, which I found amusing. Towards the end of the film Ameet Chana makes a cameo, which was a trip, having just interacted with him the other night. He pretty much seemed just like he was in the film. Anjali’s favorite author, Meera Syal, also had a cameo. There were two kisses in the film! Including one at the end with Abhishek and Preity, where Abhishek says, “Let’s do something we’ve never done before,” which seemed to be coming from the actor as much as the character, as far as I’m concerned. (Is there something I don’t know about their prior onscreen kissing experience?) There was also a lot of cussing in Hindi, but such is my lack of knowledge, I only recognized one cuss word. It was my first movie with Bobby Deol, who really creeped me out, with his awful lightened poodle top. Didn’t care for his overly-broad and repetitive acting either.

Delhi Palace is still our favorite place to eat in Jackson Heights by far. Saffron custard, yum! At one point I was forced to go to Jackson Diner, and it was just as sub-mediocre as I remember. Went to a new-to-me Indo-Chinese place on Curry Hill called Indo Wok, which was good, if not mind-blowing.

Found the new location of Barrio Music Shop in Spanish Harlem, which was closed on Sunday during my last NYC trip. It had only moved a few blocks, fortunately. I went to quite a few music shops in El Barrio, but didn’t even find a single new and exciting release. As always, the best place to buy contemporary international music in the United States is the Virgin Megastore. Where else can you find a wide selection of contemporary Balkan music, French hip-hop, Middle Eastern pop, Batucada, Funk Carioca, Samba-hop, Samba’n’Bass, Rai, Reggaeton, Dancehall, Soca, Merengue, etc., all in one place? Let’s hope they don’t close like all the other chains.

The flight home ended up being far more epic than we ever could have imagined. We were traveling with Anju’s five-year-old niece, and her brother-in-law’s cat. I was just focused on getting past security, figuring the rest of the trip would be easy sailing. Yeah, right. The flight was scheduled to leave at 5:30pm, and we got to the airport after 3pm. After many hours on the tarmac and occasional updates from the pilot, he said we were five minutes from departure. Then he said, “Never mind, we have to go back for refueling.” Apparently there were thunder storms up and down the East Coast, and new flight plans taking into account the dramatic weather were continually being entered into the plane’s computer. Every time a flight plan had been entered, it became outdated, and a new one had to be entered. Eventually the flight plan involved flying so far out of our way to avoid the storms that more fuel was necessary. After several more hours back at the gate they announce that all connecting flights have already been missed, so all connecting passengers (us) would have to exit and try again tomorrow. Our stuff would be waiting at baggage claim. –No, change of plans, the luggage would go to Denver, and then it would be returned to New York and we should provide a New York address the luggage would be shipped to. That’s not gonna work. What about the cat? What about the thousand dollars of new music in my luggage I couldn’t carry on, because I already had all my DJ music with me? Arrrgggh. We decided to stay with the luggage. There was a de-planing so people could eat something at the food vendors in the airport, and then a re-planing, and then an eventual departure after midnight, surrounded by lightning, and accompanied by desperate applause. At one point during our ordeal the pilot complained about the outmoded traffic control system at use in the United States that is causing all the problems. Outside the plane I heard him say that he would rather fly in the Middle-East than the United States.

We landed in Denver with a sleeping 5-year-old at 2:30am. Anjali worked on getting us a flight to Portland. Either spend all day in Denver waiting for the next open direct flight, or fly to Seattle, then Portland, at 6:30am. Sure, add a leg, why don’t you. The airport was filled with sleeping bodies in every corner. We weren’t alone. The only thing that saved me was Robert Anton Wilson’s final collection, Email to the Universe. –I am so thankful for his influence on my life. The lucidity of his writing brings me so much joy. I hope that wherever he is, in whatever form, he is enjoying himself.– We waited bleary-eyed for our morning flight, after having to wait in yet more lines. We finally made it back to Portland the next afternoon, more than 24 hours after we had left for the airport in New York. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen this weekend when we fly out to play our first night at the Knitting Factory. Thanks, Chantelle!


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