Yeah, I know, it’s been a while. Haven’t really been in the mood the few times that I’ve actually had available to write. My string of technical mishaps fortunately ended before the San Francisco gigs. I was afraid I might be able to work my magic on the plane. We arrived just fine and Vicki Virk, the head of the Dholrhythms troop (and DJ Jimmy Love’s Nonstop Bhangra partner) was kind enough to pick us up at the airport. The wonderful Joti Singh was our host (Thank you Jotu!). We were looking forward to playing DJ Zanne’s “Junk” night on Thursday (Portlanders may remember her “Skervy” parties.) but unfortunately the night was cancelled before we even hit town. We played Nickel Bag of Funk with DJ Jimmy Love at the Makeout Room on Friday. Jimmy was very welcoming and enthusiastic. I more or less did my thing. I don’t think I blew anyone away or seriously embarassed myself so I guess it went fine. I’m trying to remember what I played. Definitely some Bhangra/Hip-hop mashups along the lines of “Ishq Brandy.” Some Reggaeton, some Hip-hop. “Get Me Bodied” by Beyonce went over like a bag of bricks compared to the squealing reception it got at Booty. I think the crowd definitely wanted to hear things they knew but I wasn’t interested in playing the singles. Got a request for “My Humps” and Pussycat Dolls so I guess that tells you where at least some of the crowd was coming from. I can’t remember my set too well so I guess it wasn’t that memorable. I did just realize what my last song was: Gantman remix of “Check Up On It.” Always hated the original despite how much I like a lot of Swizz Beats productions. I liked the White Lion Reggaeton remix and after the last issue of Fader hipped me to Chicago’s Juke scene I checked out the Gantman remix of “Check Up On It” and lo and behold I’m playing two Beyonce songs in my set.
I remember at a certain point reading so much about Destiny’s Child that despite never having heard a single song I went and picked up a bunch of promo singles at 2nd Avenue Records. I went to the counter with a stack. The clerk gave me a wary eye. I told him I was catching up on contemporary R&B. He said, “Looks like you’re catching up on Destiny’s Child.” Uh . . . yeah.
So back to the Nickel Bag of Funk gig. I do remember losing a chunk of the dance floor at some point. I decided to completely change gears and played a twelve minute long James Brown track: “People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul.” It gave me a chance to breathe and think about what I was doing, and it is an awesome groove.
I was totally unprepared when the lights went on. Turns out a lot of bars in SF turn on the lights at 1:40am. I know that last call and having drinks off the floor also occur earlier than in Portland. We are very fortunate in Portland to play at two clubs that will let us play until 3am as long as there are dancers. In SF you are just out of there early. Seems like there’s hardly any time to get things going. Almost every night ended at 5:30am anyway thanks to a late night feast of one sort or another. My favorite were the pupusas at El Zocalo. Thanks to DJ Amar for the tip.
The Nonstop Bhangra gig was on Saturday. The party has been going on for two years now. It features the Dholrhythms dance troupe in several performances at each show and that troupe has been around for three years. In fact, they are shortly celebrating these anniversaries. Each night starts with a dance lesson conducted by Vicki Virk. The one I saw was accompanied by JT on live dhol. That was great. The live dhol really keeps you centered for the lesson and makes it very easy to stay with the rhythm. Vicki reaches out to the goras and the newbies giving some cultural background and introducing the dance in a very encouraging, welcoming way.
In general Anjali and I are not in favor of live instruments accompanying a DJ unless the musician and the DJ are used to working with each other. The South Asian music scenes in Seattle and San Francisco utilize this concept a lot. I’ve seen many musicians with giant egos completely clashing with the music and thinking they were awesome. As in rhythmically clashing, as in train wreck, as in all fucking night. This seems to be the rule rather than the exception. One thing that bothers Anjali and I is that there will often be tabla players accompanying Bhangra DJs. Well, other than a few embellishments in Sukshinder Shinda songs tabla doesn’t have any place in Bhangra. It’s South Asian conflationism that only confuses goras even more who already think that Bhangra is the sound of sitars and tablas rather than tumbis and dhols. The best tabla player we’ve seen in this sort of situation is Ferhan Qureshi of the Dhamaal Sound System. He was supposed to play at Nonstop Bhangra the night we were playing but he never showed. As much as we are generally down on the concept we were looking forward to playing with Ferhan because he is the only tabla player we’ve seen who was actually quite good and didn’t sound like shit playing along with Bhangra beats.
As I mentioned before the Nonstop Bhangra night features two dance performances by the Dholrhytms troupe. What this means is that the party is raging, the stage is filled with dancers, and then the call goes out for everyone to clear the stage so that the dance performance can begin. It is definitely a different rhythm for the evening than Anjali and I are used to. We like to bring the party to a raging boil and then just let it sit on the stovetop with the lid off all night. It was somewhat shocking for us to see a packed mass of wild dancers cleared from the stage twice in the night and the energy brought down to that of quiet attention. Jimmy ended up playing before, and between these performances so Anjali and I didn’t go on until quite late. I went on last and was once again startled when the lights went on when I felt like I was midway hrough my set.
This update doesn’t feel complete but I’m preparing for a wedding right now and don’t feel like adding anything. Everybody take care of themselves and each other.