Embracing Mainstream: Bollywood Collides with Beyoncé, Proving Brown Artists Can Shine

The south Asian underground music scene is rapidly growing
The south Asian underground music scene is rapidly growing [AIYUSH PACHNANDA ]

South Asian Music’s Struggle for Mainstream Recognition Despite TikTok’s Popularity

A Vibrant Fusion of Sounds and Cultures: South Asian DJs Redefine Musical Boundaries

In a club in west London on a lively Saturday night, an electrifying musical showdown unfolds as South Asian DJs blend sounds, cultures, and beats seamlessly.

Amidst the pulsating music, a young man passionately exclaims, “This is more than just music; it’s a celebration of my culture and identity.”

As the crowd sways to an eclectic mix of global chart-toppers, iconic Bollywood melodies, energetic bhangra rhythms, and an array of captivating sounds, DJ D-lish proudly states that she is pushing the boundaries of what South Asian music represents.

Striving for Mainstream Recognition: South Asian Artists’ Uphill Battle

Alisha, a talented 25-year-old artist, known by her real name, is just one among numerous South Asian musicians endeavoring to bring their music into the mainstream.

Despite cultivating a dedicated underground music scene with a fervent following, Asian artists continue to grapple with the arduous task of breaking into the charts. This challenge persists despite Asians comprising nearly 10% of the British population.

While other musical subcultures like Grime enjoy their heyday, Asian-influenced music seems to have been left behind, struggling to gain momentum.

Back in 2002, Panjabi MC’s bhangra hit “Mundian To Bach Ke” stormed the music scene, selling a remarkable 10 million copies worldwide and becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time.

However, what could have marked the beginning of a thriving era for Asian artists turned out to be nothing more than a fleeting success, a mere one-hit wonder.

Fast forward two decades, and the problem lingers—a limited number of British Asian artists have managed to secure top 40 singles, with even fewer songs infused with an Asian-influenced sound making their way into the charts.

Prejudged Without Uttering a Word

Singer-songwriter Jay Sean Opens Up About Preconceived Notions

In an interview with BBC News, singer-songwriter Jay Sean candidly shares his experience of facing confusion and preconceived notions when he began performing in the early 2000s.

“People were perplexed,” he reveals. “As soon as they saw a brown kid like me, they would immediately jump to conclusions about the type of music I was going to play. I was judged before I even had the chance to utter a single word,” he explains.

Jay Sean
Jay Sean said people would always make assumptions about his music based on the way he looked[ GETTY IMAGES]

Challenging Stereotypes: Artists Navigate Prejudice in the Music Industry

Renowned for his 2009 hit “Down,” British Asian R&B artist Jay Sean reveals that even after signing with a label, he encountered frustrating encounters where he was subjected to “dumb questions.” He attributes this to a prevailing lack of understanding about South Asian culture among label producers.

Likewise, musician Naughty Boy, known for collaborations with Emeli Sande and Sam Smith, shares a similar experience of being pigeonholed due to his ethnicity as a brown, Muslim artist.

Despite achieving a UK number one hit with “La La La” and securing five additional UK top 10s, Naughty Boy recounts being advised to “dilute” his sound to cater to mainstream expectations and increase chart success. However, he remained steadfast in staying true to his unique musical style, always embracing an unapologetic approach.

Both artists have adopted stage names distinct from their given names, clarifying that this choice is not an attempt to conceal their heritage but rather a creative decision that goes beyond cultural labels.

Naughty Boy
,Naughty Boy has been making music for over a decade[BBC]

Overcoming Stereotypes: Artists Champion South Asian Talent and Mainstream Recognition

Naughty Boy explains that his decision to adopt a stage name was not to seek validation through his identity but rather to ensure that his music is heard without preconceived judgments. His intention is for the world to experience his music authentically.

Both Naughty Boy and Jay Sean have taken matters into their own hands by establishing their own record labels, providing a platform for emerging South Asian artists. Their goal is to pave the way for more South Asian talent to receive recognition on mainstream platforms.

Sean emphasizes his unwavering determination to witness greater representation of South Asian artists in mainstream music. Drawing inspiration from the success of Spanish music and Afrobeats within the British audience, he firmly believes that South Asian music can achieve the same level of mainstream popularity.

Their collective efforts reflect a commitment to breaking barriers and challenging the existing norms, as they strive to create a more inclusive and diverse music industry.

‘The media turns a blind eye’

Expanding South Asian Music Scene Sparks Label Interest and Calls for Infrastructure Support

With the growing prominence of the South Asian underground music scene, record labels are recognizing its popularity and demonstrating a heightened commitment to signing South Asian artists.

Vishal Patel, co-founder of 91+, an independent label established specifically to address a void in the industry, focuses exclusively on signing artists of South Asian heritage. He highlights the struggle South Asian artists face in achieving mainstream recognition, attributing it to a lack of infrastructure.

“The scarcity of media executives from South Asian backgrounds who possess the operational expertise to promote this music is a significant obstacle,” Patel explains. He further acknowledges that many executives lack an understanding of South Asian culture, leading them to overlook its potential.

Drawing parallels to the experiences of black British artists who faced similar challenges, Patel emphasizes the need for unity and support within the industry. He believes that labels, media outlets, and streaming services played a crucial role in elevating Grime music to its current cool status. Similarly, he calls for industry insiders who will champion South Asian musicians and help them break through barriers.

These developments reflect a growing recognition of the untapped potential within the South Asian music scene and the necessity of fostering a supportive environment to propel it towards mainstream success.

Club event
Music executives are using social media as a tool to find up-and-coming South Asian artists [AIYUSH PACHNANDA]

Jasmine Takhar, presenter of the BBC’s Introducing show on the Asian Network, has played a vital role in providing a platform for over 500 South Asian artists through her show.

According to Takhar, there exists a widespread “ignorance” regarding the type of music created by South Asian artists. She asserts that the talent is undoubtedly present, yet questions why South Asian artists are not regularly heard on the radio or promoted on platforms like Spotify.

Takhar highlights an unfortunate reality where she has encountered artists with millions of social media followers who remain relatively unknown in the mainstream due to what she perceives as the media’s disregard for their work.

Her observations shed light on the need for increased visibility and recognition of South Asian artists in mainstream media spaces, emphasizing the importance of platforms like her show in bridging this gap and providing a much-needed spotlight on their talent.

A new Asian sound

A Rising Social Media Sensation: Girls Like You, the South Asian Girl Band

Girls Like You, a girl band consisting of four talented women aged between 20 and 25, all of South Asian heritage, has achieved significant fame through social media platforms. The band’s remarkable journey began when they were discovered on Instagram by Vishal’s record label.

With multiple viral moments on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, Girls Like You have captivated audiences with their unique talent and infectious performances. Their social media presence has garnered widespread attention and propelled them into the spotlight.

As a South Asian girl band, Girls Like You represents a fresh and diverse voice in the music industry, resonating with audiences who appreciate their cultural heritage and musical artistry. Their rise to fame serves as a testament to the power of social media in providing opportunities for artists to gain recognition and connect with a global fanbase.

Girls Like You
Girls Like You make music in English, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi [ GIRLS LIKE YOU]

A Cross-Cultural Blend: Girls Like You’s Viral Success and Breaking Stereotypes

In their latest achievement, the girl group Girls Like You achieved a remarkable six million views on their remix of Bollywood’s “Yeh Ka Hua” and Ne-Yo’s R&B classic “So Sick.” The band’s music represents a fusion of cultures, blending languages and sounds to create a unique musical experience.

Band member Jaya explains their approach, stating, “We love to combine pop music with bhangra, like mixing Bollywood and Beyoncé.” This integration of Bollywood influences into Western music is not entirely new, as several popular pop songs have previously incorporated samples from India’s renowned film industry. For instance, Britney Spears’ “Toxic” sampled a 1981 Hindi song by Lata Mangeshkar, while the Black Eyed Peas incorporated a famous song by Asha Bhosle in “Don’t Phunk with My Heart.”

Girls Like You aims to challenge stereotypes surrounding British Asian women and has amassed a truly global following on social media. Yasmin, another member of the group, affirms their commitment to breaking barriers and emphasizes their aspiration to translate their social media success into chart-topping hits. They firmly believe that the current climate is conducive to the success of South Asian artists.

In addition to the impact of social media, music festivals are also making concerted efforts to increase the diversity of their line-ups, reflecting a growing recognition of the need for inclusivity and representation within the industry.

Diljit Dosanjh performs on stage during the Born To Shine World Tour in Vancouver in June 2022
Diljit Singh Dosanjh will be the first Punjabi language singer to perform at Coachella[ GETTY IMAGES]

Coachella’s 2024 Line-Up: South Asian Representation and the Need for Long-Term Commitment

Coachella’s 2024 line-up has received praise for its inclusion of South Asian artists, highlighting the growing recognition of their talent. Mercury Prize nominee Joy Crookes, a South London artist of Bangladeshi descent, is set to perform, emphasizing the importance of providing a platform for musicians from minority groups. Diljit Dosanjh, a turban-wearing Bollywood actor and the first Punjabi artist to sell out London’s O2 Arena, will also grace the stage at the festival.

While these steps toward representation are encouraging, Naughty Boy remains cautious about the music industry’s commitment. He emphasizes the need for a long-term perspective, expressing his concern that South Asian artists may be viewed as a passing trend. He urges labels not to simply throw money at South Asian artists because being “brown” is currently seen as cool. Naughty Boy stresses the importance of sustained dedication and a genuine commitment to changing the industry landscape.

His sentiment reflects the necessity for lasting structural changes in the music industry, ensuring that South Asian artists are not seen as a temporary phenomenon but are given equal opportunities and support throughout their careers. This long-term commitment is crucial for fostering a more inclusive and diverse music industry that celebrates and uplifts artists from all backgrounds.

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