So, I eventually got turntables and my high school friend Phil, who was a DJ, would come over to show me a few things. One day he just said, “you just gotta be loose, you just gotta feel it, it's just kick/snare, kick/snare, 1-2, 1-2.” That was my first lesson about really listening to the music without just playing song after song.
I remember being really excited and proud that I had this DJ setup. And our friend came over and I showed it to her, and she said something I'll never forget--- “Look at Rekha trying to be black.” And I was like, “Wow”, and that was really interesting, because--it just speaks volumes about the complexity of race and about cultural access. We grew up together, we had the same cultural experiences, yet, at that moment in time and--I would say rightly so, hip-hop was seen as a black art.
Hope's A: Yes it was and many would argue still is, despite it's current worldwide universal appeal.
DJ Rekha's A : Now the top DJ's in the world are white men, you know, a very particular looking white guy. It goes both ways, right? “Look at Rekha being black” and then “I didn't know you people get down like that?” What is that conception coming from? I just sit around and do yoga all day or go to elaborate weddings, I don't know?
Hope's A: We could go on and one about this issue of race, stereotypes and misunderstandings. I do want to revisit this in the future.
Hope's Q: Sometimes we all have grand ideas about changing the world for the better, but I see over and over again, it's about one person having an idea, taking a chance and then connecting the dots with other like-minded individuals. You can look through history and see all the powerful movements and inventions began the same way. How did Basement Bhangra, your genre-defying, massively celebrated in New York City nightlife institution, evolve into becoming Bhangra's introduction to music today?
DJ Rekha's A: Basement Bhangra caught on quick, and it was a little right place, right time. The party started as a counter to the young South Asian party scene I started becoming a part of and also, a sort of activist space. I think that the magic of Basement Bhangra was that I would not play Top 40 music. At that time there was an aversion to hip hop and Bhangra, because within South Asian music there's Bollywood which is a music from the films, and Bhangra is Punjabi . Bhangra is seen as cab driver music/low-class, and hip hop is seen as thug music, so I was like, f*ck y'all, I want a party that plays both! To avoid the cut-throat world of event promoting in NYC I decided I would hold the party the first Thursday of every month. Subsequently, I am one of the first monthly parties in New York. I was just like appointment, first Thursday, just know that's where you have to be. That really helped solidify Basement Bhangra. And let me tell you, girl, for the last 18 years the first Thursday, I've been in the same place.
The initial crowds were people of my community and the first event we did was with Bally Sagoo, who is this producer and artist that's very influential to me, from the U.K. and our first night was super-packed. But the party built organically on its own, and I think the crowd that came over were refreshed to hear Bhangra in a club space loud. And the music was new, Bhangra was becoming more accessible dance music and blended with dance hall rhythms and hip hop beats and it sort of jelled. We would play a Bhangra set and mix it seamlessly into a hip hop set, cause it just made sense, or a dance hall set, going back and forth, and the people that came like all those genres, like me.
Then I was a musical fascist. I was like, “No, we're not going to paint a broad brush. We're not playing every kind of Indian music. We're going to play Bhangra, and we're going to play it hard, we're going to go heavy. We're going to play stuff that you don't think we should play at a club. We're gonna get really--there's a word in Punjabi, it's called pendu, which is "we're gonna get really village.”
It was also about making sure like the right people are in the space and really rewarding people who dance, and really creating a space that is about dancing. Always about movement.
Hope's A: My kind of party.