I was given the chance to attend Vancouver’s biggest bhangra party of the year, the City of Bhangra Festival afterparty, which was headlined by New York’s very own DJ Rekha. Dj Rekha is a London-born producer who is hailed as a pioneer of South Asian music in the New York music scene. She artfully marries the sound of South Asian bhangra music with hip-hop undertones and electronic beats. Before her set, I had the pleasure of meeting with DJ Rekha to learn more about her career as a South Asian DJ, her musical influences, her creative process, and what it was like to meet President Obama.
Emily Cheung: What inspired you to become a DJ?
DJ Rekha: I just kind of fell into it, I love music and it was the right place and right time. I like curating and putting things together. I get excited about music and I want to share it. But the longer answer is, I came across bhangra music as a teenager and grew up at a time when hip-hop music was emerging. I heard those sounds together and it just did something for me. At the time in New York, the South Asian community was just coming of age. I saw other people do it at cultural events and weddings, and I though I could do it better. I tried playing guitar and taking piano lessons but it never worked, but djing it just worked. It just made sense.
EC: Who would you say your musical influences are?
DJ Rekha: I guess a lot of us are influenced by the music we grew up on. I grew up listening to a lot of New York hip-hop. I’m also a big Prince fan. I grew up listening to a lot of new wave electronic dance music. In terms of bhangra influences, I would say Punjabi MC and Tigerstyle. At home we listened to a lot of Indian soundtracks and Bollywood music, so certain producers like A.R. Rahman and R.D. Burman were big influences.
EC: How do your parents feel about your DJing?
DJ Rekha: Well they have had 20 years to get used to it. They are conveniently supportive.
EC: What was it like to meet President Obama?
DJ Rekha: It was pretty amazing. For me in situations where I feel stressful, there’s like an out of body experience. You’re so high and exhilirated where you don’t really know what’s happening. I felt that way when I met Queen Latifah. You know, I was nervous. At the event at the White House, I was selected for a one-on-one. He asked me if it was my music that was playing and he told me it was really good. He didn’t remember that I had been to the White House before where I had given him my CD, so I was trying to reinforce that. I remember him saying, “Congratulations on all your success” and I nervously replied, “Congratulations on all your success”. And he tells me, “Yeah I’m not doing so bad”.
EC: What is the most challenging aspect of your creative process?
DJ Rekha: All of it. Creating is hard. When it becomes something you have to do, it becomes even harder. Especially when it’s full time and there’s financial market pressures involved. There’s no easy part of it. You know, there’s the fun part, the reward part. But the reward part is small compared to the work. There’s actually a podcast I’m addicted to, it’s called “A Tiny sense of Accomplishment”. Its about the tiny sense of accomplishment you feel in the creative process involved in writing and creating. I don’t think many people understand that aspect about creating.
EC: Are there any projects you are working on right now?
DJ Rekha: Um, rent. Rent is an ongoing project. Well, there’s a couple faint ideas I can’t mention yet. They’re too amorphous, not formed enough. But I have a weekly podcast called “Bhangra and Beyond”, it’s bhangra but we go a little beyond. And I do regular shows in New York.