"I have been around the bhangra block," says DJ Rekha, NYC's ambassador for the highly danceable contemporary Punjabi (by way of London) sound, and founder of the popular, long-running Basement Bhangra party. "The biggest gig was definitely the White House. I have played all over the US and in Brazil, Sweden, New Zealand. I've done a bunch of music festivals and performed at cultural spaces including the Kennedy Center in DC."
Talk about "world music" (even if that term has fallen from fashion). Rekha brings her Basement Bhangra spin -- which includes a good bit of hip-hop and global bass influence -- to our own beloved Non Stop Bhangra this Sat/11, joining the monthly party's dholrhythms dance crew and DJ Jimmy Love for its reboot at Public Works, as I detailed in this week's Super Ego nightlife column. In an email interview, Rekha wrote about bhangra's changing scene, her favorite moments from the past 15 years at her club (Padma Lakshmi, anyone?), and her favorite bhangra bangers of the moment.
SFBG Can you share some of your favorite moments from Basement Bhangra?
DJ REKHA There have been a few.
1) I guess the first favorite moment is the first time I saw the line extend to the end of the block. We were always crowded, but by the following summer it was all the way down the street and not single file.
2) Having Wyclef stop by in the first few years of the night.
3) Dropping the Basement Bhangra anthem the first time.
4) Playing Panjabi MC's Beware of the Boys after it was already hitting New York radio, having playing it there so much several years before.
5) Watching Ted Forstmann (RIP) crawl and look for his date Padma Lakshmi's phone after she dropped it dancing
6) Getting a note to the booth saying I am Anil Kapoor (the game show host in Slumdog Millionaire) -- and me dismissing it as a ploy to alter the bhangra musical direction of the night to Bollywood.
SFBG Have you been to San Francisco before, and if you have can you tell me if you think there are any differences between the bhangra scene here and in NYC?
DJ REKHA I have been to SF many times but I must sheepishly admit I have never been to a bhangra party there. But Non-Stop Bhangra is very well-known and regarded so I am super excited to be playing there Saturday. My DJ experiences in SF have been awesome -- most recently at the Asian Art Museum and for the 25th Anniversary of Trikone. In both cases I play a range of sounds. But SF is home to the best bhangra dance crew -- Bhangra Empire -- they've performed at the White House, professional sporting events.
SFBG Besides the fact that bhangra is infectious (I grew up partly in London and have loved it since the '80s), do you think the influx of young Indian people moving to the US in the past couple decades has helped fuel bhangra's popularity in clubs here?
DJ REKHA I think South Asian culture is more prevalent due to many factors -- Bollywood Dreams, Slumdog, globalization. Specifically for bhangra it's the dance teams on the college scene that really help keep the music alive. Every major city in the US has some form of regular South Asian club night but only a few are actually focused musical on bhangra. Every major university has a bhangra team.
SFBG What other types of music besides bhangra are you into -- anything that might surprise some of your regulars?
DJ REKHA I love many styles of music. Being from NY, I love hip-hop, but also dancehall, electronic, tropical bass. I am big Beatles and Prince fan.
SFBG What developments do you see happening within the bhangra sound?
DJ REKHA I think the latest thing we are seeing/hearing is Punjabi vocals with no actually bhangra music in the track. For example the song Amplifier by Imran Khan. There is also a lot more over hip-hop stylings in the song in terms of vocals and not just beats. The lines of what is a bhangra track vs something that is desi urban are being blurred. Its never easy to keep a genre constrained. Also in the last year or two as a reflection of dance music today there are a lot more faster tempoed songs.
SFBG Can you share your bhangra top 5 of the moment?
DJ REKHA My top 5 joint of the moment are:
>>"Tohar," Garry Sandhu
>>"Electro Love Boliyan," Ranbir S. and Bikram Singh
>>"Jatti," Panjabi MC
>>"Jogi," Jr. Dred
>>"Sadi Gal Hor Yah (feat. DCS)," PBN