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Urban Desi: A Genre On The Rise
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Urban Desi: A Genre On The Rise
Urban Desi: A Genre On The Rise
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You might have missed the latest release from Snoop Dogg, but ask a Hindi-speaking hip-hop fan about the song, and they can probably sing you the hook. That's because the song is a collaboration with the Bollywood star Akshay Kumar. Nishat Kurwa reports on the growing genre that blends South Asian pop culture and urban black music.

NISHAT KURWA: In the video for the song "Singh is King," Snoop dons an embroidered coat and a turban and sits with his lanky legs crossed atop a throne. He looks quite comfortable in the milieu of Indian royalty, even if it is just a stage set. Some South Asian music critics even describe the scene as Snoop Dogg going desi. Desi is a Hindi word. It means from the land, the South Asian diaspora, India to Nepal to Sri Lanka.

(Soundbite of song "Singh is King")

Mr. SNOOP DOGG: (Rapping) Singh is the king. Check the records.

RDB: (Singing) Yaari hai jaan ehna di, Vakhri hai shaan ehna di, Hasna pehchaan ehna di, Tahiyon eh duniya kehndi.

KURWA: This kind of hip-hop, desi music mash-up inspired the Web site Founder Anjula Ancharia Bhatt left the U.K. for the States in 2001. She was dismayed to find that the fusion music culture she'd grown up with wasn't really getting much play from South Asian Americans.

Ms. ANJULA ANCHARIA BHATT (Founder, Kind of like a lot of Bollywood mixed with, you know, bhangra, mixed with hip-hop.

(Soundbite of urban desi music)

Ms. BHATT: You think of someone like MIA, for example. She's really representative of that genre which is what we call urban desi, which is just a mash-up of urban music.

(Soundbite of urban desi music)

KURWA: Shaman Ajmani first heard this urban desi music while manning the counter at his father's Indian music store in Berkeley, California.

Ms. SHAMAN AJMANI (Staff Member, Indian Music Store): That wasn't available for us here in the U.S. Nobody was doing it.

KURWA: His dad's customers were mostly shopping for more traditional Bollywood soundtracks like this one.

(Soundbite of traditional Bollywood soundtrack)

KURWA: But then urban desi music started bubbling up from U.K distributors.

(Soundbite of song "Beware of the Boys")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) All day I'm P-I-M-P, I am simply, Attached to the track like symphony, Its simply good young hov infinitely.

PANJABI MC: (Singing) Kari nah kisiday nal pyar, Mundian tho bach ke rahi, Ni thu hunay hunay hoeyi mutayar, Mundian tho bach ke rahi, Ni thu hunay hunay hoeyi mutayar...

KURWA: Ajmani says suddenly Indian music customers were flocking in asking specifically for rap.

Mr. AJMANI: Hey, we want Punjabi music. No, not from India, not from Canada, we want that stuff from the U.K. People, actually - it turned into a big fad.

KURWA: Ajmani says much later, American desis began breaking in to the rap game too. He says even though black and South Asian melodies blend seamlessly, the cultural exchange isn't always harmonious.

Mr. AJMANI: I do see some Indians over here, you know, using the N-word, stuff like this. I think it's so annoying. You know, I feel like just, you know, telling him, what are you doing man? Don't try to be black.

KURWA: And now, urban desi music is trying to circle back to the motherland, finding an audience among young people in India. founder Anjula Bhatt says for young South Asians in the West, this mishmash music culture represents a kind of freedom, not being forced to choose between two worlds.

Ms. BHATT: We needed to create something that defined us and was our identity, but also made us feel really good about this bi-cultural lifestyle that we lead.

KURWA: And we urban desis aren't alone in mixing our Hindi and our hip-hop. The big D-O-G-G says, he's making plans to tour India.

Mr. SNOOP DOGG (Rapper): Yo, what up? This is big Snoop Dogg represent that Punjabi...

KURWA: He might need a few cultural sensitivity lessons first.

(Soundbite of song "Singh is King")

Mr. DOGG: (Rapping) Watch me zoom by, Make it boom by, Wat up to all the ladies, Hanging out in Mumbai, Cheese make dollars, East West masala, Singh is the king, So you all have to follow.. KURWA: For NPR News, I'm Nishat Kurwa.

BLOCK: And you can watch a video of Snoop Dogg and Akshay Kumar performing the song "Singh is King" at

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