It is time to bid farewell to Basement Bhangra. With tonight’s last show its unforgettable journey in New York will come to an end. We know that Basement Bhangra has been going strong for the last 20 years and DJ Rekha has been the force behind it. She was the one who put the Indian dance form firmly in the American conscience.
Basement Bhangra™ was launched by DJ Rekha in the year 1997. Bhangra had little recognition and acceptance as an established and popular genre at that time. The success of Basement Bhangra did not come overnight. DJ Rekha was well aware of the fact that South Asian Bhangra music was an outsider art form and that she was setting a new genre idea around a musical night. In fact, there were many who considered Bhangra to be lower class and cab-driven music. She knew that it would be some time before it found general acceptance as well as its targeted audience. It was because of Rekha’s consistent effort that Basement Bhangra could finally find its audience and could compel New York to sit up and take notice of its irresistible beats.
Basement Bhangra gradually emerged as an integral part of the New York club scene. It mixed the traditional Bhangra with hip-hop and electronic sounds to produce irresistible and genre-defying dance music. Basement Bhangra parties are held on the first Thursday of every month and have been featured on national and international television.
London born DJ Rekha, is multi-talented and has made her way to the list of the most influential South Asians in the US. She finds her music an essential part of politics and activism. She says, “The politics and the social action of the party were definitely about moments when we —brown people—didn’t feel safe, or needed a place to gather. Nine days after 9/11, do you do a party or not? You do. Across the street from INS, where they’re locking people up. A lot of Sikh men came to our party and people who didn’t feel secure because we all needed a safe place to gather. Throughout the years of the party, we’ve aligned ourselves with different causes that matter, in raising funds or awareness, whether it’s relief for things back home, or just being a breeding ground for activists and artists in the making to gather. In creating community spaces, things just happen. I do think there’s a political charge of being there in a gathering that still exists, for sure.”
DJ Rekha will be remembered by the coming generations for doing what no one until then had thought of doing – she masterfully mixed diverse popular music from different backgrounds. From Balkan Beats to Brazilian Baile Funk, her range is overwhelming. She has received various awards and nominations for her music, like Best DJ nomination at the Plug Awards and a Drama Desk Nomination. The New York Times declared her the Ambassador of Bhangra and last year, she was selected as the official DJ for the historic Women’s March in Washington.
As Basement Bhangra’s long journey nears its finish, we hope many more budding artists and musicians from South Asia will continue the good work started by DJ Rekha two decades ago and many more South Asian art forms will continue to find recognition in the West. It truly is an end of an era, but won’t be forgotten for many years to come.