Sunday, November 1, 2015

India Sets Stage for Women to DJ

The stage for Sunburn Festival, an electronic music festival held yearly in
Goa. (via Wikimedia)

By: Danielle Keeton-Olsen
Edited by: Joshua Lim

Ma Faiza spent her first years in India on the beach. She was selling tapes at a flea market in the coastal village Anjuna throughout the 1990s, a time when few people in the nation listened to electronic music.

“I was listening to electronic music, and it just blew my mind,” she said, “I just kind of saw there was a whole lot of music in the UK that wasn’t in India, and I thought it should be.”

Since those years, the electronic music industry has blossomed in India, and so has Ma Faiza and other women taking up the DJ lifestyle.

India is widely known for Bollywood music, but the music industry isn’t limited to that genre.

Women are making new beats as DJs for an audience open to the changes, several artists said.

Not only are more women becoming DJs, being a DJ is now seen as a legitimate career, said Axailes Solar, who first started playing electro, minimal and progressive sounds in 1999.

“They pay the artists now, which was not the case in 2000,” Solar said. “It was a few meals, a few beers and you’re fine, but things changed because we imposed this.”

In addition to Djing for Antena Solar, a collaborative DJ project, Solar also hires DJs for parties in Goa through her brand Liquid Sky. Solar books DJs with a funky, sexy sound, but she also highlights talented female DJs through her Girls on Decks parties.

India’s major cities – Mumbai, Delhi and Goa– are receptive to the deeper underground and techno sounds, said DJ Anastasia Ito Malhotra.
DJs gaining popularity in smaller cities
But the smaller cities are catching on to the deeper sounds she creates with her husband, DJ Whosane!, in their project WA-TEC, she said.

“The underground scenes and the more deeper sounds are definitely coming up,” Anastasia said. “It’s a slow process but they’re coming up.”

DJ Candice Redding said smaller cities are where she finds “her people,” listeners just as excited about music as she is. A festival performance she thought would be empty turned into a packed four-hour jam session. Redding said she clicks with fans from villages where she is surprised to find an airport and a club.

“Whatever I feed to them, they take it in like it was the most amazing thing ever,” Redding said.
Although traditional Indian culture still resonates throughout India with the surge and international spread of Bollywood music. Some DJs, however, give it a new spin.

Angel Johal established a name for herself among DJs by mixing Bollywood music. She hopes to expose more people to Indian pop culture.

“I just want to take Bollywood music globally as much as I can, wherever I can,” Johal said.

Kini Rao, who plays shades of house and techno, took to the thrill of being at the turntable decks instantly, but it took performances and vast track knowledge to get “deep into it.”
“When you start playing gigs, there’s a lot of familiar faces plus a mix of clubbers and it in time it grows which makes you evolve as an artist in a very organic sense,” Rao said in an email.

In the commercial market of Bollywood sound, Ashrafi Oshidar said the competition causes DJs to take low pay just to get a gig. However, Oshidar said playing what her boss – the audience – wants gets her good gigs.

“I never say what is this girl doing or what is this guy doing, I just do my own thing,” Oshidar said.

Apart from competition, DJs with fewer years of experience in the scene look to veterans of the industry – Ma Faiza, Pearl and Ayesha – for inspiration.
Priyanjana Ghoshal got her first gigs by opening for Pearl, and then she dived into deep house, opening for Ma Faiza.

Vying for gigs makes competition unavoidable, she said, but in her experience, DJs help each other out.

“It’s not like we’re in touch on a day-to-day basis, but that’s support,” Ghoshal said. “If tomorrow someone asks me can you give me someone’s number, of course, if I’m not doing a gig I will pass it on to somebody else.”

The electronic scene in India is naturally supportive. Ma Faiza, who is also known as the "Mother of Electronic Music in India,” has never felt the need to hide the fact she is a lesbian, partially because she never received any backlash or homophobia from anyone in India.
Ma Faiza, a.k.a. the
"Mother of Electronic
Music in India," poses
for her Birthday Tour
picture. (Via Aabhishek
Mikael Gunaratnam)
One teenage boy came up to her and said he printed a huge poster of her and hung it on his wall, which shocked Ma Faiza, considering her childhood friends kept pinups in their bedrooms.

“It’s mad, all because it’s the power of be ‘you,’ because if I can do it, you can,” she said.

The Ma Faiza experience is about acceptance, she said. Fans find it inspiring when they see Ma Faiza’s mother in the crowd, cheering her on. Some teenagers listening to her music feel their parents might not relate if they are rooted in traditional values, Ma Faiza said.

“These young kids, they can never imagine a time when they could go out with their parents because the gap between their parents and the children it’s really, really strong,” Ma Faiza said.

Savitha Bala, known on stage as Digital Hippie, has visited Germany, California and Georgia, but she felt the deepest connection to Goa as a performer and a resident.

“It was the lifestyle of the people,” Bala said. “They were just so colorful and free and amazing, so I just wanted to be a part of it.”

In Goa, Bala’s music – which merges ethnic beats, funky jungle sounds, and classical and jazz vibes – is well-received. Bala said she might be the only woman playing to that niche of listeners, but the scene is open to the idea of innovative musicians.

“It’s a very exciting time. We have electronic music festivals, the field itself has opened up, so why not, why wouldn’t girls wanna do it?”

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