Chances are that you’re familiar with the term “Black Excellence.” It’s been a social movement and popular hashtag for a couple of years now, championed by heavy hitters like Diddy and Jay-Z. It celebrates people who are at the forefront of African-American culture and the great things that they do in their fields and for their community.
The “Black Excellence” movement itself is about getting more people of colour into positions of power. The term “Brown Excellence” pays homage to the work of this African-American led movement in an attempt to get those of us with South Asian roots our own seat at the table.
Brown people and other people of colour are often used in branding and marketing efforts, but are then overlooked or never consulted when it comes to decision making. As a first generation Canadian of Indian descent who is trying to carve a space for Brown artists in the western music industry, our ethnicity needs to be looked at as an asset instead of a liability.
The lack of brown-skinned artists at premier mainstream music festivals like Coachella is staggering. DJ TSpoon of the seminal Canadian-Indian Fusion group Delhi 2 Dublin has continuously pointed out that at almost every festival they play across Canada, they are the only South Asian artists on the entire lineup and are often the only artists of colour at all.
Of course this issue is systemic. It starts right from the access to resources. FACTOR, a non-profit that assists Canadian artists with grant money has come under fire this year for not funding artists of colour. We’re not just talking about South Asian artists… they are barely funding any artists of colour. Period. In the beginning of my career, I cut an album with the Indigenous R&B singer Inez. It won four Western Music Awards and was even nominated for a Juno (the Canadian equivalent to a Grammy, for all of you South of the border), so when I applied to FACTOR the next year, I thought I would get it for sure, but again I was denied.
On the other hand, I’ve performed at festivals like 5X (formerly VIBC) in Vancouver and desiFest in Toronto, who exclusively book South Asian talent and celebrate Indian artists in contemporary music (also called “Urban Desi” music). These festivals are ground-breaking in showcasing new talent and proving that South Asian artists are of a world class standard.
Music is a collective experience. It’s a celebration of what’s inside us all. Like our music, our music festivals should be rich and diverse, not a parade of Caucasian artists. What’s even more frustrating is that often western artists will use certain cultural elements to keep their music interesting (think tabla samples or ethnic costumes in music videos), but will not actually include any people of the ethnicities who’s cultures they’re appropriating in the studio, in their videos, or on stage.
As I talked about in my last post (which you can check out HERE), I made a conscious decision to begin recording and performing with Bhangra artists and to produce a certain type of music with different South Asian elements. A lot of people warned me that I was pigeon-holing myself. I never looked at it that way and I still don’t see it that way. It’s time to change the backwards paradigm of what people should and should not do… what people are and are not capable of, based solely on the colour of their skin.
Thankfully, things have changed in the last few years, with more artists of colour, like the Indian producer Nucleya (who many have dubbed the “Indian Skrillex”) and house music producer KSHMR, breaking ground for South Asians within mainstream EDM audiences. In the Hip-Hop/R&B space, you have NAV who has collaborated with Drake, Metroboomin and Travis Scott just to name a few, and the phenomenal Raja Kumari, who has written hits with Gwen Stefani, Iggy Azalea and Fall Out Boy. Both of these artists have become stars in their own right, and are inspiring young brown men and women to claim a place for themselves in Hip-Hop and R&B.
You also have the unapologetic, breath of fresh air that is IISuperwomanII. This is the larger than life alter-ego of the influential YouTuber Lilly Singh. She has served as an inspiration to all people of colour looking to make a career in comedy and tell their own truths. I know she changed my own perspective and inspired me to return to the music industry and ultimately start Global Party Starters.
I undertook the Global Party Starters project with these aforementioned motives in mind. In our collaborations and even in our videos, it’s really important to me to get South Asian faces out front and centre. When we sat down to cast the music video for our song “Tonight”, it was of the utmost importance to us to place a brown woman in the lead role. Behind the camera, we chose to work with Be True Cineworks, a cinematic company comprised of all South Asians.
With the release of our latest video “BAD BOY”, we took it a step further. Not only are Brown people under represented in mainstream media, when we are represented, it’s often in a negative light, associating us with either terrorism or Gang Violence. So the “BAD BOY” visuals play on the idea that you should never judge a book by its cover. The story follows a “Bad Boy” and his seemingly suspicious activities. Questionable intentions, a woman being misled, and a twist at the end to remind the audience that all is not what it seems.
The underlying purpose of this video is to attack the stereotype that has arisen around South Asian males specifically in Metro Vancouver. With an increase in gang violence amongst this population, blanket stereotypes are beginning to emerge. This video’s message aims to curtail those stereotypes. We’d be humbled if you’d watch it below.
This video also proves that things are changing in the grant world as well. Recently Creative BC, with the help of the Province of British Columbia, has been given new funds to specifically award to BC based artists, and the judges are keeping a focus on diversity. Thanks to their program, we were able to fund this video. And thanks to all our fans, the judges saw the potential in our music and our message. For that we are so grateful.
If you like what you hear (and what you see), please consider checking out our full length album “Tonight”. It’s high energy Urban Desi Music: A mix of influences from hip-hop, R&B, EDM, and South Asian culture. It’s my hope that it adds fuel to our “Brown Excellence” mission. I very much hope you enjoy it.
If any of this resonated with you or if you have any questions, please leave a comment and share your experiences and unique voice below.
When me and my partner REKing are out DJing for highschool students across British Columbia, we’re hopeful for them and their future. I dream that they’ll never to have to deal with the systemic racism that continues to plague so many industries. I know I’m going to do what I can to help make sure that all races and genders have a seat at the table.
Global Party Starters