Friday, August 29, 2003

Everybody Says I'm Fine

Nice story from today's on Washington Post on Rahul Bose's film, Everybody Says I'm Fine. The movie, which opens at Visions Cinema and Bistro here in Washington, is based in a hair salon in Mumbai, where the city's elite meet to relax, gossip, and get their hair done.

Here is a clip from the article:
"For most American viewers, Indian film is a bipolar affair, defined either by lurid Bollywood extravaganzas or the more personal stories of Mira Nair ("Monsoon Wedding"). So "Everybody Says I'm Fine" arrives as a welcome departure; although Rahu Bose's first feature ultimately succumbs to overblown melodrama and too-neat conclusions, it marks a promising and energetic debut from a filmmaker who is clearly seeking to widen audiences' perceptions of India and its cinema culture. "

I don't think I could have said it better myself. This is one of those films that falls in the category of films like "English August," and "Split Wide Open," definitely not Bollywood, but definitely Indian.

Incidentally, Vision's is having a desi party to celebrate the movie's opening with free hour d'oeuvres, drink specials, and bhangra/desi music DJ tonight beginning at 9.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Christopher Hitchens on the 10 Commandments story

Sometimes, he really annoys me, but I found myself enjoying Christopher Hitchen's latest on the Alabama 10 Commandments story published on

Here is an excerpt:

"The first four of the commandments have little to do with either law or morality, and the first three suggest a terrific insecurity on the part of the person supposedly issuing them. I am the lord thy god and thou shalt have no other ... no graven images ... no taking of my name in vain: surely these could have been compressed into a more general injunction to show respect. The ensuing order to set aside a holy day is scarcely a moral or ethical one, unless you assume that other days are somehow profane. "

click here for more

Monday, August 25, 2003

Blast Rocks Mumbai

I just saw Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay for the first time last night, and was remarking about how much, despite all the poverty, corruption, and evilness that pervade the streets of Bombay, that I think that city is amazing. Bombayites slowly recovered from the blasts 10 years ago that rocked the financial district in 1993, and now, as the story in the New York Times reports, they are going to have to recover from another blast that has rocked one of my favorite Indian monuments, the Gateway of India, as well as Zaveri Bazaar, both in South Bombay, near where I interned in the Summer of 1998.

While I was at Hindustan Lever, I would on occaision walk around the southern tip of the city, near the Gateway, near the Taj Hotel, which was also damaged in the blasts, and you just kind of think of the history of the area. Well, at least I did. And now, after another one of these bombings, in a place that I have visited many times, I just kind of wonder when all of this will end. When people will realize the means to an end is not through violence. It is not through extrajudical means.

We in America are getting ready to celebrate the 40th anniverary of Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech, a speech which was given by a man heavily influenced by the teachings and writings of Mohandas Gandhi. I hope the poeple of India, and the people all over the world will sort of go back and mull over the philosophies of these two great men--so that everyone can go back to a world, where violence, terrorism, crime, and poverty are not things to expect, or to live in fear of, while equality, freedom, and civility become the new words that we live by.

My thoughts and prayers, are with the people and families affected by todays tragedy in India.

I think is doing a good job at maintaining a current website if you would like to keep up-to-date as events unfold in Bombay.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Ben's Chili Bowl Turns 45

Great story from today's Washington Post on what I have found to be a landmark in the Nation's capital, Ben's Chili Bowl as it turns 45.

The article, written by Debbi Wilgoren, does a great job at describing the history of both U street and Ben's, and the role both played in American history. Also, being a vegetarian, it was great to walk into Ben's and devour some of the best, vegetarian chili, vegetarian chili cheese fries, and vegetarian chili cheese burgers I have ever had. And then to be able to wash it all down with a really nice milkshake, well, you cannot beat it. (And no, I did not eat all of that stuff in one sitting.)

I always wondered if the owners were Indian, or of Indian origin, and I suspect that since Ben Ali is from Trinidad, he may have some sort of a desi/Indian background. Anyway, congratulations Ben on 45 years, and hopefully there will be at least 45 more.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

New Virginia License plates

On my way to New York this weekend for the India-Day parade stuff, I noticed the new Virginia License plates that were causing some controversey awhile back. Anyway, I couldn't help myself, so I made my friend Gaurav take a picture of it so I could put it on the blog. I have blurred the actual plate number because I don't want to infringe on anyones privacy.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Is Brown the New Black

Interesting article from the UK's Guardian written by desi Vivek Chaudhary. The article entitled, "The big bhangra," discusses the rise in Britain of not only Panjabi MC, but producers like Rishi Rich, and his artists Juggy D, and Jay Sean, but more significantly the strides these people are making in the music industry for South Asians, and South Asian sound. While PMC has had tremendous cross-over success with Mundian to Bach Ke, Rishi Rich has been producing mainstream artists tracks for some time. Having worked with Britney Spears, Craig David, Ricky Martin, and been summoned by JLo's camp, in addition to Mary J Blige, it seems that Brown is the new black in Hip-Hop.

"The buzz in the music industry is that bhangra and indeed other forms of Asian music are hot, and, at last, record executives and non-Asian music fans are waking up to the potential of the music. Panjabi MC managed to have a top-five hit with Beware of the Boys, a song that he first released five years ago when it was ignored outside the Asian community. The irony is that 90% of those who bought the record did not even understand the lyrics, but leading artists, particularly from the world of hip-hop and R&B have been queuing up to work with Panjabi MC. Rishi Rich has been attracting similar interest. Not only has he been asked to produce Britney and Ricky Martin, but also Mary J Blige, J-Lo, and Mis-Teeq. On the blistering hot day when we meet, though, Rishi and his team have just been putting the finishing touches to his own single, Dance with You, which is due for release in early September. All three young Asians were born and brought up in west London, and between them have brought different skills and musical ability to the recording studio. Twenty-two-year-old Juggy D is more in the mould of a traditional Punjabi vocalist, while Sean, also 22, is a rapper and R&B singer. Bringing their sound and talent together is Rich, something of a veteran of the British Asian music scene at a mere 26 years. Rich has spent the best part of his career mixing traditional Asian music with soul, hip-hop and R&B and, until now, getting little notice or praise for it. Like his two colleagues, Rich's career has been littered with industry knock-backs as mainstream record executives appeared to have little time or enthusiasm for his music. Rich recalls meetings with executives who told him that songs in languages other than English would not sell, while Jay Sean recalls not being taken seriously because he is an Asian who raps. It is at this point that Sean grabs the microphone and performs You Don't Know Me, which he says he sings for all journalists and record industry executives and, he claims, best sums up the way they feel they've been treated by the industry. "Now the Asian scene is the place to be/ Ever since Goodness Gracious Me graced the scene/ What with Missy, Truth Hurtz and Redman having a taste/ We've even got the Kumars dancing with Gareth Gates."

To read the full article, click here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Fox is Suing Al Franken

And I thought Fox was against frivolous law suits. I was surprised this morning, as I was watching the C-Span call in show (Yes, I actually watch C-Span) to hear that Fox News is suing Al Franken, and that the channel's lawyers are trying to get an injunction placed against Franken's publishers in order to stop his book- due out next month-"Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" from being published. Apparently, Fox has the words"Fair and Balanced" trademarked, and object to Franken's use of, as the NY Times writer puts it, the word "fair" and the word "balanced" together, connected by the word "and." I know that fox, in my opionion quite erroneously, describe their news coverage, as fair and balanced, but I think it is ludicrous to presume that no one then has the right to use these words.

What I suspect is the real problem is that the subject of Franken's book, the right, and the right wing media, is not too flattering to Fox, and this is just a half-ditched attempt to get either some spin, or actually try and squash Franken's book from coming out.

Here is what the Lawyers for Fox argue according to the Times:

Fox has trademarked "Fair and Balanced" to describe its news coverage and that Mr. Franken's use of the phrase would "blur and tarnish" it. "Franken is neither a journalist nor a television news personality," according to the complaint. "He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight." The court papers refer to Mr. Franken, who is a former "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer, as a "parasite" who hopes to use Fox's reputation to confuse the public and boost sales of his book. Mr. Franken is also accused of verbally attacking Mr. O'Reilly and other Fox personalities on at least two occasions, and of being "either intoxicated or deranged" as he flew into a rage at a press correspondents' dinner in April 2003.

Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and the former lawyer, turned "television news personality," Greta Van Susteren, are all on Fox's lineup, and they are trying to attack Al Franken for being a parasite, and for having views that lack depth or insight?

The issue, all skepticism aside, is, can someone, or some entity, trademark the words, "Fair and Balanced?" I am leaning towards no. What do you guys think?

KB Toys and George Bush

Here is a link to a new action figure that KB Toys is now selling that is a replica of George W. Bush in what is, as the product description indicates, "the latest issue in its Elite Force series of authentic military 12- inch figures, President George W. Bush in naval aviator flight uniform. Exacting in detail and fully equipped with authentic gear, this limited-edition action figure is a meticulous 1:6 scale recreation of the Commander-in-Chief's appearance during his historic Aircraft Carrier landing. On May 1, 2003, President Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) in the Pacific Ocean, and officially declared the end to major combat in Iraq." And because of this act, I am assuimg, they are selling this toy.

My question is this, I thought it was illegal, for the President to make any money off him being President, while in office, and I also thought it was illegal for any company to attempt to make money off of the President, or any likeness of the President, at least until he is out of office. Wouldn't George W. Bush have to give his consent for this type of toy to be made, and is that consent not illegal? I am hoping some of you guys might know about this for sure, so if you do, leave a comment. I am going to try and do some research on this, and if I find out more, I will post it.

Here is a story from the WP on this.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Rishi step closer to the mainstream

The Rishi Rich Project, consisting of the likes of Producer Rishi Rich, R&B vocalist Jay Sean, and Bhangra vocalist Juggy D, are one step closer to making a mainstream hit out of their tune "Dance with You." The track, which has been in the top of the BBC Radio One Asian charts for the past months, finally has a video, which can be found here. I must say this video is much better, especially for the ikes of MTV, than what Panjabi MC has produced with both Mundian... and Jogi. Let me know what you guys think.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

My New Articles in Mantram Magazine

I am posting scanned images in .gif format of two of my most recent articles published in Mantram Magazine. This first article, is about Bhangra Blowout and the British Asian band, The Dhol Foundation, whose music was on the Soundtrack for "Gangs of New York", and is supposed to also be featured on the Soundtrack for "The Hulk." The second article, is on Karsh Kale's recently released album, Liberation. Check them out if you get a chance, and if you want to subscribe to Mantram, a print monthly, click here.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

NY Times on the South Asian Influence in Hip-Hop

Now, the New York Times has published an article on Panjabi MC, Raje Shwari, and the whole South Asian influence on American hip-hop. While I like most of the article, I do want to note that the Times, just like most papers, erred in the captions of the images that they associated with the article. The captions for the images indicate that they are from the Mundian to Bach Ke video, while they are instead from the video for PMC's single Jogi.

The one place where I think the article, and many others like it are shortsighted, is when they limit the discussion to the openness and inclusiveness of the American hip-hop genre, and fail to mention, even the slgihtest bit, about the increasing status of South Asians in mainstream America, not just in music or medecine, but in journalism, in government, in literature, or whatever. I think for many South Asians, that is where part of our pride in PMC, Bend it Like Beckahm, Bombay Dreams, or Parminder Nagra's success comes from, from the fact that perhaps mainstream America finally recognizes the contributions that South Asians are making to this country in everyday life, outside of bhangra, samosas, naan, and tandoori chicken. Or maybe it is just me.

Incidentally, the author does make a reference to Raje Shwari--who I mentioned the other day.

"The singer Raje Shwari is a case study in this freewheeling exchange. Her parents are from Gujarat, India, but she was born and raised near Philadelphia. She says she would never have become interested in Indian music if hip-hop hadn't led the way. "I was making my demo in July of 2002," Ms. Shwari said. "I was hearing Indian samples in hip-hop, so I sang some background vocals and made them sound like samples, because of Timbaland." Bill Pettaway, an associate of Timbaland's, got a copy of the demo, called Ms. Shwari and made her sing to Timbaland over the phone. Within weeks, she had recorded tracks for Jay-Z and Bubba Sparxxx. And recently she recorded a track with Timbaland himself, in which she reworks some lyrics from a Bollywood song over samples of an early 90's bhangra tune. The track, called "Indian Style," has gotten heavy play from Asian music shows on BBC radio, but the response suggests South Asians aren't uniformly comfortable with cross-cultural sampling. On a BBC online bulletin board, a listener who calls himself "max pain" lashed out at the song's fans: "You say it's authentic? It's just the same tune from that Bollywood flick but you think its cool now cz a hip-hop producer redone it. Talk about being easily lead!!! Indian people need to wake up and realize that they're selling you your own music, but you think its cool cz it's a black man behind it. It's such a sad state of affairs."

I think "Max Pain" makes a good point. Are South Asians who are supporting this manipulation of South Asian music bandwagoning on a negative trend? And are we just supporting something that is going to be yesterdays trend? If so, the question then becomes, what can we do about it, and really, is there anything that can be done. We are currently in an era of Asian Cool, an era that has been going on for some time now. But how long is this going to last?

"Ms. Shwari says she has even been criticized for not sounding authentic enough, or for being Guajarati rather than Punjabi. Of course, these distinctions will be invisible to most American listeners, even those with a particular interest in the music. "I don't really try to figure out the difference between what y'all call bhangra or ragas or whatever," Timbaland said via an e-mail message. "I just have known for a long time that Indian music is dope. As far as the sampling goes, I probably was the first to do the `Indian' thing, and it definitely started moving hip-hop in a new direction, but now we're doing `world hip-hop.' " Ms. Shwari is continuing to work with Timbaland on her coming solo debut and on "Under Construction 2," his third album with the rapper Magoo. She describes "Indian Flute," the track on which she sings, as a response to "these MC's who sample Indian music without understanding it." "I sing in Hindi, and Tim and Magoo rap in Hindi," she added. "All of it rhymes. It's the most amazing Indian urban record yet." Do you think Tim and Magoo, understand the music, or understand the Hindi they rhyme in?

In a way, I think Raje is not just behind her times, but a little naive when she references Timbaland's new album as being the most "amazing Indian urban record yet." Specifically because I doubt Tim or Magoo have lived Indian lives, and are far from rapping or talking about it. I am not saying that Indian-Americans have had it harder than African Americans, and in fact I am not even trying to make the comparison. But if we claimed that Eminem or a couple of Indian MC's have made the most amazing whatever "urban record yet." We would be laughed off the Internet, or whatever medium that claim was made on.

And secondly, South Asians in America have been doing this South Asian hip-hop for some time, whether it is rapping in English, Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi or whatever. In fact, two subjects in which I have just written on for Mantram magazine come to mind. (I will post these after the magazine goes to print) The first is the rap group Karmacy, who have rapped in English, Gujarati, and Spanish on Rukus Avenue Records. The other, is the1shanti who is part of the Dum Dum Project, whose hip-hop remix of Shakalaka Baby appears on Andrew Lloyd Webber's soundtrack for the play Bombay Dreams. Both group's music have appeared on Bobby Friction and Nihal's radio show on BBC one--a necessary listen for those interested in diasporic South Asian sounds.

There is a lot to think about in this post, and I know my thoughts are kinda scatterred, but in the end, I think it is important to support desi artists who are taking the sound to the mainstream, although we should not support it blindly.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Raje Shwari

If you ever wondered whose voice that was singing the Hindi lyrics in that Jay-Z song, or from Slum Village's Disco Remix, or from that Nas' Angels song that is on the Charlie's Angels soundtrack, the artist's name is Raje Shwari (I am assuming they made her first name, Rajeshwari into two in order to faciliate its acceptance into the mainstream). Anyway, she is going to be coming out with a single shortly called Indian Style which is produced by Timbaland, and the tune of the song is a mix of Dhola ve Dhola, and the Bollywood song, Number 1 Punjabi. Anyway, I wanted to "Big-Up" for getting the South Asian sound out there, and representing. If you want to check out her website and find out more about this talented artist, click here.

Bend it Like Beckham At Theatres Everywhere

I know I wrote about this before, but since it is getting yet another release because of its tremendous success in America thus far, I wanted to highlight Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham once again. I have seen this film, and now that I am typing this it sounds a little obsessive, at least ten times. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do, it is a great film, and in my opinion, has done a tremendous amount for familiarizing the West to South Asians and South Asian culture/music.

In the end though, I think Chadha’s films do more to show us how similar at the core all people are, whether we are Indian, American, British, or whatever. Congratulations again to Gurinder Chadha, and if you enjoy good bhangra tunes, catchy and hilarious dialogue, and the cool British accent, please do go see this movie.

Just a sidenote, I think this is the third time this movie is being released, this time I think trying to capitalize on the success of Keira Knightley's role in Pirates of the Caribbean. I wonder if it will be re-released yet again, when Parminder Nagra debut's on ER.

For my friends on the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA), who often try and guess who will be the first South Asian host of Saturday Night Live, I again have to check my vote for Parminder Nagra--does anyone else out there have any guess's? If so, either email me, or put them in the comments. I can make a listing and take my own little straw poll.

Last thing. Why do all ethnic films have to be labelled as "My Big Fat...(fill in the blank)?" Just because a movie has to do with non-White Americans, or cultural/generational gaps, does not mean the film is My Big Fat Indian Wedding, or My Big Fat Indian futbol game. Personally, I think newspaper editors, and scriptwriters for the news anchors need to be fired, or get more creative. Enough with the My Big Fat Greek Wedding comparisons!

Idiot Alert 2

This story from the New York Times indicates that Admiral John Poindexter, the retired rear admiral who was President Ronald Reagan's national security adviser, will be stepping down from the Pentagon. I cannot believe it took this long for Admiral Poindexter to announce his resignation. How does one come up with an idea for a futures market to gamble on terrorist activities, and then actually say it out loud?

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld did not personally fire Admiral Poindexter, but the defense official said that Mr. Rumsfeld agreed that the admiral had become too much of a political lightning rod and that it was time for him to go. "It's fair to say that the secretary understood what Admiral Poindexter understands, which is that it's difficult for any work that he might be associated with to receive a dispassionate hearing," said the official, who spoke to reporters at the Pentagon today on the condition of not being named. A spokesman for Admiral Poindexter and his organization, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, a research arm of the Pentagon, said he and the office had no comment on the resignation, which was reported today by The Wall Street Journal. But Admiral Poindexter said in an e-mail message to a friend, which was given to a reporter, on Wednesday night that he had been contemplating resigning for several months, to get out from under a steady stream of criticism and to spend more time sailing on the Chesapeake Bay.