Material that has helped inform my understanding of my Asian American identity, in some way or other.
Actors & Comedians
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Note: These diasporic Asian musicians and producers make this list if they’re creating music I like (mostly R&B, hip hop, and electronic) and/or if they’re using music to assert their own understanding of what young urban diasporic culture looks like, and that understanding aligns with my own.
WHAT IS THIS? An R&B singer-producer duo based in Maryland and composed of members Abhi Raju and Dijon Duenas.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? Raju creates the tracks behind Dijon Duenas’ vocals and he's up there on my list of favorite Indian-American producers. I appreciate seeing an Indian-American insert himself neatly and memorably into the US R&B scene.
WHAT IS THIS? This transnational tropical bass group combines dancehall, cumbia, hip-hop, and kuduro.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? Their moves, outfits, graphics, basslines, and Chicago-born Punjabi front-woman Shivani are always hype. The music video for “Cityboy” is like a desi Major Lazer vid. They make diaspora look badass.
WHAT IS THIS? Los Angeles-based DJ Phatrick mixes old hip-hop, R&B, soul, and electronic music.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? Though he hasn't released a new track on his SoundCloud in two years, he’s Asian American and he used to create masterfully reliable mixes with music I vibe to, a rare combination in my life thus far. So he makes the list. Also worth noting is this soulful cover of Nirvana’s Lithium by Jimetta Rose and Cyril Cuevas that DJ Phatrick mixed and mastered.
WHAT IS THIS? These British-Indian brothers and singer/songwriter/producers create electronic tracks.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? With pretty much no fanfare, Jai Paul has uploaded a total of two absolutely exquisite songs to his SoundCloud in six years. The only person more enigmatic than Jai Paul is his brother AK Paul (producer and uploader of one song on his personal Soundcloud). The Pauls have together launched Paul Institute, a mysterious website that asks for your phone number and has no songs at all. I listen to their dark, disorienting, hazy songs on repeat and Google their names hopefully from time to time.
WHAT IS THIS? Producer and vocalist Josephine Shetty has been layering her voice over experimental, minimal Garageband-made beats under the moniker Kohinoorgasm since the beginning of 2016.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? Shetty is a mixed-race South Asian queer woman originally from Los Angeles and now living in Berkeley who brings uniquely Bay Area-inspired aesthetics and politics to her music. Though she’s not a native speaker, she often writes Hindi song titles and lyrics, learning the language more as she does so and turning it into her own, embracing her mispronunciations and creating her own interpretations of words. Her music videos are beautifully-made showcases of DIY, art, second-generation immigrant, and Bay Area culture and fashion, featuring all people of color in the faces both behind the camera and in front of it. I relate to the mix of identities she is bringing into her wandering music and I admire the team of young South Asian art directors, photographers and other artists that orbit her.
WHAT IS THIS? Kominas formed back in 2005 in Boston with a band composed of Pakistani-American musicians. According to Wikipedia they progressed the genre of Muslim punk in the US.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? The Muslim punk thing is a great claim to be able to make, though I can’t back it up because what do I know about punk. More importantly, Disco Uncle is an ode to cool brown uncles everywhere who just want to dance with the young kids to disco and can also score blow for their nephews. And people should know about those kind of uncles.
WHAT IS THIS? LA-based Kiran Gandhi, aka Madame Gandhi, is the former drummer of M.I.A.; she currently makes electronic music.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? Besides playing drums for the queen/only heir of Asian diasporic assertion in the mainstream music world, Madame Ghandi made headlines by embracing her period and free-bleeding as she ran during the 2015 London Marathon. She’s a vocal feminist, I like her hair, and she’s making waves as a 26-year-old musician.
WHAT IS THIS? New York-based artist Michael Beharie mixes synth-pop, dancehall, drum patterns, reggaeton, and more under his own vocals.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? Beharie’s debut album is dreamy and beautiful. I appreciate his thoughtful insight on uniquely diasporic themes in this interview from Fader, speaking on his Jamaican/Indian upbringing, musical appropriation, and more. He is also half of the band Tezeo, if you want more of him.
WHAT IS THIS? Ringgo Ancheta, better known by his stage name Mndsgn, is an Los Angeles-based Filipino-American hip hop producer signed to Stones Throw Records. He’s been releasing EPs and mixtapes since 2009, but his debut album with Stones Throw came out in 2014.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? Mndsgn’s tracks are unpredictable in genre and style - often short, with strange sound clips, mysterious lyrics, and a mix of genres spanning from the ‘90s hip hop and rap that he was immersed in during his childhood to 80’s R&B, funk, soul, disco and more - but they are totally predictable in their intrigue, playful nature, and other-worldliness that keeps me coming back. He is one of my most-played producers because he makes me feel like I’m in a different universe. It fills me with awe and love watching videos of him making beats from his bedroom with friends like Knxwledge (producer and collaborator for Kendrick Lamar, among others), effortlessly layering improvised vocals over the music while never letting a joint go unlit.
WHAT IS THIS? This indie-pop duo from Kolkata is made up of singer-songwriter Nischay Parekh and percussionist Jivraj Singh.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? I’m usually not really into this kind of music - cutesy folk - but their songs are admittedly catchy and original and I’m super endeared to their whimsical Wes Anderson-esque style set amidst Indian palace and village backdrops. It’s refreshing to see them redefine what’s understood as the Indian music scene.
WHAT IS THIS? Raveena Aurora is a 22-year old Sikh Indian-American R&B singer based in New York.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? I rarely see Asian American women making sexy homegrown music like this and I admire her for embracing that without exotifying herself and fetishizing her Indianness, as is usually asked of South Asian women who want to indulge in sultriness.