The nightclub was packed. The DJ hadn’t turned up. An unsuspecting 13-year-old was pushed to the console to save the night. “And that’s how I became a DJ in Bombay, back in the 80s,” smiles Akbar Sami, who’s been in the profession for over 25 years now. “I was actually a choreographer. I used to do shows. Farah Khan, Arshad Warsi and Longinus Fernandes were all part of my dance team. I used to cut tapes for my dance shows. That’s how the manager at the club was convinced I could deejay,” he adds.
When Akbar started, the country had just five DJs. There were no back-ups. And if a DJ failed to show up, the night club had to be shut. It wasn’t a sustainable profession then, and the other DJs were looking for job options, so that they could get out of it. Akbar chose to stick around. An offer to choreograph for a movie came his way at around the same time he became the resident DJ of the club. Choosing the latter, he continued and had a good run till the older DJ made a comeback and Akbar was asked to leave. By then, a few event organisers had seen him perform, and he was hired to play at a club named Xanadu. “I used to play a mix of House, Disco, Reggae and Bollywood. I guess the first time a night club had heard a Hindi number was when I played Jalwa ,” he beams, as he plays at Gatsby 2000 at the Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park.
Best known for his Bollywood remixes, he has released three albums — Jalwa in 1996, Jadoo in 1997 and Jalwa II in 1998. He’s also composed tracks for films. His grouse is that even though this genre has great potential, very few do justice to it. “When you select a track to mix, you have to understand which gharana the music belongs to. You can’t just pick one and randomly add EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and bass line to it.”
It’s rather unfortunate that despite Bollywood being big in India, it is getting shadowed by EDM in most clubs. But there is a market for it. The beats are catchy, and there are few who can remain unmoved by its lure. “From Mauritius to Japan, wherever I play Bollywood, the fan following is immense,” says Akbar. On a recent trip, while he waited for his car at Sunset Boulevard, the DJ could hear Hindi songs being played at a restaurant nearby. “It was a bustling sushi place; not a single Indian in sight. The songs were from Pakeezah . The waitress told me the USP of the place was their selection of Hindi music, a hit with their clients. That’s the power of Bollywood,” Akbar declares.