Spinning new tunes


NOVEL NOTES DJ Rekha   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: S. S. KUMAR

DJ Rekha, who was in the city recently, on Basement Bhangra, her brand of fusion music

Her company’s title Sangament (derived from the Hindi word ‘sangam’ meaning confluence) describes DJ Rekha’s music. With bhangra as a foundation, it is overlaid with hip-hop and other sounds we identify readily as Western. This fusion of genres is apparent in the song ‘Basement Bhangra Anthem’, which she plays for a clutch of journalists at the Unwind Center. (DJ Rekha was in the city as part of a series of cultural programmes being organised by the U.S. Consulate.) Other tracks from her album ‘DJ Rekha Presents Basement Bhangra’ are further evidence of this confluence. Hailed for popularising ‘bhangra’ in the United States, Rekha Malhotra, however, dislikes being typecast as a spinner of bhangra tunes. “I play hip-hop and a lot of other genres,” she says.

Dispelling misconceptions

As she continues to speak, many other misconceptions are dispelled. First, that she might have adopted bhangra because, as a Punjabi, she grew up listening to it. The truth is that she stumbled on it in her late teens. Born to Pakistani immigrants, DJ Rekha spent most of her growing years in London and Long Island before moving to New York. Cosmopolitan in her tastes, bhangra was just another music genre until it began to appeal to her.

She also demolishes the myth that there are many female DJs in the United States. “There are not many for the simple reason that women are not considered as efficient as men when it comes to technical fields.” She has harsh words for this form of male chauvinism and understandably for someone who has achieved a lot in DJing and music production, both predominantly technical fields.

A self-taught DJ, Rekha came into her own in 1997, when she started playing bhangra, mixed with other sounds, once a month at S.O.Bs, a basement club in NYC. She has a rabid following for this monthly presentation titled ‘Basement Bhangra.’ On the first Thursday of every month, people addicted to Rekha’s musical concoction pack the club. She brings in guest DJs, most of whom are ambassadors of South Asian music. Panjabi MC, whose song she mixed for her first and only album, has played for Basement Bhangra.

DJ Rekha is also in the business of marketing music. Her company Sangament is a music consulting firm as well as a music events organiser. Despite having carved a niche for herself in the bhangra field, Rekha keeps looking out for new sounds. “I include Arabic music in my performances.”

To her greatest credit, she reserves time and energy for social activism. She is a key member of Breakthrough, a human rights organisation that “uses education and popular culture to promote justice and equality”. She mainly focuses on issues concerning South Asians — one of the reasons why Newsweek named her among the most influential South Asians in the United States.


  • Know your equipment.

  • Be technically proficient.

  • Don’t give in to playing commercial music.

  • Have your own sounds.

  • Take chances.

  • Have fun.

Most important, put your friends on the guest

  • ist!

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