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DJ Rekha: From basement to dancehall
A blend of bhangra, hip-hop and reggae for American ears

DJ Rehka founded what may well be New York's most famous dance party, the beat-crazy, hip-swiveling mania known as Basement Bhangra. This monthly event at the popular downtown club S.O.B.'s has been attracting music addicts from all corners of the globe for more than 10 years.

The event takes its name from bhangra, a genre that, much like hip-hop music in the United States, has served as a voice for the marginalized and is a spectacular basis for musical fusion in the United Kingdom.

Born in the wheat fields of India and Pakistan's Punjab region, bhangra originally celebrated the dawning of a new spring and a harvest festival called Vaisakhi. Today bhangra's message is one of diaspora and discontent. It provides a message of hope, resistance and a culture's ability to keep on keepin' on.

As early as the 1970s, forward-thinking South Asian immigrants in London began combining the drum rhythms of bhangra with reggae - and later dancehall, house and hip-hop music. Thanks to infectious beats and a message people could rally around, these bhangra hybrids enjoyed a burst of popularity in mid-'80s London, then submerged themselves in small clubs and basements throughout the world.

In the U.S., the fight-the-power message of bhangra has largely been overlooked by the music industry - in part due to a smaller South Asian population - and bhangra CDs have been relegated to the world music bin. DJ Rekha, a New York by-way-of London by-way-of Punjab artist, has almost single-handedly pioneered the music's influence on the American music scene, from the basements of clubs and the apartments of friends.

Luckily, basements and apartments are where much musical innovation happens in New York. As a result, bhangra has trickled into the mainstream through a number of hits by M.I.A., as well as songs like Missy Elliot's "Get Ur Freak On" and Jay-Z's "Beware of the Boys," which is a cover of "Mundian To Bach Ke," a bhangra-style song by British Indian musician Panjabi MC.

Incidentally, Rekha, who's also a promoter and the founder of a production company, sees her role as that of a manager and producer rather than a pioneer.

"Because I'm working with my culture, and it's being accessed or consumed by other cultures, then I have a strong responsibility to how that message is made," Rekha said in a recent New York Times interview. "It comes from an artistic place as well as a business place of wanting to have ownership of your work."

DJ Rekha

Majestic Theatre, Saturday, Oct. 18, 10 pm

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