If you head downtown to (le) Poisson Rouge on the first Thursday of the month, you’ll find yourself transported to another country. The Punjab region of South Asia, to be exact.
That’s because Rekha Malhotra, a.k.a. DJ Rekha, has spent her entire career as a DJ championing the sounds of Bhangra and Bollywood in the states.
These days, you can find her at Basement Bhangra, a monthly dance party that celebrates the music and dance of Bhangra.
Bhangra music is, in and of itself, a kind of remix – a melding of folk tunes with Western styles of music.
It just so happens that the style and form of the music lends itself to having a dance beat added underneath.
It is this kind of embrace of the new as it relates to the old that Malhotra remembers as being a significant part of the Indian-American community she knew growing up:
“Every Indian American household had a VCR first, because the movies were important, watching the Bollywood films. And in the 90s there was a huge Indian Bollywood remix scene. Taking Bollywood records without getting the original parts and putting beats on them.”
For her part, Malhotra says technology is both a help and a hinderance to her life as a DJ.
She laments the loss of craft when it comes to the art of physically picking out records and matching the rhythms of tracks for seamless transitions. She also points out, however, that the ability to quickly purchase and download a requested song that she doesn’t have on a record or a CD is a blessing, and allows her to better serve her audience.
At the end of the day, Malhotra says being a DJ is about being able to read an audience and react, and no amount of technology can give you that talent.
Listen to a Spotify playlist built by Ben Johnson featuring artists from our Playing With Machines series, and others: