South Asian Music Scene and Influence

Goals

To understand how South Asian sound has influenced mainstream music, the barriers to South Asian musicians breaking into mainstream opportunities, an overview of the growth of South Asian music, and what major players are doing or can do to increase opportunities for South Asian artists.

Early Findings

Preliminary research indicates that information on the growing influence of South Asian sounds on western music is plentiful, but it is mostly focused on Indian influence. While other South Asian countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, and Sri Lanka are represented, the majority of the songs that use South Asian beats are taking them from Indian Bollywood movie music.

INFLUENCE AND GROWTH

  • According to Pitchfork, American pop music's "embrace of South Asian culture typically focuses on the repurposing of mainstream Hindi film music, as well as folk and devotional songs from the regions."
  • Artists such as Kanye West, Timbaland, Just Blaze, Dan the Automator, Madlib, the Alchemist, and J Dilla have incorporated South Asian sounds to "create loops and beats that move in unexpected patterns."
  • Typically, these artists use traditional South Asian percussion instruments like the dholak, tabla, and mridangam and string instruments like the sitar and tumbi to create the South Asian sound.
  • The expansion of South Asian influence into western music has been steadily growing over the past 20 years, but "some songs’ South Asian samples still slide under the radar, whether they’re officially credited or not."
  • In the past 10 years, "people are experimenting like crazy" with infusing South Asian sound with western hip hop and pop music.
  • Srihari Sritharan, a DJ with Sri Lankan heritage (Dr. Srimix) fuses South Asian sounds with western music. He began combining the two cultures in college when he was looking for "a nice, fluid mix for us to dance to." He said, "It was always kind of like, take some Indian instruments and put it underneath a Sean Paul song or Kanye/Ludacris song, that kind of thing."

BARRIERS

  • SoundCloud is a major barrier to South Asian-influenced music making it past the "underground."
  • According to Sritharan, "It took a really long time for people to know that SoundCloud is the place to go for Indian remixes, and pretty much just as soon as that happened, SoundCloud started getting into legal trouble and shutting people down left and right."
  • Under fair use laws, musicians can use up to 10 seconds of a song as part of a new remix, but SoundCloud's algorithms began taking down tracks that were using any amount of South Asian songs, even going so far as to suspend some DJs' accounts.
  • Many Asian artists believe that racial stereotypes clash "with the standard of the 'sexy and cool' persona that artists are supposed to have in the music industry."
  • Recording labels see signing Asian artists as "a huge risk, and no one has yet taken that risk."
  • Some Asian artists have been told they have talent, but they aren't marketable.

SOME SOLUTIONS

  • One possible way for South Asian artists to break into western music is to collaborate with and receive support from non-Asian artists.
  • However, even though this strategy has worked for some non-American Asians like Rich Brian from Indonesia, some artists worry about "relying on cosigns."
  • Asian artists also need community support from other Asians.
  • Without the backing of recording labels, Asian artists are "taking matters into their own hands, by putting out original music on YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, iTunes, and various other platforms. Many of them are playing shows in venues like colleges and indie festivals, and some are even going as far as starting their own labels."
  • Commonly, Asian artists must leave the United States and try to make it big in Asia before returning to the U.S. As agent Richie Menchavez stated, "you have to go out to come in."

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