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Protest Music: The Asian Underground Movement
“Self defence is no offence,
had to protect himself from the murderous fools.
Cutting remarks on account of his race,
a plate to the chest and a glass in his face.
An Asian fights back,
can’t afford to be meek.
With your back against the wall,
you can’t turn the other cheek.”

….sang Asian Dub Foundation aka ADF as they unleashed their angst against a flawed system. These verses from the track Free Satpal Ram by the Asian band was a cry of protest shunning the unfair legal judgement passed against an Asian in the UK and racist treatment meted out to them.

Thriving and evolving in the arms of revolution, the poster kids of the Asian Underground Movement pushed the limits of Asian sound and outrageously fought the battle against sycophancy and abuse. Political activism and the melting pot of hybrid sounds spilled on to each other splashing over like a raging wave on to a tainted society. Mush-mouthed initially and then rolling off in full force, the revolt managed to create a dent in the way things worked against Asians in Britain.

Underground beginnings:
The resistance was a slow build up ~ one issue burning up into another; before you knew it, the movement had become massive. The verbal and physical abuse the Asians living in the UK dealt with caught mainstream attention. Fuelled by musical outfits, the revolution took a new turn, reaching unexpected heights. Over a span of two decades, the involvement of passionate musicians gave multi-dimensional perspectives.

The new drum and bass, bhangra, electronica, classical infused rhythms which became the signature Asian sound attracted a lot of attention from the western market. This was propelled by politically charged bands like Fun-Da-Mental, ADF and State of Bengal, who did everything it took to fight for equality.

It started out at the street level and then developed into a larger community as more and more youngsters started really getting conscious of the issue and would no longer take the injustice being done to them. Street racism is something most Asians went through. “Street level racism, where someone would call you a name, not feeling safe when alone and near groups of white men, affected me by making me very angry as an individual [living in] the white community and I dealt with it by taking up some rather extreme political positions when it came to the race agenda and white people plus reflecting it in my creativity. I’ve worked through all of that now and am less angry, less racist myself, and hopefully more proactive [in dealing with] and fixing those issues,” says DJ Bobby Friction (of Bobby and Nihal fame) for whom Asian Underground was a turning point in his life. “It was a unique and special time ~ a British Asian second generation summer of love. I was a raging eccentric nut of a teenager and had never met anyone like myself. Then suddenly in the space of a couple of months, a whole musical movement (or at least a ‘scene’) started, and I was surrounded by people who talked, walked and thought like me. The music in the clubs was the music I was already constructing in my head and the visual imagery and art associated with it was art that I thought only my head could have dreamt up. It was like spending the whole of your life alone and misunderstood and then meeting your fairy Godmother and with one swish of her wand she creates a unique cultural happening that you find yourself in the middle of; and most importantly, the soundtrack to all of this was revolutionary!” he explains.

It was instinctive for many musicians to take a stand and go ahead with what they felt strongly about. According to Sam Zaman from State of Bengal, what happened needed to happen. “I was nine when I was hit by a white guy, I fell on the floor and couldn’t open my eyes and was very angry. I didn’t know fear then and made a choice of being fearless,” says Sam, adding that this era will be a reference point for people.

Leading the Movement
Anokha: (Talvin Singh)
His club night Anokha was an evolving sphere of melodic structures where the sound met the powerful thoughts and the clash spurned some high energy vibes. This was a major platform for all the young talented Asians including Asian Dub Foundation, State of Bengal, Joi and many others. He burgeoned a whole lot of youngsters to think alternative and provide the line of attack. “It’s grown over the years and I see a lot of talented artistes who were born out of Anokha and are doing extremely well now,” says Talvin, who denies being political in his music.

You can read the rest of our feature Protest Music: The Asian Underground Movement in the June 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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