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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Asian Music Makes Mark On Western Club Scene

From the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the '60s to Oasis and Blur in the '90s, the United States experiences at least one new British invasion per decade. In a time-honored tradition, mop-topped bands with attitude have conquered Britain and then the United States, using a basic formula -- pilfer ideas from U.S. rockers and bluesmen, throw in a few twists, then spin them back out as a hip new phenomenon.


But now there is a truly new scene emerging from the smoky clubs of England, one that owes more to the sitar playing of Ravi Shankar than to the perky pop of Paul McCartney or the nasty drawl of Mick Jagger.


Second-generation Britons of mainly Indian and Pakistani descent are fusing techno and hip-hop styles (and yes, even the melodic pop of the Beatles) with traditional Indian and Middle Eastern music, giving rise to what is being called the Asian underground. The question is: Can it take root in the United States?


There are signs that the Asian underground has infiltrated U.S. shores. Talvin Singh's mix of techno-style drum-and-bass with Indian instruments like sitars and tablas is cropping up on college radio.


The producer Bali Sagoo's remixes of traditional Indian dance music, called bhangra, is played in clubs like S.O.B.'s in Manhattan. Cornershop's mix of Beck-like pop and Indian raga (sitar-heavy music) is turning up on MTV.


And with several recent releases, even major labels are getting into the act; examples include Bali Sagoo's "Rising From the East" on Tri-Star and Cornershop's second album, "When I Was Born for the Seventh Time," on Warner Brothers. And the release on Island Records of Singh's debut compilation, "Anokha: Sounds of the Asian Underground," a collection of various DJ's, has prompted much of the new attention in the United States.


Western pop audiences have always been intrigued by Eastern music. Though interest peaked in the United States in the late '60s following the Beatles' experimentation with Shankar's ragas, Americans still seemed to view Indian music and culture as some sort of mystical experience.


But the recent influx of Pakistani, Indian and Arab immigrants has resulted in a wider acceptance of Asian and Middle Eastern culture as more Americans gain firsthand knowledge of them.


Now movie soundtracks like the one for "Dead Man Walking" feature the soaring vocals of the Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who died in August. The New Age self-help philosophies of the Indian author Deepak Chopra have been turned into best-selling books. And clothing chains like Urban Outfitters now sell bindies, the adornments Hindu women paste on their forehead.


The new crop of Asian artists may also benefit from a tendency on the part of U.S. pop-music fans to confer hipness on British imports. Like the Prodigy or the Chemical Brothers, Talvin Singh, Bali Sagoo and Cornershop come from London club culture, and some Anglophiles will no doubt suggest that their music has a savvy that their U.S. counterparts lack. The Asian underground is certainly edgy enough to uphold that image.


In the past, Americans have had trouble relating to Indian or Middle Eastern music. Listeners were often alienated by the foreign nature of half-hour-long ragas or Qawwali performances.


Critics contend that Western pop stars like Paul Simon and Led Zepplin have had to water down Middle Eastern and Asian sounds to make them acceptable to their fans. The music coming out of the Asian underground is far more traditionally Eastern in its sensibilities than those earlier attempts were.


But the new Asian artists grew up listening not only to their own native music but also to U2 and Madonna. Being fully conversant in Western pop, they make music that successfully straddles both worlds.