Friday, April 03, 2015

The Brown Sound

I've always lived in predominantly Caucasian areas: Toronto (although by the time we moved away, it was by far the most diverse place I've ever lived in), Washington state, New Hampshire and now here just north of Boston. There certainly have been times in my life when I've been acutely aware of my non-whiteness, but for the vast majority of the time, it hasn't been an issue.

As the child of immigrants, I grew up entirely North Americanized: food, pop culture, sports, music, movies. It's not that I wasn't exposed to Indian food or culture, but I gravitated towards the stuff that was around me. Hence, I'm a big hockey and baseball fan, I liked hard rock and metal and now indie rock, alternative know, stuff white people like. Fact is, I don't have a whole helluva lot in common with Indian dudes other than the obvious stuff. I also enjoy that I confound a lot of common stereotypes over here about Indian guys: I'm not a doctor, I don't have an accent and I don't smoke copious amounts of weed like the dude in the friggin' Harold and Kumar movies.

So it was with interest that I read a Pitchfork column last week on the lack of minorities in indie rock. The author made some decent points, and certainly it is pretty white, but I don't get the sense that there's some big conspiracy preventing indie rock artists of color from succeeding. I just think there aren't that many of them. I also think the author undersold the number of brown artists or members of bands who have emerged on the indie scene over the years by just focusing on the four who "look like" her: M.I.A., Heems, Dapwell and Natasha Khan. She couched them as the only "prominent" ones, and that may be true, but prominence isn't easy to achieve in these days of easy access to everything and drastically reduced music sales. And there's a smattering of brown peeps working in rock these days: Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, Tony Kanal of No Doubt, The Kominas, Amal of Big Ups, Sonya Balchandani of The Big Sleep, Supriya Gunda; and beyond the rock genre, you've got Norah Jones, the jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and that dude who just left One Direction.

Still, that's not a lot when you consider how many white faces there are in indie rock and rock in general. But how do you get more diversity in these scenes? More kids need to be inspired to make music. Culturally, I think it's happening more now than it used to, but Indian kids (at least me and the ones I knew as a kid) were encouraged to focus on academics and not so much the other stuff. It's also why you don't see a whole lot of athletes of Indian descent in North American sports (although an Indian dude was just signed by the NBA's Sacramento Kings). It's just not a priority for a lot of Indian kids. Plus we tend to be on the pipsqueaky side.

As for me, well, I'm just your typical old Indian guy who goes to indie rock shows, plays hockey and runs a lot. Nothing to see here.

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