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DJ Rekha on Bhangra Music, Playing at The White House, Spinning for 9,000 People and The DJ Culture

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Name: DJ Rekha
Occupation: DJ, Curator, Label Owner, Activist, Cultural Ambassador
Location: New York
Bragging Rights: Bhangra Music, Playing at the White House, Rocking a crowd of 9,000, Panjabi MC, NPR Radio, CNN

When did you decide that you wanted to become a DJ?
My cousins who now live in Australia (but grew up in India) were living here in the U.S for a while and we were watching dj’s in our community throwing events for a while. We thought they sucked, so we decided to put our stuff together. At the time, I wasn’t a dj I was kind of managing things. So when they moved back to India that’s when I started.

How did you develop your style?
I grew around the birth of Hip-Hop in a suburb not far from Queens and it was a very diverse area where a lot of kids were getting into the various elements of Hip Hop: break dancing, tagging, bboying and rapping. I think for me, I’m very selector orientated. I really take a lot of time thinking about what and when to play, and trying to be very conscious of the crowd that’s around me.

No two sets are the same and I play a lot of Indian music as well as contemporary dance music figuring out what songs work together within the course of a set. I’m a crate digger. I go deep, wide and long to find the right mixes to surprise people.

How do you find new music now?
It’s harder now because physical record stores dissappeared, so you have to sift through a lot of garbage. You have to try every angle. You talk to people, you hope someone turns you on to something new or you look for stuff online. There is a lot of stuff that comes from Bollywood, but sifting through all of it to find something good is a tremendous challenge.

With Bhangra Music, there are not a lot of albums but there are tons singles coming out everyday. It’s like Hip Hop, if you are on one mp3 list you are getting at least three emails a day with a new record.

How has the internet affected the dj culture?
On one hand, the immediate access to music is amazing whereas in the past you had to physically go and find the media. It makes music a lot more accessible but it also makes it harder to sift through. I think we are missing some of the things we had with 12 inches like instrumentals. Getting instrumentals and different versions of the song is hard now. It’s limiting and the quality isn’t as good because most songs are so compressed.

Do you still use vinyl?
I have pretty much phased that out, but I still have a few things on vinyl that I will play from time to time. I use Serato now, which I think is the closest thing to spinning a record.

What is the recipe for a good party?
Look at your crowd and build your night. People need to get in a zone before they dance. When a party starts no one is ready to dance right away. They need to loosen up and have few drinks, so you have to build the night with them.

I think the success is in connecting with the audience. Figuring out who the audience is, what they might like and playing the right thing at the right time. If you play all the good stuff right away, you won’t leave yourself anywhere to go. Also, make sure you through in a few surprises.

What are some of the moments you are most proud of?
The biggest gig of my career was playing at the White House and meeting the President. That’s definitely a career highlight. I did a gig in India in front of 90,000 people at a college which was phenomenal.

Can you tell me about the class you teach at the Clive Davis recording school?
I’m adjunct professor there and I’ve taught two classes there so far. One is about ‘Bhangra, Bollywood and Beyond’ and the other is a ‘DJ Master Class.’ I have another class on the books that may be offered soon called ‘Global Dance Music’.

The Dj Class is the history and culture of djing. Looking at dj’s like Cool Herc, Bambata and Grand Master Flash. We also look at club culture in New York and the role of the dj as an artist. The other class ‘Bhangra, Bollywood and Beyond is a brief introduction of contemporary Southeast Asian music. We talk about whats the difference between Bhangra Music and Bollywood, and the music on Slum Dog Millionaire.