April 17, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 14

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    Conference introduces South Asian hip-hop in first North American forum

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office


    DJ Rekha, MC Kabir, Yogi B and Natchatra, Chee Malabar, Abstract/Vision: They might not be familiar to most American music fans, even to hard-core connoisseurs of hip-hop. But in some pockets of the United States—say, Chicago’s Devon Avenue or Jackson Heights in Queens, N.Y. —they are bona fide stars. Yogi B and Natchatra, a band of Malaysian Tamil rappers, performed for 20,000 people at a recent show in Toronto. DJ Rekha (aka Rekha Malhotra) draws thousands for her appearances at super-clubs in New York and London and Chicago’s Smart Bar.

    The University community will have a chance to see and hear the South Asian equivalents of Jay-Z or Missy Elliott when the hip-hoppers participate in an academic conference and performance that will explore South Asian and South Asian-American hip-hop. The event, to be held Thursday, April 17 to Sunday, April 19, is believed to be the first of its kind in North America.

    “HipHopistan: The Land of Hip Hop” will give audience members a chance to hear some of the best-known South Asian hip-hop (Tamil raps to Bhangra-influenced hip-hop) and the artists talk about their choices and influences. The conference, which will feature performances, discussions and workshops, will take place at McCormick Place and the Chicago and Northwestern University campuses.

    The goal of HipHopistan, which coincides with the annual meeting of the Association for Asian American Studies, is to explore the linguistic and pan-ethnic expressions of various South Asian and South Asian-American hip-hop artists, said event organizer Samip Mallick, Outreach Coordinator in the South Asian Language and Area Center.

    “It’s really an amazing, I believe, unprecedented event,” added Kaley Mason, a post-doctoral fellow of Ethnomusicology, who studies South Asian music and will moderate a panel discussion. “I don’t think South Asian hip-hop has ever received this type of forum in North America. When we think of South Asian musical practices in North America, or Europe, it’s mainly the classical Indian traditions or Bollywood song and dance sequences.”

    HipHopistan is not the first showcase of South Asian music at the University. The University has organized performances of classical South Asian music and dance, said Mallick, but this is the first to focus on South Asian hip-hop and the music of the diaspora communities.

    Mallick, who joined the University in the fall, developed a growing interest in South Asian hip-hop as a graduate student at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University—one of his early interests was Nephop, or Nepali hip-hop. Not long after he came to Chicago, Mallick shared his idea about an event with Nitasha Sharma, an assistant professor of African-American studies and Asian-American studies at Northwestern University and one of the few scholars who focuses on South Asian hip-hop.

    “Not much research has been done on South Asian hip-hop,” he said. “For five or 10 years, American hip-hop artists have been using South Asian sounds, but for South Asian hip-hop artists, it’s relatively new. We’re very excited.”

    HipHopistan will take place at three sites, beginning with a two-hour performance at 9 p.m. Thursday, April 17 in the Pullman Room at the Hyatt Regency, McCormick Place, which will feature Abstract/Vision, MC Kabir, Chee Malabar, and Yogi B and Natchatra. Following the performance, DJ Rekha will host an after-party. Admission is free for students and Association for Asian American Studies conference participants. General admission is $10, but because space is extremely limited, it is recommended to RSVP to Mallick at mallick@uchicago.edu.

    On Friday, April 18, HipHopistan will begin at the Hyatt Regency with a roundtable discussion from noon to 1:30 p.m., featuring the artists, along with Sharma and hip-hop scholar Bakari Kitwana, who is the 2007-2008 Artist-in-Residence in the University’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture. This discussion is open only to the Association for Asian American Studies conference participants.

    HipHopistan then will move to Hyde Park for a public discussion with artists Abstract/Vision, Chee Malabar, and Yogi B and Natchatra, which Mason will moderate with spoken word and hip-hop artist Kevin Coral, author of Slingshots (A Hip-Hop Poetica). This event will be from 6 to 8 p.m. in Judd Hall, 5835 Kimbark Ave., Room 126. Admission is free, but reservations must be made by contacting Mallick at mallick@uchicago.edu.

    Following the discussion, the artists will give a final concert from 8 to 11 p.m. in the cafeteria at the Laboratory Schools, 5835 Kimbark Ave. Advance tickets are $5 for students with a valid ID, and $10 for general admission.

    The event will conclude Saturday, April 19, following the workshop “Putting Theory to Practice: The Art of Rhyming and Spinning,” scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Northwestern University’s Harris Hall, 1881 Sheridan Road. For more information on HipHopistan, the artists or to purchase concert tickets, visit http://hiphopistan.uchicago.edu.

    Sponsors of HipHopistan are the University’s South Asian Language and Area Center, the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, PanAsia, the Department of Music, the Arts Council and the Laboratory Schools.

    Other sponsors include several groups at Northwestern University, the Chicago Opera Theater and the Association for Asian American Studies.