Urban Desi conference and concert a grand success

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(From left to right): Megha Rao, Hiba Irshad, Trisha Sakhuja-Walia, Priya Desai, Narmeen Choudhury, Ariel Palitz and Aparna A. at the Urban Desi conference, in New York City.

NEW YORK – Introspective, no-holds barred panel discussions, and a packed concert featuring some of the brightest Indian American talent in the urban and underground music space marked the third edition of the Urban Desi Concert and Conference, held in Manhattan, last week.

Co-founders Monty Kataria, Abhinav Chintakunta and Chanpreet Singh were a happy trio as the two-day event, which was preceded by a press conference, with after parties thrown in too, saw a sizeable audience.

In all, the meet saw 1,500 attendees at the concert, 400 guests at the conference and more than 450 fans who attended a pop-up shop. The meet was presented by Saavn and powered by B4U Music.

The meet kicked off on March 29 with a series of panel discussions at New York University’s Kimmel Centre, with the concert at Irving Plaza, the next day.

A female-powered panel — moderated by Brown Girl Magazine’s CEO’s Trisha Sakhuja-Walia, was well received, with a host of unconventional topics broached, including desi feminism, racism, and balancing career with traditional values, dealing with emotional stress and outbursts at work place, mansplaining (different from manspreading, which is more the New York subway culture), and how to deal with that time of the month when according to popular opinion, or misconception, as you may have it, women become an “hormone monster,” as one panelist put it.

The panelists included fashion designer and former model Megha Rao of HoliChic, Emmy award-winning journalist Narmeen Choudhury of Pix 11, Time Inc.’s reporter Priya Desai, Saavn’s artist and relations manager Hiba Irshad, designer Aparna A., and New York City’s Night Life head Ariel Palitz, who earlier owned and ran the night club Sutra Lounge, which has since then shut down shop.

As Sakhuja-Walia put it, South Asian-origin women have moved on quite a bit since the days when they were viewed in the mainstream as “angry women with hairy armpits.” Yet, racism and stereotyping exists and thrives in the workplace, as panelists confessed. They revealed some of their work travails and anguish.

“I’ve had people ask me, what’s with your name. Can you change it? I said Choudhury is like Smith. Get with it,” said Choudhury.

Some of the panels ran simultaneously, including ones on Philanthropy and Nonprofits, Entrepreneurship and Startups, and Made in New York – the latter of which also featured New York Police Department (NYPD) Sgt. Gurvinder Shergill, the first Sikh man allowed to wear a full turban and keep a beard as per his religious custom, at work.

There were also panels on Health and Fitness, The Audile Image: Film and Digital Media and The YouTube Frenzy. The night ended with the ‘Kalakaar’ panel, which featured some of the biggest artists performing at the concert, including Arjun, Jaz Dhami, Raxstar, The PropheC, Kamal Raja, Fateh, Master D and Kashif. The artists sung a few lines from their greatest hits, and discussed issues like how comfortable they feel about using scantily clad women in music videos and its reflection on their characters.

(From left to right): Megha Kalra, Milan Amin, Sharad Bhavnani, Sgt. Gurvinder Shergill; and Pavvan.

The panel featuring Shergill also comprised of Megha Kalia, founder, NYC Bhangra; Sharad Bhavnani, CEO, DJ USA; Milan Amin, owner, IndiKitch; and singer and songwriter Pavvan.

Bhavnani pointed out that for brown artists, the going is much easier today, as earlier there were only pockets of desis who were isolated. Now, with the advent of technology, the community can band together.

Shergill urged the community to aspire to work for the NYPD, as well as strive to get elected to office.

“There are only 800 South Asian origin personnel out of 45,000 in NYPD. We need to recruit more from the community and also to join politics,” said Shergill. “Even in Queens, where we have so many of our people, we don’t have an elected official,” he added.

Terry Mardi, who is recognized for coining the term “Urban Desi,” was the keynote speaker, on the night of the conference. He went through the history of urban desi music, including a mini presentation on a documentary he’s working on, which relates to the start of the urban desi era, and would include interviews with legends who opened the door for artists today.

the ProphecY

The concert, which saw plenty of dancing and revelry, featured the return of singers Amar Sandhu, Pranna, Fateh, Samica, and Saavn’s Artist Originals (AO) hitmakers Raxstar and The PropheC. The Bilz and Kashif, Arjun, Kamal Raja, Bohemia, Deep Jandu and Jaz Dhami hit the Urban Desi stage for the first time, and a surprise appearance by Queens-based Anik Khan, also enlivened the audience.