Audrey Magazine: Given England’s long association with India, I was a bit surprised to read that you experienced so much racism growing up — a very similar experience for many Asian Americans growing up in the ’70s. Can you tell us a bit more about your experience and how you came to embrace your Indian heritage?
Anjula Acharia-Bath: There was a strong Neo-Nazi rising in the UK in the late ’70s, and I grew up in an area that was predominantly white. In fact, there were only two families in my neighborhood who were of color — us and a family who’s mother was from Ghana (their father was British) … we became fast friends. When the National Front marches were in progress, we were forbidden from going out of the house.
It was very scary as a child, and many times I asked myself why we were even in Britain if we had to put up with this. My mother taught me all about the Holocaust and I think the knowledge of it made me even more fearful, so I always had a deep desire to try and hide my ethnicity as oppose to embrace it. My parents were God-fearing and non-confrontational, and I remember a man knocking on my fathers’ car window (he thought the man needed directions) and the man spat in his face and called him a “F-ing -igger.” (We were often called all sorts of names from Paki to -igger, Blackie and Wog). My father wiped his face and carried on driving — I was heartbroken and ashamed. I didn’t want to stand out because I thought that by going unnoticed I wouldn’t be a victim of their hate. It didn’t work.
On a frequent basis we would have swastikas painted on our garage and were physically and verbally abused; it was never that severe, thank God, but it was enough to make me shun my culture and heritage. I also wondered why my parents still retained their culture, wore their Indian clothes and cooked the “smelly food.” I felt like they were making life harder for themselves and for us, insisting on standing out.
Now I wish I could have been as strong and proud. I secretly enjoyed my Indian heritage and culture, but any time I included it, I was laughed at by my friends so I hid it. I remember a boy at school (I was 14) saying I was pretty, but it was a shame I was a “Paki.” In primary school, children in my class wouldn’t hold my hand; instead they would hold my sleeve — they expressed that they were ‘scared the color would come off’,’ and the teachers laughed with the other children. In retrospect, don’t think their behavior was malicious; I think it was a mixture of ignorance, fear and embarrassment, so they continued to hold my sleeve. There was only so much my parents could complain, times were just different then.
When I got to London for University I found myself in a beautiful melting pot where anything goes and diversity is a gift to everyone. You can travel the world in one city and experience the culture and cuisines of the globe. I was never made to feel ashamed of who I was and fully embraced it and the fusion of all cultures. I didn’t leave until I emigrated to the USA.
AM: How and why did you and your partners come up with the idea for Desi Hits?
AAB: Desi Hits! was a wonderful accident. My husband Ranj Bath and I were born and raised in the UK, second generation British South Asian. We spent much of our lives fusing two cultures (music in particular) together. We moved to the U.S. six years ago. Four years after our move we came across a bunch of kids in the U.S. that had not been exposed to the whole fusion music scene in the UK, which fuses together all genres of music from hip-hop and reggae to Bollywood, bhangra and house beats, creating a sound and culture that really reflects the bi-cultural and eclectic lifestyles that most cool young Desis are living across the globe.
It started out as a tiny podcast which my husband was inspired to do with his love for technology and music — it was a short radio program showcasing the best of the fusion music scene coming out of the UK. It grew popular very quickly and was recorded in our spare room on a laptop. Shortly after, we contacted my husband’s cousin Arun Sandhu who had been a VJ for channel V and done a whole heap of TV work in the UK and India — he’s a natural presenter and given this was his profession, we asked him about maybe doing a bi-weekly show from the UK, as he was in the hub of this scene. Arun then became our third co-founder and really is the “face” of Desi Hits!.
AM: You’ve launched Desi Hits Universal – what albums or projects have you released or artists have you signed, or are in the works?
AAB: We are in the process of singing a few artists all of them from different parts of the world, Canada, India and the UK. Our goal with the label is to create global icons and artists that can resonate throughout the world with their music and sound, much like MIA and Jay Sean.
AM: If all goes according to plan, where will you and Desi Hits be in five years?
AAB: Desi Hits! is the BET for brown people globally. Given that the South Asian diaspora is one-fifth of the world’s population, we aim to build a huge global company providing fusion content and music to entertain global audiences for years. We also strive to reach our audiences through any and every platform where they consume content — whether that is TV, Mobile, Internet or through live events.