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Twenty years ago a new movement blending eastern sounds with electro and drum’n’bass arrived to give a generation of young British Asians a vibrant new voice. Why did it fade away so quickly?
When most Brits think of Asian music – if they do at all – they might conjure a twanging sitar and the high-pitched vocals of a Bollywood dance sequence blaring in an Indian restaurant, or the meditative chimes and chanting of a yoga session. In reality, of course, Asian music is a vast and diverse series of musical disciplines, and one that had been reduced, in the UK, to the reserve of anoraks and first-generation immigrants. But in the 90s, a scene came along to change all of that.
Twenty years ago, the Asian underground was born. A product of the first wave of Asian immigration into the UK in the early 60s and their children growing up in a newly diversifying society – one imbued with the racism of the National Front, as well as with a burgeoning multiculturalism from the Caribbean and west Africa – the music these first-generation British Asians made was full of internal tension. It was a mix of Indian classical instrumentals, Bollywood singing, jazz and the 90s club sounds of dub, drum’n’bass and jungle.