by Steven Pisano
A desi is "a person of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi birth or descent who lives abroad." You can include Sri Lanka too.
On Sunday night, in a program hosted by Reena Ninan from CBS News, Lincoln Center Out of Doors presented a survey of some contemporary South Asian performers in a program called "desi:NOW" in Damrosch Park.
New York is no stranger to "traditional" performances from the Indian subcontinent, from Kathak, Odissi, and Bharatanatyam dance to sitar and tabla music, but the presence of contemporary performers who often blend these traditional forms with more modern forms such as hip hop/urban dance and rap music are far less known.
The evening kicked off, literally, with Project Convergence, who combined Bharatanatyam dance and tap dancing. At some point in the past this may have seemed like a crazy idea, but it worked more effectively than you might think, and with American Ballet Theater experimenting last year with integrating similar forms into its repertoire (via Michelle Dorrance), the idea of fusing dance forms just seems to be a sign of the times.
The singer Rianjali (born Deepanjali Bhowmick), who graduated from LaGuardia High School just a couple of blocks away, brought a strong and confident voice to the stage. Some people have compared her voice to Alicia Keys, and while one can understand the comparison, Rianjali retains her own style.
The strongest dancing of the night was from IMGE Dance. Artistic director Ishita Mili has created a vibrant troupe with dances that seem to have a narrative and tell a story as the choreography evolves through each piece. The underpinning of classical Indian dance is clear, but the overall effect is much more theatrical.
Throughout the night, DJ Sharad, who has been popular spinning tunes in the desi community for the last 25 years, played some songs for the crowd during transitions, and he also introduced four performers as "friends" of his.
Robin Dey is a Bengali-American hip hop and R&B singer from Jamaica, Queens, who made a strong emotional connection with the crowd just as the sun was starting to go down.
Taizu is a rapper, with a long black beard and a head wrap, who was best when he was rapping fast and hard, but who faltered a little when he tried to slow the pace.
Rolex Rasathy sang both in English and in Tamil, the language of Sri Lanka. Her set really started to percolate when she was joined on stage by two dancers, and together they enveloped the stage in swirls of color.
SAgrooves fuses contemporary urban music and dance styles with a traditional Indian flavor to create a new hybrid.
The night was capped by an exciting set from G. Sidhu, who was born in Punjab, India. Sidhu is a captivating singer, and was backed by a first-class band who deserve special mention, including Gurpreet Birk on drums, Jaskaran Singh on dhol (a two-headed drum), Paramjit Singh on keyboard, The Lost Strings on sitar, and Tubsydholki on dholki (another kind of two-headed drum).
There were many people in the large crowd from Queens and New Jersey who yelled out performers' names and were clearly followers. But with the exception of G. Sidhu, most of these performers seemed to get swallowed up a little by the large stage and the even larger open-air seating of Damrosch Park. But I could see them making quite a stronger impression in mid-sized clubs.
The idea of the "desi:NOW" program was to reinforce the position of these South Asian performers with their audience by performing live, and to introduce new audiences, like me, to what this section of the NYC music and dance scene has to offer, and on that front the evening succeeded very well, and even a little rain could not dampen the overall vibe.
This is the last week of the Lincoln Center Out of Doors season, which ends this upcoming week with the Roots of America Music Weekend featuring Patti Griffin on Saturday and David Crosby and friends on Sunday.
More photos can be found here.