I CU, Bhangra, you so fly!

I CU, Bhangra, you so fly!

South Asian Student Association Club Zamana put on its annual showcase, featuring several South Asian dance groups and bands as well as some other popular campus groups. Raw Elementz, CU Sur, Dhoom, String Theory, Raas, Taal, CU Raaga, and CU Bhangra all came out to perform. Bwog daily and unabashed Desi dude Fainan Lakha gives us his thoughts on the event.

Friday night’s annual Tamasha was a fun time. The artists were all mind-blasting, and if you weren’t there, you definitely missed out. But at least you’re reading this and (if you’re not a senior) you can always come next year. Before I begin, I should note that while I’m Desi, I’m not an expert on many of the performances that happened Friday. That said, I enjoyed the concert quite a bit and hopefully I can share that with y’all.

Local comedian of Pakistani descent, Gibraan Saleem, emceed and told jokes throughout the show. Notably, Saleem said several things that could most lightly referred to as “off-color.” I’ll address that later. The whole program was framed with little videos introducing each group, a fun exercise in which groups took radically different approaches to the show. Some were funny, some introduced everybody, others made little mystery short films. Definitely cool. The first of these introduced a group of Zamana first years in the traditional “Freshman Segment.” In a solidly choreographed segment, the first years showed off some serious dancing chops and easily matched the quality of some of the groups that performed later. The music started out a little modern Bollywood and grew more and more hip-hop as it went along. The guys had a particularly humorous moment in which they got a little dirty to the song “Gas Pedal,” and were followed by the girls performing to everyone’s favorite Beyoncé song “Partition.” Props are given in song choice.

Hip-hop dance crew Raw Elementz then came out and killed it (as per usual).  For what it’s worth, the dude next to me at the show told me he was really into the lighting they do in Roone and was particularly impressed with what was done during the Raw Elementz segment. I though they looked especially good with their isolations, no tricky feat to pull off in unison.

After that was CU Sur, a South Asian a capella group I hadn’t seen before. The group, which presented itself as going straight “from shower to stage,” certainly isn’t as polished as some older and more established groups on campus, but their mash-ups of modern and classic Bollywood and popular American music were very enjoyable. Their rendition of the 2010 hit “Bahara” from the film I Hate Luv Stories was beautiful and made me smile. The girls singing in the background throughout most of the performance also deserve a nod.

Following Sur was Dhoom, a fusion dance group. The performance was very cool. The group got creative with Dandiya sticks (for those who are unfamiliar, these foot and a half long sticks are used for a kind of Gujrati group dance called Dandiya Raas). Among their best moments was a blindfolded segment of dancing along to Lil’ Jon as well as a moment of leap frog. Dhoom be stuntin’, literally. Following Dhoom was String Theory, who were, as always, great.

It was at this time that emcee Gibraan Saleem made a weirdly uncomfortable joke in which he referred to Barnard as a community college. He would later backtrack and express that he didn’t know much about Barnard and that he was unaware it was part of Columbia. I’m not sure what it was but I personally did not think what he was saying as he backtracked made sense. This was just one of many moments when the emcee said off-putting things. At one point he noted that “either Asian or Brown people made Instagram,” and talked a bit about “how smart we are” and all that. It was a weirdly alienating moment where he seemed to speak entirely for the model minority myth without trying to tell a more nuanced story for the audience. It struck me that most of his jokes were about being brown, but were targeted to a white audience.  He also told a joke about how he looks like a cross between Ross from friends and Aladdin (who, notably, is not South Asian).

The absolute worst moment was when he got super ableist and made fun of a guy with a speech impediment, who had told Saleem that his impediment had been fixed by a pathologist. Saleem went on to do an impression of the man, laughing at his inability to say “Susan Sassafrass.” Then, he railed against political correctness in a way that was completely inappropriate given the context. It was shocking and completely unfunny. I must say that, while Zamana put on a great show, I would hope that their views about identity are a little bit more nuanced and have a bit more to say on the complexity of the South Asian experience than this guy did.

Next, there was a break for a former Zamana member to talk about his organization that does for club foot what many people have heard is done for cleft lip. I’m not really a fan of putting everything up to scrutiny through identity politics, but, I think one might say that the whole thing was problematically framed around “helping poor children in developing countries”. I point this out only because it follows a similar thread to Zaman’s choice of emcee.

Following that was a performance by Raas, which was preceded by a video themed, the “Raascars,” a play on the Oscars. The video showcased Raas members taking on punny names of American celebrities like “Kim Kardraasian” or “Raas Witherspoon,” and caused plenty of chuckles. During the dancing there was a moment of excellent hilarity. The intense dancers suddenly shifted to a Harry Potter-themed dance, and then once again suddenly resumed whatever dancing had been happening before.

Taal was a group that I hadn’t seen perform before, and their true fusion of Indian Classical with other forms was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. The visuals were unique and I felt as though I was witnessing the full body awareness and expressiveness of Indian dance while at the same time seeing movements that were totally familiar to a Western context. The choreography, rather than jumping between Desi and non-Desi moments, brought together a union in approach like I’d rarely seen. Seeing them dance to The National’s “Fake Empire” as well as the theme to Amélie made this experience particularly poignant.

Following this was Raaga, a band led by the incredibly talented vocalist, Neha Nataraj CC ’17, who is trained in some form of Indian Classical vocal. The performance mostly showcased her skills in modern Bollywood style. Nataraj was backed by some friends and floormates of hers with guitar, classical guitar, stand-up bass and some maracas to add some masala (spice) to the music. I think there is no question that Nataraj stole the show Friday night, as she gracefully moved her hand, smiling, and singing with complete ease. I was particularly hit by her performance of “Maar Daala” from one of the all-time epic Bollywood films Devdas, no small feat to pull off.

Closing out the main part of the show was CU Bhangra, who are a high quality Bhangra fusion group that I have always enjoyed watching. The band kicked it off with a cool dubstep piece, showing off how rhythm-driven Bhangra works well to the beats of modern music. Much of the rest of the tunes were what I called in my notes “Desi club remix.” Bhangra especially killed it in their “Turn Down for What” sequence, and then afterwards when they danced while the lights were down, showing off some light-up vests they were wearing.  It was awesome.

After that was some circus lady who had a giant loop thing she liked spinning around in. I guess this was so the “Le Cirque” theme could be satisfied.

The last thing we saw was “Senior Segment,” paralleling the opening “Freshman Segment.” Well, except for the choreography that was probably only practiced while drunk. It was charming and I think I can say on behalf of this fine campus news source that Bwog approves.

So, in sum, the event was super fun, the performances reflected a wide range of talent held by the South Asian students here, and also showcased the uniqueness of South Asian cultural forms. That’s some stuff I enjoyed thoroughly and was definitely proud to see. On the other hand, Zamana had a couple of faux pas in the way other parts of the shows represented our culture that I’d hope in the future are given more consideration. Nevertheless, the event was totally worthwhile and I would recommend it vigorously to anyone who likes music, dancing, or is interested in learning more about art forms in the South Asian diaspora!