State of Bengal with Renu Hussain performing at Hangama! the South Asian Street Party at Dundas Square (Yonge and Dundas), Saturday (May 28), evening showcase. Free. All ages. www.southasianheritagefestival.com. Rating: NNNNN
Sam Zaman, aka State of Bengal, has nerve. Three years ago he and his band played in China and performed a song called China Free about living under the thumb of the communist government. Pretty ballsy, considering they were in a country where using your cellphone can get you thrown in the slammer.
That was three years ago, on a month-long tour through China, in the city of Chongqing, home to a whopping 30 million people. Zaman played at a stadium in the city's sprawling university for a student crowd of several thousand.
"It wasn't like Hong Kong or Beijing or Shanghai. It was like something out of Crouching Tiger," says Zaman on the phone from the UK.
"It was beyond us in many ways, but we found a way to connect. Wherever we are, we'll adapt to the environment we're in," he says. "I think what you absorb from moment to moment is really unique from place to place."
Zaman grew up in London's rough East End, where he got into music as an escape from racist bullies. As he got older, he started to fuse elements of Bengali folk music with hiphop, and quickly became a linchpin in the Asian underground scene that tore up UK clubs in the late 90s.
He established himself as a mentor and teacher for South Asian kids in East London, and some of his pupils went on to be key members of acts like Asian Dub Foundation and Fun' da'mental.
While he was DJing at Talvin Singh's legendary Anokha club nights, people started paying more attention. Zaman opened for Björk on her 1997 world tour and signed to her label, One Little Indian. His debut album, Visual Audio, was released the next year just as the mainstream British press began its short-lived obsession with the Asian underground.
Now he's on his way to Toronto, and although it may not be Chongqing, Zaman is still looking forward to his trip. He just wants to be sure people dance.
"Hopefully, they feel something in their belly buttons and below and move - even though they may not want to."
The Hangama! party features Asian artists not often seen in Toronto. Here are some of the performers worth checking out at Dundas Square.
DK with Dave Sharma NYC-based kick-ass DJ DK is a vital member of the U.S. Asian Underground, which is just warming up. For the Toronto performance, he teams up with percussionist Sharma , who frequently collaborates with DJ Rekha, one of the foremothers of the U.S. Asian music scene and the woman behind New York's Basement Bhangra.
JoSH The Montreal Indo pop duo became something of a phenomenon on MTV India last year but are still virtually unknown here in Canada. Some may recall their bhangra remix of Nelly Furtado's Powerless, which DreamWorks put on the song's single. JoSH share the same bubblegum sensibility as Furtado, but theirs is chaat-flavoured.
Shiva Sound System with Vineet Vyas Founded by Nerm , another master from the UK Asian scene, the Shiva collective bring three of their crew, Nu-Trix , Soldgie and the aforementioned Nerm, to town to try and get something started with Canada's Vineet Vyas on the tabla.