12 Desi-Queer DJs To Look Out For

(Illustration by Tim Singleton/For The Washington Post)

In the past few years, deejaying has undergone drastic transformations. Being a disc-jockey now holds a very different meaning, as compared to ten years ago.

Change, however, is the very essence of Deejaying– it is a career and art that is extremely dynamic, yet always rewarding.

Deejaying isn’t simply about handpicking and mixing a few tunes. It involves thought and precision.

Deejaying is about understanding the emotions of the people in the room, and creating shared moods. It is about generating feelings and leaving behind a certain magic as the party comes to an end.

In the past few years. Deejaying has grown as a profession, and with it, several Desi and openly queer DJs have entered the scene as well. Their work creates a feeling of solidarity and togetherness, and becomes a safe space that is much needed in a community that is only just emerging.

DJ Ritu

DJ Ritu has been described by several fellow DJs as the ‘Original Queer Desi DJ.’ A longtime BBC presenter and pioneering turntablist, DJ Ritu has performed in over 30 countries, and has been in the Deejaying scene for over 25 years. She is also the founder of UK’s top Bollywood Club “Kuch Kuch” which is celebrating over 10 years of existence.

DJ Ritu’s sound consists of both current and classic Bollywood beats, and she also specialises in music from Africa, the Middle-East, Mediterranean and Latin-America, with a touch of western underground pop, all expertly mixed.

Ma Faiza

Born in Tanzania and raised in the UK, Ma Faiza is now living in India, and has been a DJ for over twenty years. Her sound involves ethnic-infused uplifting and high energy electronic music, ranging from tech House to psychedelic trance.

Also a multi-instrumentalist, Ma Faiza firmly believes that the music chose her.

About her love for Deejaying, she says, “I’ve currently been Deejaying for over twenty years and I’m still loving it! The music keeps me so interested and the energy exchange between the crowd and myself is so massive that I’m continually uplifted and inspired in my performances. To see people experience the music I love, with such joy and delight, keeps me nourished, and I’m still amazed at some of the emotions that we share together on the dance floor.”

DJ Rekha

London-born DJ Rekha spent three years of her life in New Delhi, India, and believes that this was a critical time for exposure to Punjabi and Desi music. She has been credited with pioneering Bhangra music in North America, and has also founded Sangament, a production company that provides live concerts as well as consultation services.

Her music fuses Bhangra music with drum beats and international hip-hop.

DJ Anjali

DJ Anjali, full name Gitanjali, believes she was destined to be a DJ.

Based in Portland, she has been Deejaying mostly on the West Coast since 2000, though she also pops over to the East Coast every once in a while. She also works as a party promoter and dance intructor.

DJ Anjali’s main sound is a fusion of Bhangra, Desi bass, Reggaeton, Dembow, Latín Trap, Dancehall, Giddha and Filmi.

On her 20 long years as a DJ, Gitanjali states, “I love my job, I’ve been able to carve out a 20 year career from my passion which is music and dancing. Being a party promoter has allowed me to dictate my own schedule and not have to rely on other promoters to book me. It has also allowed me to create a space in my hometown where folks can come dancing to a more interesting soundtrack than your typical club night. I’m able to feature Queer and Femme DJ’s as well. My favourite thing about being a DJ is being in control of the soundtrack, of course. I can put on my favourite song, run out into the audience and dance along with everyone else!”

DJ Ashu Rai

Born in Chandigarh and raised in Northern California, Ashu Rai first started Deejaying in college.

Currently based in Brooklyn, she co-founded Sholay Events in 2002, along with two partners, Atif Toor and Rajesh Parwatkar. A safe and celebratory space for the Desi LGBTQ+ Community in the NYC Club Scene, Sholay Events has connected several people over the years.

Mood-wise, Ashu Rai’s influences include the legendary NYC clubs and parties and her own experiences at Twilo and Danny Tenaglia’s “Be Yourself” parties in the late 90s.

Musicially, the parties see a mix of of Bollywood/International dance beats, in addition to 80s new wave and dub.

Regarding her favourite part of being a DJ, Ashu Rai explains, “I love bringing people together (friends, family and strangers) and music is the unifying factor that has been successful in doing this.

That’s the primary driver for the Sholay Instagram Live (@sholay.events) parties on Saturday evenings (East Coast time), which we kicked off in late April during the worst days of the pandemic here in NYC.  Deejaying from my living room and Atif providing visuals from his place, we’re able to use these sessions to connect with our Sholay friends.  While I miss the energy of a crowded dance floor, we’ll keep the virtual party going until we can all dance together in person.”

DJ Ushka

Photo Credit: Mario Ruben Carrion

Thanu Yakupitiyage alias DJ Ushka is a Sri Lanka-born, Thailand-raised and Brooklyn-based deejay, and the co-host and co-producer of the podcast Bad Brown Aunties.

She deejays from the perspective of a dancer, and her music is an eclectic blend of soca, dancehall, hip-hop, South Asian rhythms, baile funk, afrobeats and more.

Thanu has performed across US, Mexico and Canada for years, and has been a staple in NYC’s queer nightlife, having run the iBomba parties for six years. She has also performed in several institutions such as Brooklyn Museum, MoMA PS1 and the American Museum of Natural History.

Speaking of her love for Deejaying, Thanu explains, “Deejaying to me as a craft is a form of organizing and storytelling. Since my DJ style is one of genre-blending, I feel like I’m able to tell stories of migration from a different lens. So much Black and Brown music is connected through migration. For example, the base beat of Sri Lankan music comes from the African diaspora drums to the island. And you can hear those same rhythms in soca chutney music in parts of the Caribbean. I’m invested in solidarity between communities of color worldwide through musical connections. Deejaying also helps bring joy to people and I think it’s so important to create joyful spaces even when things are super tough for our communities. I DJ because I hope it helps show the visions of the world we want to see where Black, Brown, Indigenous, and communities of color are free and thriving.”

Bianca Maieli

Colombian-Indian producer and DJ Bianca Maieli was born and raised in Los Angeles, and is heavily influenced by her roots as well as her city of birth.

She has been a professional DJ for nine years, and has studied Anthropology, focusing on queer women in South-Asian communities.

The host of the radio show Mimosas & Samosas, Bianca incorporates various genres and creates the perfect dance floor music to get the party going.

DJ Antara

Born and brought up in Hyderabad and currently based in Bangalore, Antara Pal has been a DJ for fifteen years, and continues to perform at some of the prestigious clubs in India.

A DJ by night and a corporate job holding boss woman by day, she describes herself as “an out, proud and loud lesbian DJ.”

Deejaying, to her, is not about money or fame. It is an expression of love. Music is the only language that the world understands and it unites people every day.

In regards to her love for deejaying, Antara says, “My favourite part of being a DJ is that I get to see people forget all their worries for that one night and dance the night away. I love the feeling of a non-verbal connection that music creates. I have no idea who these people are and, they don’t know me but, we are all under one roof, one sky for one night to lose ourselves to the sound of the night! It doesn’t matter what genre you play and preach. What matters is that feeling when the crowd and I are in sync of the vibe we have created together, I feel the universe feels happy.”

DJ Cardamami

With a South-Asian and Afro-Carribbean family, DJ Cardamami first started deejaying so they could play music from their cultural background. Their interest mostly lies in diasporic music styles– from South Asia and North Africa to Latin America.

The music they play is a fusion of disco, funk, Bollywood, Bhangra, Arab pop, Reggaeton and dancehall, amongst others.

Anisa Jackson or DJ Cardamami is also the co-organizer of Yalla Yeehaw, a celebration of the South Asia South West Asia North Africa (SASWANA) Community.

Chippy Nonstop

Although originally of Indian descent, Chippy Nonstop or Chhavi Nanda was born in Dubai, grew up in Zambia, has resided in LA and New York, and is currently based in Toronto. By profession, Chippy is not only a DJ, but also a rapper, songwriter, producer, activist and writer.

Her music has a unique energy– one that always manages to keep the party going.

Chippy is also the founder of Intersessions, an inclusive sound initiative to teach womxn and the LGBTQ+ community how to deejay.

Malinder Tooray

Malinder Tooray, also known as MTooray, is a musician and composer, as well as the first female dhol player in North America.

Born in Los Angeles, her career began at the age of 16, and she has since toured the USA with several artists.

Over the years, her love for music has also expanded to EDM, Dancehall, Latin and hip-hop.

Malinder is known for fusing universal tribal beats to other genres of music, and thus, building bridges that connect cultures worldwide.

Caprice Sühñ

Born and raised in London, and of Punjabi origin, Caprice Sühñ describes himself as unabashedly gawky, very gay and a bit shy.

A regular DJ at East London’s premier Bollywood and Hip-Hop Night Hungama, his sound is an eclectic mashup of nostalgic house, electronic and pop with Bollywood and UK Desi beats.

Speaking of why he loves being a DJ, he states, “I love dance music. It is at the core of my gay identity and who I am. From childhood until now, dancing to a good track has had this powerful way of releasing an inner gay essence in me that’s often a bit more contained. It makes me feel more ‘me’, confident, ecstatic even. It’s almost like I have this umbilical cord attached to 90s and 00s house and pop music that I grew up with. Armand Van Helden’s 1999 “You Don’t Know Me” is probably my favourite house tune of all time – the lyrics scream gay liberation, and without really knowing, resonated deeply with me growing up as a gay kid in the noughties. Other artists like George Michael, Kylie, the Sugababes, were big for me growing up. Dance music, and Deejaying dance music, has almost been a kind of therapy. It’s allowed me to express my gayness and femininity through the music I curate and mashup, while enjoying a bit of childhood nostalgia. As spinning house music has been a way of expressing my gayness, playing around with Bollywood music, and UK desi beats, has been a way of exploring my brownness. I grew up with Hindi music playing in the background, but it was only until I was at uni where I started digging the virtual crates of desi sounds and mixing these together with my housier sounds, to make something uniquely Caprice Sühñ!”

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Saachi Gupta is an LGBTQ+ activist, animal lover and the author of 'With Love, or Something Like That.' She is a strong believer in equality amongst mankind.
Saachi Gupta

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