DJ Rekha on stop 'n' frisk, the Desi Food Truck and parental pressure
DJ Rekha, 40, who lives in Jackson Heights, mainstreamed bhangra and Bollywood music in NYC and teaches classes in modern Indian music at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University. She celebrates her 15th year of "Basement Bhangra" at SOB's with the special guests Dholnation this on April 5.
Q: What would you most like to see changed or accomplished in NYC?
A: The police really need to stop abusing their stop and frisk policy and the pointless surveillance of Muslim college students and citizens. They justify it by saying they're preventing crime, but there's no basis for it and it's a civil rights violation. It sends out a bad message about New York and people of color don't feel safe or protected by the police.
I had a headlight out I didn't know about and got stopped and arrested and held in a cell for hours without ever being charged. My breathalyzer came back absolutely clean. Once that happens, it really changes how you feel.
Q: What music excites you these days?
A: Vijay Iyer and Imani Uzuri are on my iPod right now. I listen to a lot of bhangra and New York hip hop - I love Jay-Z - and Bollywood stuff. One of my favorite DJs is DJ Reborn - we're of the same generation and she does really good dance music - Prince B-sides and stuff. Monday nights Francois K does good dub-influenced dance music at Cielo. And my favorite party is Que Bajo - they have a DJ crew and throw parties all over the city.
Q: What are your best tips for the real deal in Indian food?
A: If you want good Indian food, go to a cabstand, not an Indian restaurant! I like the Desi Food Truck - you have to follow it on Twitter - The Punjabi Deli on East 1st St. and the Lahore Deli on Crosby St., next to the Housing Works. If you want to eat fancy food, follow the chef, not the restaurant. Right now, Hemant Mathur is at Tulsi on Ea. 46th, and he's great. The best place to eat right now in Jackson Heights is the Himalyan Hut.
Q: What most threatens nightlife in NYC?
A: The economics of the city! To pay the rent, places play to the lowest common denominator musically to draw in the maximum number of people and switch to bottle service (to make more money.) Also, some people who don't go out at night don't understand how vital nightlife is to the life of New York (and complain about noise, leading to legal restrictions). We live in a really dense place and have to get along with each other: Get ear plugs!
Q: What's the best investment a New Yorker can make?
A: Patronize the places you like -be loyal to local businesses and good businesses so they can stay here! I go to Other Music on Ea. 4th St. and St. Mark's Books. In Ditmas Park, there's this combination bar and flower shop called Sycamore that's also pretty cool.
Q: If you have a spare hour to kill here, where do you go?
A: One of my very favorite places is the panorama in the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadow Park. They have a model of all five boroughs that is just amazing.
Q: Do you have stalkers?
A: That's why I'm so elusive. Most of them are innocent, but thank God I have only minor fame. Don't ask me about stalkers!
Q: As a child of immigrant parents, did you have to deal with pressure to get married and live a traditional life of a "good" Indian girl?
A: Parents want to see you do well. When they see you do well, they back off. My parents realized they didn't need to worry eight or nine years ago after I got written up in an Indian newspaper.
Q: You've carved out such an interesting, brave niche for yourself in the music scene, where it's not easy to make a living doing what you love. Any words of advice for New York's struggling artists?
A: I just did what I liked and what I believed in. My success was a combination of good timing and good opportunities. Just find a way to support yourself and fake it till you make it. And work only with good people and people you can really trust. That's important. I'm a diehard New Yorker. I love New York! I'm so grateful that my parents (who moved from England when Rekha was five) decided to come here.