Ascending—South Asian Artists at Coachella 2023 is a new documentary on YouTube that follows the lives of South Asian artists such as Ali Sethi, Diljit Dosanjh, Charli XCX, Jai Paul, Jai Wolf, and Joy Crookes. The artists or their managers give fans a tour of their personal journeys leading up to this point in their lives.
“It’s unbelievable; it’s unbelievable. Jai Wolf begins the 25-minute documentary by saying, “I don’t think anyone ever thinks they’re going to be here, and then one day, they’re here.” The film continues by explaining how the Coachella 2023 lineup, featuring Rupi Kaur and other brown artists, is a record-breaking manifestation of brown representation and how the festival is seeing an unprecedented influx of attendees from the diaspora.
Theodore A. Sethi
My hometown of Lahore was always a musical mecca. The folks embodied it. “You would hear it in shrines, on the streets, in homes—it was kind of a spirit of us,” Ali Sethi shares in the documentary film regarding his first encounter with music. For some reason, even when I was a little kid, I had the impression that music brought people together. Thus, I believe that studying music—specifically, the music of my homeland and culture—has always been a lifelong goal of mine. He bemoans the fact that it has languished in the shadows and is now considered secondary to other types of information.
“What truly attracted me to him was his voice,” says Aroop Sanakkayala, Sethi’s manager. He possessed an extraordinary video for Ishq. His voice, however, which I am unable to decipher, seems to transcend all of these languages.
Sethi went on to say that the emotions they sparked were a big part of why he loved rags, even as a kid. When you hear a raag or traditional melody played, you get the instant sensation that everything is under control. He went on to explain that once everyone relaxes, they start dancing and expressing themselves in all sorts of ways: uncles shake their hips in a specific way, aunties remove their dupattas, and so on.
Also, the Pasoori singer opened up about his childhood bullies and how they picked on his unique personality. But as soon as he took the stage, he felt free to thrill. “We connected through music and theater, and here we are today at Coachella doing our queer brown thing,” Sethi added, introducing his childhood friend Leo Kalyan, who was also a guest performer.
The musician explains that Pasoori was about a forbidden love between nations while performing at Coachella.
The British singer-songwriter Joy Crookes had a very diversified musical upbringing, according to her mother, who is from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and her father, who is from Dublin, Ireland. “I was always listening to reggae and rock bands from the UK. My dad introduced me to qawwali music and my mom to Nelly Furtado.” “She used to listen to qawwali, to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,” Crookes’ mother recalled when asked about her daughter’s musical influences. In the next breath, she’d declare her desire to pursue music. It had a certain cadence. We move in sync.
“I had no idea I could make a career out of this,” Crooke confessed. Despite my love of performing, I never considered it a viable option because I didn’t know anyone else who was as creative or wealthy as I was. But I can perform on America’s most famous stage.
The Wolverine Princess
“I come from Bangladesh, and the Bengali people are really into the arts,” Jai Wolf said. Music, particularly harmonium and singing, is a staple at all of our community gatherings and celebrations. The foundation of Bengali culture rests on that. My parents were always worried that I would miss that when I moved to the United States. As a classically educated violinist, I spent the first eighteen years of my life. During this time, my mom would have me and her transpose Bengali songs into Western notation. On the violin, I would perform traditional Bengali music.
Wolf said that his parents’ insistence that he “become a doctor and have a stable job” led him to believe, as is common among South Asian children, that a career in music would not be financially rewarding. Still, Wolf reminded himself that “if I never tried, I would regret it for the rest of my life,” which worked out well.
Paul, I salute you.
“He is an enigma, but he dropped a release 10–12 years ago, and it ended up getting sampled by Beyonce and Drake, and his album got leaked, and this is actually his first live performance ever, which is insane,” said Jashima Wadehra, a music journalist.
When asked about Charlie XCX, Wadehra said that her success proves that musicians from all walks of life can create and sell songs in any genre. “She’s completely amazing, and I bet a lot of people are unaware that she’s half Gujrati,” she commented.
Diljit Dosanjh is the author.
When asked about their first meeting, Dosanjh’s manager, Sonali Singh, said it was while she was working for the Indian record company T-Series. The artist is “very global” while still being “traditional and cultural,” as Singh put it. Dosanjh says, “Music is universal and shared by everyone,” as the camera turns to a clip of his Coachella performance. Please refrain from being negative because it doesn’t belong to anyone.
“So we know that Diljit is a global superstar,” stated Stacy Vee, the executive vice president of festival talent. Booking Diljit was among the most thrilling reservations we have ever done, and we spent all day researching artists and statistics.
According to Wadehra, “South Asian cultures have a rich history of performance art,” which is why it’s thrilling to see Diljit’s acts and have an unforgettable experience. Musical styles, dialects, and composers hailing from South Asia are not new, nor are South Asians themselves. The media and curators have neglected to include individuals while ignoring their ethnicity.
“South Asian members”
“The best way to put it is that you’re either too brown for white people or too white for brown people,” Wolf said, continuing in a similar vein. “How then can you find a middle ground?” Crookes added, “It’s the fact that people look up to you as a representative when you’re from a minority group in music.” And now I’m the pilot? I was just a passenger, you say. To me, that is completely unjust. I finally decided to stop doing that one day. “Take it or leave it; I’m just going to represent myself.”