Bombay Jungle: How British Asians broke into London's club scene

Bombay Jungle: How British Asians broke into London's club scene

One evening in 1993, Mits Sahni was standing in a queue in Leicester Square in central London. He was trying to get into a nightclub - but when he got to the front of the line he was turned away by the bouncer.

It wasn't the first time this had happened. He'd tried different approaches - bringing along female friends or wearing smarter clothes. But the result was always the same. "The doorman would make up excuse after excuse. And after a while you figured out it was due to racism."

Mits had always been into music.

As a 10-year-old in Ealing, west London, he'd take his boombox and a sheet of lino into school and breakdance to hip-hop in the playground at lunchtime. On Saturday afternoons he'd take tapes he'd edited on his mother's double-cassette hi-fi system to Ealing shopping centre and play them full volume on the stereos in Dixons. Then he'd go to a fast food joint and breakdance for customers in return for a bag of chips.

His first experience of clubbing came in 1987. It was a Friday and, now 14, he had bunked off school to go to a daytimer - a music event for British South Asians held in the middle of the day.

About 10 of his friends had left the house that morning in school uniform so as not to raise their parents' suspicion. They met outside a nearby supermarket and went as a group to the Empire Ballroom.

It left a deep impression. There were live bands playing bhangra - traditional Punjabi folk music reworked with new electronic production techniques - and DJs who mixed bhangra with reggae, soul and hip hop, creating a new sound. "You just saw them rocking out a place of 2,000 people," Mits says. Another revelation was that divisions in the British South Asian community disappeared. Seeing the younger generation, whatever their backgrounds, moved by the music on the dance floor, he realised: "So this is how you bring people together."

But Mits' real love was hip-hop. He bought his first set of turntables with money he saved up from a part-time job at his uncle's luggage shop, and formed a group called Hustlers HC with two friends, Paul and Mandeep, from the gurdwara - the Sikh place of worship he attended on Sundays. Punjabi Sikh men in turbans rapping with politically conscious lyrics on subjects such as racism raised eyebrows on the Asian music scene, where audiences generally expected bhangra, but these songs helped give Mits and his friends "a sense of identity", he says.

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