East Meets West
Dance Floor DiplomatsMegha Bahree, 07.30.10, 07:20 AM EDT
Forbes Asia Magazine dated August 09, 2010
Desi Hits keeps the beats bouncing between Bollywood and Hollywood.
Learning curves: The Sugababes get their first taste of desi dress-up.
Jade Ewen, one of a trio that makes up the British pop band Sugababes, tries on a gold-colored sari blouse, cut like a halter top and covered in sequins. She tucks in one corner of a traditional Indian scarf in the waistband of her skinny jeans and with a piece of Indian jewelry draped across her other hip poses for the camera.
The photo shoot is available on the website of Desi Hits, a New York entertainment company that straddles Hollywood and its Eastern cousin Bollywood. Desi Hits was founded by three British Indians: Anjula Acharia-Bath, 39, and Ranj Bath, 40 (they are married), and Arun Sandhu, 32. It records and distributes content from both worlds, with a focus on creating a fusion of the two as it introduces Western artists to a new, larger audience called desi (Hindi for everything from the Indian subcontinent) and provides South Asian artists a platform from which to cross over to the Western world. Its website offers content that runs the gamut of Bollywood and Indian pop music, Western chart toppers that have been remixed with Indian beats, celebrity gossip, and interviews and promotions like the Sugababes photo shoot.
In June it entered into a joint venture with Universal Music Group to create a new label, Desi Hits Universal, fully funded by the record label giant. "The aim," says Acharia-Bath, "is to be a home for South Asian talent, globally." The deal with Universal comes equipped with the full suite of services that are available to any other artist on Universal's roster--songwriters, album production and an entire marketing machine. It could mean an investment of up to a million for a big name like Jay Sean, M.I.A. or even a Bollywood star.
"There is huge potential for crossover music [between South Asia and the West]," says Acharia-Bath. "Hip-hop had Def Jam as a founding label. ... There are desi fusion one-hit wonders because no one is cultivating this music, there's no platform for it. [But it's needed], just as black music needed that platform [of Def Jam]." Desi Hits Universal plans to be that.
One thing it's doing is creating a roster of artists that includes homegrown stars like British singer/songwriter Jay Sean (whom it actively promoted via "webisodes" to the South Asian population in the U.S. years before he became a brand), any Bollywood icons it signs up (at press time Acharia-Bath and David Joseph, chairman of Universal Music U.K., were talent shopping in Mumbai), and it continues to look for South Asian talent in the West.
Part of the Desi Hits strategy is to educate artists and heads of labels on desi music and culture and the potential market that community offers. "They see these South Asians around them who have lots of money to spend, but there's no vehicle to target them properly and retain the artists' cool factor," says Sandhu. "We expose artists to the sound; we're proud of our sound; we love it and show it to everyone."