As eclectic and musically wide-open as the Denver scene is, there are still some areas and genres where we're lacking. Much of that has more to do with the variety, or lack thereof, of cultures in the Denver region. We might have, for example, a lot of Latinos in Colorado, and, as a result, many Latin musicians, but we are less blessed when it comes to a thriving Indian subculture or Bollywood music scene.
That said, this is Denver, and there’s not much that you can’t find if you dig deep enough. On March 18, Denver’s City Hall hosts Holi Bash, the city’s hottest Bollywood dance party of the year. Three years after its birth, the event has proven to be extremely popular, both with the Denver region’s relatively small but nonetheless enthusiastic Indian population, and with people of other cultures with an open mind and a desire to explore everything the area has to offer.
Performing on that night is DJ MRA, aka Amarjit Singh, a local spin doctor who has been deejaying professionally for about five years. Singh performs Bollywood-weighted sets as MRA, and leans more toward EDM when performing as Six Deers. But in all honesty, there’s plenty of space for crossover. On the Amarjit Singh Venn Diagram, with one circle representing MRA and the other Six Deers, he usually winds up somewhere in the middle. There are differences, but that element of crossover is Singh’s bag.
That’s how it will be at City Hall, and that much is evident when checking into the two acts' Soundcloud pages. An atmospheric Six Deers track like “Reema” has an Eastern vibe but is heavily reliant on drops and beats. Check out “Bollywood Chronicles” on the MRA page, where the EDM serves as the backdrop to the Indian music. Both work extremely well.
“I’ll be playing EDM, too, but I’m going with the name DJ MRA,” he says. “I play a mix of EDM-into-Bollywood. Also Top 40, hip-hop and everything. We do Hindi songs. It’s like mainstream stuff, but we also mix Punjabi bhangra and traditional, too. So it’s a mix of everything. There will be a wide variety of ages there, so it’s important to mix it up.”
Singh says that, because of the small number of Indian people in town, the attraction of a Bollywood scene and the associated events is always going to be limited. That said, as long as the organizers don’t flood the calendar, the events that are put on will attract a respectable number of enthusiastic aficionados.
“I think it’s getting better,” he says. "We’ve been doing big Bollywood parties for the last three years, and it’s been good. We did a Bollywood fashion event on October 1. There were 600 to 700 people there at City Hall. We can’t do a lot — we try to do three or four big ones in a year.”
The Indian Bollywood industry is a fascinating worldwide phenomenon. The genre's movies outsell Hollywood year after year, helped by the fact that the music is tied in. Essentially, the Indian movie and music market is the same thing. The top albums are the soundtracks to the top movies. They’re usually very upbeat and dance-friendly, lending themselves wonderfully to a mash-up with Western EDM culture. And the non-Indians that give it a try often end up taking to it.
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“We always see about 25 percent white people [at the parties],” Singh says. “We mix all types of genres, so they don’t get bored, and they can also discover Indian music — something for themselves while enjoying another culture’s music.”
Events like this forthcoming one are to be savored. When it’s over, you’ll have to wait months for the chance to do it again. There are no clubs or venues where you can hear Bollywood on a regular basis, outside of private parties.
“You cannot see Bollywood stuff happening every week,” Singh agrees. “It’s just private parties like weddings and individuals’ own things. Again, there’s not a huge market for it. We do it every four months so people start craving it. City Hall is a huge venue, so we’re hoping to do well.”
Bollywood Dance Party: Holi Bash will take place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 18, at City Hall, 1144 Broadway. For more information, call 303-832-8628.