Naming Your Desi Band

"So you want to be a rock'n'roll star" sang The Byrdsand the call of stardom is something every sensitive, artistic South Asian type has contemplated. Lord knows, I'm no exception. But long before the guitars, the drums, the samplers, the turntables, the sequencers, the dholak player mishaps, the perenially drunk tabla players, the screwed up hanger-ons and that record deal with Sony Asia can come your way, you must face your first challenge.

You have to find a name for your group.

Sure you can take the easy way out. But honestly, will people really come to hear Soam and The Band? I didn't think so. Besides, the rest of the artistically inclined souls in your group might take umbrage at your getting top billing, never mind the fact that it's your apartment where they create the racket, much to your long suffering neighbor's chagrin, and it's your samosas and beer they're destroying. So, a catchy name it is then. But what? It really should have something to do with South Asian culture and be cool. After all, how else would you get on MTV Desi? If your primary influences are Norwegian death metal, more power to you, but that's not something desi and world music audiences are necessarily interested in unless you can throw in power sitar chords in there somewhere. Thus, I'm assuming you want to do a fusion band, go back to your roots, make funky beats, score with henna-ed groupies, whatever. But you want your band moniker to reflect the music you make. I've faced this problem a couple of times, so what I can do is share with you some of my own thought processes on the matter:

  • No masala or spice in the title. That's so played. No Spicy Beats or Masala Music here, no sirree!

  • Anything "mutiny" related is also getting overused. I mean, it's already made it's way into a NYC music gathering, a website, and a music documentary. All good stuff and rebellion is good for the image but you have to find some other Indian insurrection. Perhaps Gandhi's Non-cooperation movement? Salt March?

  • Likewise with karma. Sorry lads, John Lennon beat you to it with Instant Karma and I've really heard no variation that comes close since then. Yes, I know that's a song title but it's so good, it's been taken for band names, both in the West and India.

  • Kama Sutra: yes, it's tempting, particularly for the daring and the desperate amongst you, but it's been ripped off many many times worldwide. Just musically alone, there's at least one famous record label with that title.

As you can see, this is not a trivial challenge. All the obvious names have long been spoken for or are too overused in other settings. Thinking of Om? Too bad, in the USA there's Om Records, an SF based electronica/house label that, to my knowledge, has no desi connections whatsoever. How about Guru? Nope, that's one half of Gang Starr, the premier NYC hip hop outfit. And there's Loop Guru too. So, how does one get around this impasse? Some suggestions:

  • Perhaps the term desi itself may still not be overkill. I like Funkadesi. Alas, desibeats is gone. Perhaps Desi Wonderland? Desi Boogie? A bit retro, but not without charm. A name I've used in the past for my creative efforts is Desi Jersey Mafia. I'm particularly proud of that one. It hits the trifecta: desis in New Jersey involved with the mafia! True, it was intended for satirical purposes, but hey, so was Spinal Tap.

  • Names of Indian express trains. I once thought of the Deccan Queen but resisted, thinking of the inevitable comparisons. Toofan Mail is still a possibility. Bonus: it's also the title of a famous old time Bollywood song.

  • Indian states/cities: other than Mumbai/Bombay, I think all other cities/states are fair game. Certainly, that must've been the idea behind the group State of Bengal. But too many names with Bombay in it: Bombay Vikings, just for starters. My candidate here was the Royal Bengal Brothers, but, alas, my brother nixed that one. Pity - you would be getting a state and a state animal at the same time!

  • Indian regional groups: unless you are Punjabi. Starting from Punjabi MC to Bohemia, the Punjabi Rapper, this is one busy term. However, if you're say Gujrati or Tamil, there's hope. As far as I know, Gujrati MC or Tamil Rapper has not been taken. For Bengalis, it's a rich vein to mine, particularly with Bengalis referring to themselves as bongs (no drug references implied here - really). My own favorite here is The Big Bong Theory. "What's The Big Bong Theory?," I hear you ask. Well, the universe started with a Bong!

  • Movies: a good idea in theory, but tough in reality. Naming yourself after Bollywood titles is not really an option unless you specifically are looking for that audience. Outside India, however, precious few films are identified with India or Indians, at least in a positive way. Tha Gandhis (sic) just doesn't work for me. I suppose, you could try subversion of titles: Band Of Joy or, my favorite, Gunga's Din.

  • Brevity: If all else fails, keep it short and punchy. But beware - most of the words implying good times in an Indian language are out of bounds. Dhun, Nasha, and Dhamaal are all accounted for. Don't even think of Dhamaka.

Okay, that should be enough of a starting point. Just remember, if you do decide to use one of my suggestions, I want lifetime backstage passes and a copy of your first CD. Happy naming!

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- December 9, 2005 10:59 AM // Diaspora , Music , Select