200th Entry: Desi Jersey Mafia

This post marks the 200th entry on dishumdishum and I debated on how best to celebrate. An obvious thing to do would have been to list some of the better posts but I do that already as a sidebar feature called The Dishum Primer. Instead, I thought it would be fun to showcase an older piece of writing I am particularly proud of - the saga of the "Desi Jersey Mafia", a desi version of Spinal Tap, if you will. They would have been big in Bangladesh. Except they didn't really do Bangla Rock, you see. Apache Indian style dancehall and Digable Planets era hop hop was more their scene. The rap itself grew out of an exchange on the newsgroup alt.culture.us.asian-indian. You can find the early seed here. That was in April 1994, nearly fourteen years ago. Talk about dating yourself!

I didn't do any work on it for nearly a year until it came time to trot out some stuff for the annual Holi function at my grad school. With my partner in crime, Subra, we fashioned an entire narrative with verbal nods to A Tribe Called Quest, GangStarr and Das EFX. Yes, they were very big then. Given I was already mucking about with a high end Mac Quadra for my thesis work, it was a no brainer to actually record and create a track. I wish I had it lying around now to share but the files ended up in digital nirvana, sadly.

I remember being worried on the eve of the performance that the audience wouldn't be able to hear the words, so we passed out lyric sheets in advance. To no avail as it turned out. The whole thing fell a bit flat, at least by my standards. I consoled myself with thoughts of being too ahead of our time etc etc and went on to other things.

It wasn't until I began occasionally e-mailing out the lyrics that things started to happen. Somehow, one such missive triggered a chain e-mail reaction amongst desis in the Northeast - from what I understand, the usual comment was "check out this cool rap. Grad students in Ithaca seem to have entirely too much time on their hands!"

Then, in '99, I received the following e-mail from noted Asian American scholar Vijay Prashad:

You will no doubt be rather surprised to hear from me after all these years (admittedly only three years). My reason for writing is rather urgent, so forgive me for getting right to the point. I have a book that is in production (Karma of Brown Folk) with the University of Minnesota Press. In it, I use several lines from "Desi Like That" by your fine group, Desi Jersey Mafia. Of course, I give full credit to you and the group.

Indeed, Karma of Brown Folk came out later that year and we were in it. I have my own complimentary copy of the book to prove it too. Courtesy Google, here's the actual place in the book where the excerpt appeared, ahead of a chapter, "On Authentic Cultural Lives", dealing with Asian migration to the United States.

Enough of the preamble. Here's the whole thing. Enjoy:

Yo my name is Soam , that's foam with an S
them dudes like my duds, see I'm dressed for success
I higgedy diggedy my Mama, I'm as built as Bhima
taller than a tree and I sting with my degree
I drive a Honda Civic, but to me it's a Ferrari
Hemanta on the speaker - 'cause I'm a Bengali
but hey, 'nuff of me, I got work to do,
so let's go and chill with the rest of my crew

see my man Subra, he's smooth with the ladies
they call him every night, just to ride in his Mercedes
he takes them out to dinner, he makes them laugh and scream
When stuff is getting rough, he wakes up - "just a dream!"

And my homeboy Harish, what else can we say?
He's cooler than December, he's hot, hot like May
He's well educated, got a high school diploma
"What's two plus two?", "I'll leave you in a coma!"

Yo, I'm Suresh and I'm a supah jock
I read Byron, I pump iron, I'm built like a rock
some say I'm da brain, but I'm tha body too
I'm supah badd, hottah than vindaloo

But we be to rap what raga be to veena

'Cause we're cool like dat, we're cool like that, we're desi like that,
yeah we're desi (echo)

(Reporter)
Desi Jersey Mafia: really happening band
Tell us how they formed, please make us understand

Arre bhai aur bahen, sab shuno shuno
let me tell this story, that you really ought to know

Back in the days when I was a teenager
Dazed and confused was the status of my nature
Desi, pardesi what was I? "Just crazy?"
Easy said my daddy, stop sweatin' bout your future
Be hittin' all your books like there be no tomorrow
Straight A's, it pays, that'll drown your sorrow
"O bhai" said I, must give this s*** a try
So EE was to me, like the Nile was to the Pharaoh
The years be passing by and I wasn't getting younger
One day, hai hai hey, it hit me only stronger
No life, no wife, no culture, just this drive
Like vindaloo with no aloo, no way to kill my hunger
My brain was cast again in a frizzy stormy state
Then I got the answer and this I now relate
"Rap, all that, add some bhangra, it's so phat
Mix like begoon-bhartha, you'll down it just like that"

I be to rap what gulli be to danda

'Cause we're cool like dat, we're cool like that, we're desi like that,
yeah we're desi (echo)

(Reporter)

Desi Jersey Mafia, go on with your story
how you found each other, your way to fame and glory

Well I was low on dough, Harish was on the dole
Subra had been dissed, and Suresh was on parole
it didn't take too long, to make us understand
to get those checks and chicks, we had to form a band
We tried fusion-grunge, Suresh played the sitar
Harish beat the drums while Subra picked the guitar

Had to get a deal, with a record label
show them our stuff, showed them we were able

( Pseudo ragga rap interlude )

well that didn't work, but we had to get heard
I got my man Mark, to put in a good word
....................................Word
this did not work either, things were getting hectic
we had to change approach, try another tactic
it was no use, we had nothing to lose
we made him an offer, offer he couldn't refuse

We be to rap what raga be to veena

'Cause we're cool like dat, we're cool like that, we're cool like that
we're cool like that, we're desi like dat, we're desi like that, we're
desi like that, yeah we're desi(echo)

I'm Bengali like dat, charm the lerkis with my bhasha
"arre moshai kemon achen, ei to bhalobhasha"
but we have brains and Karl Marx, our russgoolas are sweet
I sing and dance like Rabindrasangeet

I'm Tamil like dat, I'm a Testarossa
I'm hot and I'm spicy, like masala dosa
I count like Ramanujam, you gotta give me dap
and here comes Badri, to blast you with his rap

I'm Punjabi like dat, I drink lotsa lassi
I also drink whisky, I'm not really fussy
I like tandoori roti and I dance like I'm langra
don't dare laugh at me, just check out my bhangra

I'm Gujrati like dat, no I'm not called a Patel
let me make things clear: I've never owned a motel
echoes of my name resound the Khyber Pass
you wanna know why, do the Dandiya Raas

We be to rap what Kapil be to cricket

'Cause we're cool like dat, we're cool like that, we're desi like that,
yeah we're desi (echo)

Well I've been to the east and I've been to the west
One thing is for sure, Desi girls are the best

We dig Madhuri like that, we dig Dimple like that
Juhi, Raveena and Sushmita like that
my girl she's no ho, don't take her name in vain
She's Lakshmi, she likes me, She's a devi just the same
And for the local girls, what more can we say
Parul, Anusha, Alpa, Make our day
Monami, Raguini, Rash and Deeya too
Mridula, Shonali, Dhati, Reena, Indu
and for those that dis us, you don't know what you're missing
come on Soam tell them - "It's all in the kissing"
if we left you out, and you want to let us know
we are new age guys, meet us past this show

We be to rap what Kama be to Sutra

'Cause we're cool like dat, we're cool like that, we're cool like that
we're cool like that, we're desi like dat, we're desi like that, we're
desi like that, yeah we're desi(echo)

Yeah, some of the references are really dated. Who remembers Digable Planets' "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" anyway? Or Dimple Kapadia? And yes, there are some real cringe worthy moments in there. But it still brings a smile to my face. Surely, that's worth something after all those years.

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- April 7, 2008 9:48 PM // Diaspora , Humour