How many of you have visited Shoreditch before? What for? A jolly? A night out? Did I hear you say “entertainment”? Yes, well entertainment, ladies and gentlemen, is what I’m going to tell you about.
Shoreditch has a reputation for entertainment which dates back to the 1500’s. In 1576 it was the site of the first English playhouse known as the ‘Theatre’, where Shakespeare‘s plays were performed for the first time. It was the only one of its kind until the Curtain Theatre was built a year later.
In 1599 the Theatre literally upped sticks and went across the River to be re-built in Southwark as The Globe. Shoreditch in those days was an attractive location for early theatre. Why? Well it’s because it was outside the jurisdiction of the puritanical city fathers who didn’t want these types of goings on within the city perimeters.
By the mid-19th century, Shoreditch became a byword for crime, prostitution and poverty but in the early 20th century when more affluent people moved in, it was a centre of entertainment to rival the West End, and boasted many theatres and music halls, for example the Shoreditch Empire.
So, what has this got to do with me, an Asian woman, I hear you ask…
The 20th Century was an era of mass migration which included people from South Asia coming to Britain as my parents did in the 1960’s. Many migrants came from Commonwealth countries and brought many things with them. One of these things was their music.This music defines who we are and where we come from and is recognised all over the world.
If you’d like to share some short excerpts of instrumentals used in Indian classical music, please check out these YouTube posts:
Anoushka Shankar plays ‘Pancham Se Gara’
Ustad Zakir Hussain [Horse running sound]
Best dholak by a great rythmist : Aura Makers
Dhruba Ghosh demonstrates the sarangi
Raga Shivranjani on Bansuri
The first is the Sitar, followed by the Tablas and then the Dholak. Next we have the Sarangi and last but not least the Bansuri. Many of the younger Asian generation loved this music but we also loved UK dance music and some our friends were instrumental in forming a new sound that became known as the Asian Underground.
This truly amazing musical experience took place here in Shoreditch in the 1990’s and I’m proud to say that it was an important part of my life for many years.
From 1991-1996 Shoreditch Town Hall was the site of the Whirl-Y- Gig: the longest running World Music night. Like Mecca Ballrooms it drew people from all walks of life to dance the night away on a regular basis.
Some of us rejected the “bali, bali” of the bhangra music that came to prominence in the 1980’s and is so mainstream now. I took up the sounds of the Asian underground like fish to water when friends of mine starting producing a new sound that nobody had heard before.
For 3 years from 1992, brothers Farook and Haroun Shamseer, in the guise of their band Joi, ran a night at the ‘Bass Clef’, which was based just across the road from the Town Hall in Hoxton Square. They were the legendary founders of a new sound that mixed traditional, classical Indian music and vocals with British dance music which they produced. This basement nightclub would be decorated in saris, burning candles and incense. We would meet there every Thursday.
Later the venue became known as the ‘Blue Note.’ Talvin Singh took it over to run Anokha. Just like the theatres and music halls, the club nights of Asian Underground faded from this area but the legacy of entertainment still continues in the streets of Shoreditch which hosts many bars, restaurants and coffeehouses that attract thousands like you every night.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to leave you with a track from a piece of music by Joi, called ‘Massive’.
This has been the sounds of the Asian Underground, thank you.
Please seek permission before using this text in any other format / please inform the author if you use any part of this text in another format.