Terry Grimley reports on an exhibition reflecting the range of music being made by British Asians.
Birmingham photographer Jaskirt Dhaliwal has a dream: that in 50 or one hundred years’ time people researching the history of British Asian music will be consulting a book of her photographs.
It’s one of a group of themes – women footballers and residents of Bearwood are two others – which the 24 year-old has been exploring in the last few years. An exhibition just opened at The Drum shows how this one is shaping up, with portraits of 21 musicians working in a wide variety of musical styles, photographed in locations of their own choosing.
“I started this body of work a couple of years ago and it started differently to how it ended up,” she explains.
“At first I was interested in musicians who went against the stereotype of Asian music, anyone that wasn’t doing Bollywood or bhangra. But as it progressed I was approached by the Drum to exhibit the work and I decided there was no way I could not include them, so now I have included everyone in all music genres.
“I’ve shot nearly 30 musicians and I’ve been photographing them in places that have special significance for them. It’s made it harder but it’s added so much to the work – it’s documented their personal history.”
Jaskirt says that working as a freelance for BBC Asian Network in 2006 first alerted her to the quantity of Asian musical talent and the wide range of musical styles it covered.
“That’s what really opened my eyes to so many talented people. I think it’s important that they are all recognised for their achievements – people like M.I.A., who sang on the soundtrack of Slumdog Millionaire and performed at the Grammies, or Kapil Travedi, the drummer with the Mystery Jets.
“One thing I really found is that people talk about the support of their families. Kapil was saying that it was blind faith on the part of his mother that he was going to be a musician. It’s fantastic to see all that talent and the range of it. The common denominator is that all these musicians are probably third generation Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, but they’re involved in such a range of music including rock, drum’n’ bass, MCs and hip hop.”
About a quarter of the subjects are Birmingham musicians, including singer-songwriter Vijay Kishore, who has been compared to Jeff Buckley by the NME and whose debut album is released on Monday.
“When I started I had to keep it local but, as I got Arts Council funding, it gave me leeway to go to London and other places,” Jaskirt says.
“But there’s very strong Midland talent. There’s loads, in Birmingham especially, because I know of them through my work with the Asian Network. It’s brilliant for me as a Brummie, and I don’t have any plans to move away. There’s so much artistic talent in Birmingham – I think it should be shouted about more.”
Jaskirt calculates that there is another five or ten years’ work in the music project. She spent much of last year as resident photographer on a cruise ship, a job she spotted in The British Journal of Photography. That enabled her to build up two further bodies of work – one a series of portraits of her remarkably international fellow crew members, the other a series of strangers encountered on the streets of various ports in the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and North America. Two other series, devoted to women footballers and “football landscapes”, reflect her passion for the beautiful game.
“I want to really expand the women footballers series. I’d like to do not just the England team but players in Germany, United States and China, especially with the World Cup coming up.”
As a fan, her own allegiance is to Birmingham City Ladies and Liverpool FC. Explaining the latter, she says: “It was the Ian Rush-John Barnes team when I was very young. I didn’t realise at the time that Birmingham City and Aston Villa existed. My parents didn’t know anything about football.”