The Great American 9/11 Novel

For the last four months, I have been trying and failing to finish a book gifted me as a Christmas present, The Submission, the first novel by New York Times journalist Amy Waldman, released shortly before the anniversary of 9/11. I had almost completed it this week (grudgingly) before I was made aware of the depth of its popularity. I must confess, I was shocked. The book that I had considered passing to the thrift-store unfinished has in fact received rave reviews from a handful of the nation’s top papers.

The New York Times noted its “limber, detailed prose.” The Guardian stated: “Waldman’s prose is almost always pitch-perfect, whether describing a Bangladeshi woman’s relationship with her landlady or the political manoeuvring within a jury.” In The Washington Post, Chris Cleave wrote that Waldman “excels at involving the reader in vibrant dialogues. Additionally, The Submission was named Esquire’s Book of the Year, Entertainment Weekly’s #1 Novel for the Year, NPR’s Top Ten Novels for 2011 and the list goes on. NPR’s Maureen Corrigan called it “gorgeously written novel” and went so far as to call it the 9/11 novel. High praise, indeed. Continue reading

The (r)Evolving Kominas

A belated Christmas present for all y’all for this #MusicMonday – our oft written about friends The Kominas have released an (almost) self-titled album called “Kominas.” If you thought the previous albums were too punk/too political/too “taqwacore” for you – then it is time to give the band a second chance – this album might just be for you. With a more Desi-rock sound, gritty riffs, lo-fi vocals and lyrics taking a back seat, the band’s path has turned and taken on a new sound. Gone are the sing-along playfully raunchy hooks, this album is all about the bass line and dirty drum beats.

The band members of The Kominas have shifted to not only to now include the duo from Sunny Ali and the Kid, but also in instrumental roles – three of the four bandmates take a turn on the mic for this album. With multiple talents acting as the driving force between music and lyrics, the album is eclectic and completely different sounding from anything previously released by The Kominas. People have been saying that their sound has “matured” but instead, I feel the new album better reflects the skills and sounds of the new band members trying collaborate and create a new cohesive sound (Basim Usmani is the only original band member that remains from 2005).

Don’t just take my word for it. Follow the link here to the megaupload site to download the album. And if you are too chicken to download the album before listening to a song – here’s the demo to Ren, a song off of the new album.

Frankly put, it sounds like our punks have evolved – they just may be growing up.

The Cinematic Soundtrack of Karsh Kale

cinema.jpgEver feel like you need a cinematic soundtrack to your day to day life? Karsh Kale’s Cinema may be for you.

The album exploded on the scene last week, going straight to number #1 in the charts. No surprise considering Karsh Kale has been a revolutionary voice to the on the scene for quite sometime. Kale got his start in a rock band, is known for his phenomenal tabla skills, worked in collaboration with the talented Anoushka Shankar in 2007 and most recently has been using his skills to soundtrack movies, such as with Ajay Naidu’s Ashes. It’s no surprise then, with his recent film scoring experiences that he chose to name his latest release, Cinema.

As one of the first groundbreaking genre busting artists in what is now an established musical fusion genre, Karsh Kale can only be referred to as legendary. The album Cinema takes listeners on a cinematic journey, each song reflecting a different emotion and journey. But instead of telling you about the music, how about listening to the music and deciding for yourself. And of course, download the song **Mallika Jam* for free below. The entire album is available on iTunes.

What makes Karsh Kale tick? I wanted to know. Check out the interview with Karsh Kale, and just to mix it up, I asked him to answer in triplicates. Read it below!

What are three words you’d use to describe your 4th solo album, Cinema?

Progressive, Nostalgic, Journey

What were your top three favorite moments in creating this album, Cinema?

  • The day the art work by Archan Nair arrived.
  • The day I finished the final mix w Illinton.
  • The day the album was released at reached #1 on Tunes World Chart. Continue reading

Slumgod Mandeep Sethi Drops the Boom Bap Rap

Poor Peoples Planet.png This past Friday, Bay Area Sikh-American hip-hop lyricist Mandeep Sethi dropped his latest album Poor Peoples Planet, a concept album produced by X9 of Xitanos Matematikos that weaves in the teaching Jiddu Krishnamurti, Punjabi gypsy origins, and classical elements of hip hop. At only 22 years old, Mandeep has already developed a strong base of followers having appeared on stage with artists such as Ziggy Marley and Dead Prez and having jumped on the mic with folks I’ve written about before such as Humble the Poet, Sikh Knowledge and Ras Ceylon. You can get Poor Peoples Planet on iTunes later this week and if you visit Mandeep’s BandCamp you can download the album now. Still not sure? Check out the single below Moving Swiftly, Guerrilla Tactics.

[Moving Swiftly::][GuerillaTactics][POORPEOPLESPLANET by mandeep.sethi.music

Full disclosure, I’ve been helping get the word out for Poor Peoples Planet and am excited to support a young Desi American whose lyrics are smart, conscious, and inspired by the hyphenated identity. But in the course of hanging out with Mandeep this week, I was really impressed to find out that he is one of the co-founders of Slumgods. Based in India, Slumgods was founded in 2010 as the first B-Boy collective in India bringing together emcees, breakers, artists of India and America. The Slumgods are bringing it hard and fresh using the the five elements of hip hop as a tool of empowerment for the slum youth in the Dharavi slums with a community center called Tiny Drops Hip Hop Center.

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Top Fifteen of 2010

F5D864A1-4E0E-D007-2655-AFBD3F49CEE8wallpaper.jpg What happened this year? Will it be known as the year that Julian Assange brought down the Western World? A year rocked by such high unemployment that it allowed “creative types” like Das Racist, The Kominas and Sunny Ali and the Kid the time to put out new albums? Will 2010 be known as the year of Sarah Palin’s Nikki Haley? Or is it the year of Joel Stein-ism? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

The Absolutely Sick Sikh Knowledge

Sikh knowledge 2.jpg

On his right forearm he has this tattoo. I didn’t recognize it at first – a four by four of solid black squares. “It’s the squares to my drum pad,” Sikh Knowledge said, pointing casually to his arm. It made sense – he was a reggae dancehall musician that loved to produce music. You may not know who he is but you will and I guarantee you’ve heard his beats. His tunes are the base music for many of the up and coming hip hop Desi artists of the day - Humble the Poet, Mandeep Sethi, and Hoodini have all used tracks produced by him.

Hailing from Montreal and well known on the Canuck Desi scene, Sikh Knowledge made his way to California for a mini-tour in December, hitting up cities all along the coast. I met him in Sacramento, where he was doing a show with his Sikh hip-hop posse at the Sol Collective. The show was live and it was intense to see a whole scene of brown underground hip hop heads. I sat down with Sikh Knowledge aka Kanwar Anit Singh Saini before he jumped on the mic at the Sacramento show. Here’s what he had to say.

Sikh Knowledge got his start young, singing at the temple when he was a child. But he got into hip-hop also at a young age. “I was one of those kids that would beat box going to school… I was the only grade 3 kid bringing mixed tapes to school. I lost Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step” on the playground and that’s when I cried at school.” It was when he heard the Sound Bwoy Burill track in 1994 that he knew he was going to make music his life.

But what really made an impression on me was Sikh Knowledge’s confidence in pursuing his life. At the age of 20, he decided to stop being what other people wanted him to be, dropped out of engineering school and re-started honestly. “I dropped out, came out, and rearranged my whole life,” he stated. “I reapplied and did my undergraduate degree in music with a minor in linguistics. It was the happiest time of my life. I felt good about the decisions that I made.” He’s currently pursuing his Master degree in speech language pathology while having the dual career of mixing some of the ill-est beats in North America. Continue reading

A New Slant on Life

Last month, the hard rock band Slant dropped their second self-titled album on to the scene. Based out of Southern California, Slant is foursome band with two Bengali guys (Fahim – lead singer, Munir – guitars) and two Russian brothers (Ilya – bass, Andrew – drums). I’ve seen the incredible growth of Slant over the years, from when teenage Fahim used to play guitar in his mother’s living room to seeing him perform on stage years later at the world famous Roxy on Sunset.

In the latest album, you can hear the maturity to their sound – the musical composition is richer sounding than their first album, and the hard rock sound is soulfully anthem-ic without sounding narcissistic. You can read a detailed album review here. I’m not much of a rock music fan (unless there’s a punk in front of it) but I do appreciate Slant’s latest album, particularly the song Beautiful Angel, a song about a family friend of ours that was brutally murdered a couple years ago.

You can download both Slant’s first album ‘A Thin Line’ and their second self-titled album off of iTunes or CDBaby now. But, exclusively for Sepia Mutiny readers, the first person that responds in the comment section with the name of three cities in Europe that Slant has performed, will get an autographed copy of their latest album (don’t forget to leave your e-mail).

I spoke with lead singer Fahim Zaman and guitarist Munir Haque about dropping their second album, the inspirations and their journey to making this album. You can read it below!

For those that don’t know Slant, who are you guys?

Fahim: We are a hard rock/alternative/progressive group made up of two Bengali guys raised in Southern California and two Russian brothers raised here, that are attempting to bring forth and change the world with our “slant” on rock music :)
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Eteraz’s Children of Dust: Review [Part 1]

Ali Eteraz is a name well known to the blogosphere, and of course, Sepia Mutiny. A Pakistani-born Muslim American, lawyer, writer, and activist, Ali’s writing has often been quoted here at Sepia Mutiny, and this Oct 13th Ali’s highly anticipated memoir Children of Dusthits a bookstore near you.

Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan is a about a Pakistani male’s journey of autonomy set against the backdrop of global Islam and located deep inside Pakistan’s colorful but thus far neglected international diaspora. The timely piece of literature provides an engaged look at the pain, pathos, and laughter among Muslim-American lives otherwise obscured by abstract ideas such as “the clash of civilizations” and “the war of ideas.” … With gentle self deprecation Eteraz tells the story of every young person trying to figure out what they believe about religion, people, and life.[harper]

I’ll admit it, I opened the pages to Children of Dust with reluctant apprehension. But from the first page, Ali reels you in to a tale, beautifully prosaic, human, and intelligent. Intertwined with Islamic scholarship, youthful eagerness, self-effacing arrogance, defeated hopefulness, and sardonic humor, Children of Dust presents the struggles of a youth being raised Muslim and American and all the issues that come with it. The words are brilliantly laced, and easy to read. I found the book difficult to put down, staying up all night with a cup of chai engrossed in the adventure of Ali’s life. There was more than a few times where I verbally exclaimed or laughed at what I was reading. Continue reading

Shine, Coconut Moon Shines Light on Post 9/11 Sikh Experience

Soon after 9/11, a friend of mine told me that her college roommate’s home had been visited by the local police in their town in upstate New York. The police wanted to search the home of this family because they’d heard they had a picture of Osama Bin Laden hanging in their living room. The cops were mistaken. This was the home of a pious Sikh family and the picture was of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion.

I’ve often thought about this story. There are so many more like it — incidents of mistaken identities, faulty detentions, stereotyping, and violent acts in the wake of September 11th. We’ve read about them in the press and slowly, literature is beginning to tackle this dark period of recent American history as well; a time that unfolded in what Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic artist, Art Spiegelman, described so aptly as “in the shadow of no towers.”shinecoconut.jpg

A few years ago, Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos was one of the first young adult offerings to address the challenge of growing up South Asian and Muslim in an America altered by 9/11. First time novelist Nisha Meminger takes on a similar theme in her new YA novel Shine, Coconut Moon, just published by Simon & Schuster.

When her turbaned uncle appears at the doorstep of her suburban NJ home just four days after the 9/11 attacks, 16 year old Samar is caught off guard. Raised in a single-parent household by an Indian-American mother who cut off ties with her Sikh family many years before, Samar has no connection to her cultural roots and traditions. She is skeptical of this man, Uncle Sandeep, who claims to want to reconnect with his estranged sister because “we’re living in different times now … and I want to be close to the ones I love. The world is in turmoil–we’re at war. Anything could happen at any moment.”

As Samar gets to know her uncle, she begins to learn about Sikhism and gets to know her grandparents. She even visits a gurdwara for the first time in her life. This prompts her to start questioning her mother’s decision to raise her to think of herself “like everyone else.” She begins to question her identity; wondering whether she is a coconut — someone who is brown on the outside and white on the inside–someone who may physically appear to be Indian but doesn’t know who she really is. At the same time, she is shocked and saddened by a series of troubling events in her community that affect her personally: her uncle is attacked by a bunch of teenage boys who goad him to “Go back home, Osama!” and the local gurdwara is set on fire.

In his compelling Guardian article “The End of Innocence” Pankaj Mishra writes, “‘Post-9/11′ fiction often seems to use the attacks and their aftermath too cheaply, as background for books that would have been written anyway.” Shine, Coconut Moon does not fall into this category. Most definitively shaped by the effect of 9/11 on minority immigrant communities, this is an ambitious coming of age novel for young adults that seeks to demonstrate the effects of fear mongering on the lives of ordinary minority teens who saw themselves as American before 9/11.

Below the fold is an excerpt from the novel, as well as a Q&A with, Neesha Meminger where she talks about her novel writing process and the real-life incidents that inspired it. And, for those in the NYC area, there is a book launch party and reading this Saturday, March 14th at 7 pm at Bluestockings Bookstore. Continue reading

Cyberabad 2047

I grew up reading almost exclusively sci-fi and fantasy books, sometimes one a day during the summers. I was like the main character in Oscar Wao except I wasn’t fat or bad with the ladies (well…I wasn’t fat). To this day, even though I blog for Sepia Mutiny and am surrounded by talented co-bloggers, some of whom are authors, I have never read a single book of desi-fiction. Ever. I have no excuse at all. It just hasn’t happened yet. I read books to escape into worlds that I can never be a part of, or to get smart on something that I want to know more about before I die. Desi-lit, no matter how far removed from my experiences, just seems too close. Every time I pick up a book of desi fiction I tell myself that this time I will read it, this will be the one…only to push it aside once again. Nobody has to tell me, I already know that it is my loss. I have a theory about books. I believe the right book falls into your hands when you are meant to read it. You don’t pick books, they pick you. I haven’t read a science fiction or fantasy book in at least a decade by the way.

The other day while reading Boing Boing I came across a book review that might just become my first desi fiction book. I say “might” because I can’t guarantee it until it happens given my fickle history. The book is titled Cyberabad Days: Return to the India of 2047 and is a collection of science fiction short stories:

Cyberabad Days returns to McDonald’s India of 2047, a balkanized state that we toured in his 2006 novel River of Gods, which was nominated for the best novel Hugo Award. The India of River of Gods has fractured into a handful of warring nations, wracked by water-shortage and poverty, rising on rogue technology, compassion, and the synthesis of the modern and the ancient.

In Cyberabad Days, seven stories (one a Hugo winner, another a Hugo nominee) McDonald performs the quintessential science fictional magic trick: imagining massive technological change and making it intensely personal by telling the stories of real, vividly realized people who leap off the page and into our minds. And he does this with a deft prose that is half-poetic, conjuring up the rhythms and taste and smells of his places and people, so that you are really, truly transported into these unimaginably weird worlds. McDonald’s India research is prodigious, but it’s nothing to the fabulous future he imagines arising from today’s reality. [Link]

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