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'Eastern Eye UK' Interview

In the past decade Canada has become a hotbed of music and is now catching up to the UK as the country with the most vibrant desi music scene outside South Asia. There are singers, musicians, producers and DJs shaking up the scene with ground-breaking music.

One of the leading music personalities in the country is Raoul S. Juneja a.k.a. Deejay Ra. A leading radio host, political activist, respected music expert and part time actor, Deejay Ra tells Eastern Eye UK's Asjad Nazir about what is happening in the North American music scene.

Asjad: What is the music scene like in Canada?

Raoul: It is similar to our TV and film industries. Canada's music scene is almost an exact duplicate of America's, but not because our artists aren't good or our fans don't wanna support them - like many international countries our media just has an inferiority complex and thinks the US celebrities are better at everything than we are. Things are changing slowly.

Asjad: How tough is it for Asian-Canadian artists to make it to the big time at home or in America?

Raoul: Canadian musicians have been struggling for so long that it's been more about getting Puffy off the airwaves so our artists can get a chance, no matter what their heritage is!

But with the exception of Aashna or Russell Peters, most of Canadais South Asian personalities have unfortunately had difficulty realizing why they need equal attention in both the mainstream and their own Indian communities. That could explain why so many of them don't make it beyond Canada to the States or even overseas.

Asjad: Which artists did you grow up listening to?

Raoul: In terms of America, I'd have to say my two strongest artist influences while growing up were the legendary New York emcee KRS-One and the fiery Los Angeles rapper Ice-T. After coming here to Toronto from the States it was definitely both Canadian emcees K-OS and Tara Chase who first caught my attention and opened my eyes to the global reach of this Hip-Hop art form.

Asjad: What made you want to become a DJ?

Raoul: At first being a deejay was more of just something entertaining to do. I was enamoured by the fact that I could be sending say Sade into someone's radio instead of Britney Spears! But then as time went on I started looking at deejaying equally as something that could be used to enlighten people and after realising that being on the radio almost became a duty, like this is something I have to do.

Asjad: How has the hip hop sound evolved in the past few years?

Raoul: At present I'm afraid to say it seems like most rappers have lost almost all the political impact they used to have in say the early or mid 90's.

Not because the world's a better place now (in fact it's become worse), but because like most art forms the mainstream decided that there was more money to be made if the musicians were talking about cash & hoes.

So slowly more and more rappers decided to 'crossover' and the ones that didn't were pretty much dropped from their record labels. Fast forward to 2004 and the conscious emcees are almost extinct!

Asjad: The root of the bhangra-rap remix is in the USA, how did it happen do you think?

Raoul: Although most South Asians in Canada (myself included) view England as the 'mecca' of bhangra/bollywood remixes, the States does deserve credit thanks to their late 80's Hip-Hop artists. They introduced sampling and remixed everything from Aerosmith's rock beats to Pam Grier's movie lines to Bruce Lee's film scores!

Asjad: What do you think of the negative connotations associated with hip-hop?

Raoul: If North America's media used even a fraction of the time they spent attacking celebrities of colour to highlight the positive things rappers and actors have done for their communities, I seriously doubt our minority youth would be as lost as they are today.

Asjad: Are there any emerging Asian artists from Canada we should be looking out for?

Raoul: Look out for a South Asian Sikh tabla artist from Canada known as Gurpreet 'The Tabla Guy' Chana - he has a huge following at live Indian events here and was heavily featured on the Folklore album released by Grammy-award winning musician Nelly Furtado. Besides being the first collaboration of a young South Asian artist from North America with one of the worldis top young major label musicians, Furtado also happens to be of Portuguese heritage so it looks like Gurpreet will be making some serious international moves in 2004!

Asjad: What is the most unusual album in your record collection?

Raoul: My Frank Sinatra CD's definitely stand out as music most fans wouldnit expect to find in my record collection!

Asjad: Who has been the most inspiring person you have met?

Raoul: Meeting Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter following my early 2001 college research into the story of Sam Chaiton/Terry Swinton and subsequently working with Hurricane's Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) for the following two years definitely stands out as a collaboration which has continued to inspire me every day since.

Courtesy of Asjad Nazir and EasternEyeUK.

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