(January 15, 2023) Diljit Dosanjh, Jai Paul, Blackpink – inclusivity is in at Coachella, which has more than lived up to a promise made during the pandemic. This year’s lineup is a celebration of South Asia, with Dosanjh, Pakistani singer Ali Sethi and Bangladeshi-origin producer Jai Wolf. In 2022, Indian-American Raveena Aurora and Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab crooned their way through the festival, to much acclaim.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is held every year at the Empire Polo Club in the Colorado Desert, Coachella is now organised by Goldenvoice. Today, it is one of the world’s largest and most profitable festivals in the world, with over 2,50,000 attendees in 2017 and a gross revenue of $114.76. Founded in 1999, soon after the ill-fated Woodstock 2.0, the festival was an instant hit, with Rage Against the Machine headlining the inaugural edition. The biggest artists from around the world have played the festival since, including Jane’s Addiction, Iggy and the Stooges, Daft Punk, Amy Winehouse, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Roger Waters, Kanye West, Lady Gaga and Beyonce (in chronological sequence).
The bid for diversity began back in July 2020, when Goldenvoice promised audiences more inclusive lineups. At that point, only one Indian artist had ever graced the festival stage. Ritesh D’Souza, one half of electronic duo B.R.E.E.D., along with pianist and vocalist Tara Mae, played the festival. Global Indian takes a look at Coachella’s Indian presence.
B.R.E.E.D – Ritesh D’Souza and Tara Mae
The niche Do Lab stage at Coachella is an open enclosure designed like a whale carcass, where Ritesh D’Souza made his appearance with some fast-paced beats, as dancers were ‘sprayed’ from water guns straight into the crowd. And India made its Coachella debut with what his collaborator, pianist and vocalist Tara Mae, described as a “forward-pushing sound.” As Ritesh set electronic beats to the nadaswaram, his message was clear: India was going to be a global hotbed for EDM.
The bass producer had moved to Los Angeles from Mumbai only two years prior, intent on “pushing his sound internationally,” Rolling Stone India writes. There, he released his debut, Binate, which made it to the Beatport and iTunes charts in 2014. At that time, when good music took precedence over political concerns, B.R.E.E.D shared the stage with rock icons AC/DC, blues rocker Jack White and the American rapper, Drake.
In 2022, as Coachella made a blockbuster post-pandemic comeback, singer Raveena Aurora gave her electrifying performance of Dum Maro Dum, to much praise and applause. She knew she was making festival history that year, as its first female Indian-origin musician and she was determined to do so with style and substance both.
Later, she tweeted, “Only real ones will know the cultural significance of me singing Dum Maro Dum at Coachella, a song from an iconic Indian movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna, that was about the westernization of Indian spirituality. Indian culture is often appropriated on the world stage, with very little thanks given and Aurora wasn’t about to let it slide, using the Coachella stage to lend her voice to every South Asian and represent the cultural roots to which she remains so deeply tied.
An LA girl all the way, Raveena starts her day with a meditation practice – which comes through in her 2022 album, Asha’s Awakening. The 15-track record is a gentle, melodious amalgamation of R&B, soul, jazz and pop, with Indian and South Asian influences. “Indian culture and Punjabi culture has always surrounded me whether I embraced it or not,” Raveena said. Growing up in an immigrant family that had moved to America shortly before she was born, a strong Indian influence pervaded her childhood, she recalls “going to the Gurdwara all the time.” It meant she was “inundated and surrounded by that music, that celebration of colour and spirituality, that beautiful culture I’m so grateful to be part of.”
Raveena began her musical career in 2017, releasing her EP, Shanti, after she graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of The Arts. Her debut album, Lucid, followed in 2019. She loved pop, R&B, soul and jazz, all of which she leaned into for her own song writing. Then came a deep dive into Indian music, and Raveena began working on incorporating Hindi into her songwriting and collaborating with other South Asian artists.
Diljit Dosanjh needs no introduction. This week, Diljit fans were ecstatic to hear that the ‘Super Singh of Punjab’ is going to be a headlining act at Coachella, alongside acts like K-Pop megastars Blackpink and Bjork. “I will sing in Punjabi, like always,” the singer announced. His fans are thrilled and Diljit himself loves the festival, but remains as stoic as ever. “Jo ho raha hai, mere daayre se badi baat hai. Coachella is something I never even thought of, it was never in my plan. Whatever is happening in my life is.. maybe I don’t even deserve it. I am just grateful to God.”
Born in Dosanjh Kalan in Jalandhar district, Punjab, Diljit’s father was an employee of the Punjab Roadways and his mother was a homemaker. Diljit began his singing career by performing Kirtan at local gurdwaras in his home town and also in Ludhiana, where the family relocated when Diljit was still in school. In 2004, he released his debut album, Ishq Da Uda Ada. Dosanjh’s fame and popularity skyrocketed with his third album, Smile, and two of its tracks, Nachh Diyan Alran Kuwariyan and Paggan Pochviyan Wale. He wouldn’t make it to pan-India glory for a few more years and by the time he did so, was already a Punjabi music star, touring for the diaspora around the world and performing to packed stadiums in Toronto. In 2011, he made his debut in Punjabi films, playing the lead in The Lion of Punjab, which was a flop, although his song, Lak 28 Kudi Da, a collaboration with Yo Yo Honey Singh, was a big success. One year later, he played the lead in Jatt & Juliet, which became one of the Punjab film industry’s biggest hits and put him in the spotlight around the country.
Diljit’s 2020 album G.O.A.T made it to the Billboard Global Chart and the Canada Top 20 and in 2022, he announced his collaboration with Warner Music, in a bid to further his global presence. Unapologetic, down to earth and totally at ease with himself, Diljit Dosanjh promises to be formidable ambassador for India’s soft power at the iconic Coachella festival.
If Diljit Dosanjh is a household name, Jai Paul is an enigma. The singer-songwriter will, however, be at Coachella this year and, you might be surprised to learn, it’s will be his first-ever live performance! In 2022, the musician made an appearance in Donald Glover’s Atlanta and in 2019, released the album Leak 04-13, an official version of the material that had been famously leaked in 2013.
Jai Paul was born in Rayners Lane in northwest London and entered the public eye, in a manner of speaking in April 2013. An unknown user had uploaded a number of untitled tracks to the music streaming website Bandcamp, where they were made available for sale. It didn’t take long for the media to pick up on a scam, atrributing the music to Jai Paul. Even so, the album did well, making it to The Guardian’s Best Albums of 2013 and number 20 in Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of 2013.