The headliners were home grown, however it was fresh Indian talent that ran away with the show at the first BBC Asian Network Live. UK record producer and Beyonce collaborator Naughty Boy may have been the biggest name on the bill, but it was Badshah who grabbed everyone’s attention.
The popular rapper from Delhi dominated the stage at the BBC radio station’s showcase at Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith. Badshah’s electric debut performance was the highlight amongst the music talent on offer, the likes of whom included bhangra star Jaz Dhami, Bollywood playback queen Kanika Kapoor and urban newcomers Zack Knight and Arjun.
Wowing the 3,000 strong predominantly desi audience, Badshah’s blazing live renditions of his party anthems, DJ Waley Babu, Saturday Saturday and Chull, had the crowd buzzing. Accompanied by super talented vocalist Aastha Gill and crew, Badshah’s supercool style and memorable lyrics showed exactly why he is currently one of India’s biggest hit-makers, loved by college kids and Bollywood fans alike.
Hot on Badshah’s heels was rising star Divine. Hailing from the Dharavi slums of Mumbai, the spitfire Indian rapper performed his breakthrough autobiographical track Jungli Sher. Best known as the creator of the hit single Mere Gully Mein, Jungli Sher tells his life’s story from the streets of Mumbai, representing the voice of the common man. A solid hit with the UK audience, his songs translated across cultures.
Both Badshah and Divine are poster boys for the new generation of hip-hop acts coming out of urban India. Signed to Sony Music India, the duo has a huge fan base and social media following. Garnering international listenership through plays on Beats1, iTunes and Apple Music, they represent and attract the young, upwardly mobile Indian millennials who record labels consider to be their new mass market. Their cutting edge videos burst with vitality and show Indian youth with a fresh perspective.
A contrast to their UK peers, Badhshah and Divine’s music sounds innovative and original. Despite their best efforts, British Asian singers Arjun and Zack Knight were tame in comparison. Reliant on Bollywood samples and commercial pop covers of the likes of Drake and Justin Bieber, the young crooners showed their limitations. Both have a long way to go before they can match up to the rappers high standard.
Even current fresh prince of bhangra, Jaz Dhami, could learn a few lessons from the boys from back home. Spending more time miming and posing with his back to the audience than interacting with them, his rendition of High Heels felt contrived.
Similarly, Naughty Boys stage presence could do with a boost. Standing behind a pair of laptops doesn't make for good entertainment, even if you have international hits to boast of. What should have been an uplifting musical experience felt like a let down.
Naughty Boy’s collaboration with Bollywood playback singer Kanika Kapoor for monster hit La La La and London singer/songwriter Shezar stepping in for Beyonce for Runnin' (Lose It All) fizzled out like firework display on a wet evening. Sticking half a dozen Bharatnatyam dancers on stage to dance to the beats didn't help.
Raxstar is probably closer to delivering what Badshah and Divine bring to the music scene. Having previously collaborated with Badshah, the British Asian rapper and songwriter from Luton has a crisp style that appeals to the YouTube generation. His performance of Flirt at Asian Network Live was commendable.
What Badshah and Divine may lack in fan numbers is more than made up for by their sheer exuberance and professionalism on stage. Their honest delivery and connection to the audience is what matters most. Accustomed to performing live to thousands (if not millions) who actually care about their music, their first outing in the UK was a smash. The result is a new breed of Asian artists that are ready to impress the west on their own terms.
View Badshah with Aastha Gill - DJ Waley Babu
View Divine - Jungli Sher http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03sqkk9
View Raxstar – Flirt http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03sqk86