Coachella 2023: South Asian artists and fans take over the festival

  • By Savita Patel
  • San Francisco

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Image caption,

Diljit Singh Dosanjh will be the first Punjabi singer to perform at the festival

South Asian music fans are flocking to Coachella this year as it offers hit community attractions.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, among the top-grossing music events in the world, takes place over two consecutive weekends each April in Indio, California.

This year, Indian singer and actor Diljit Singh Dosanjh and Pakistani singer and composer Ali Sethi are among the South Asian acts making their debut at the festival as they perform alongside international acts such as BLACKPINK, Kid Laroi, Charli XCX, Labrinth, Jai Wolf, Joy Crookes, Jai Paul, Frank Ocean and Underworld.

Sethi’s Pasoori was the most searched song of 2022 on Google. Dosanjh, hugely popular among the Indian diaspora worldwide, will be the first Punjabi-language singer to perform at the festival.

Last year’s lineup also featured South Asian acts like Raveena Aurora and Arooj Aftab, but the elevated profiles of this year’s acts make it a huge moment for fans.

“If there was ever going to be a time to go to this festival, it was now. This is the year,” says Brooklyn resident Gauree Patel.

Growing up in Texas, Garima Singh could never have imagined “a South Asian artist at a major American music festival.” She will be at Coachella this year with six South Asian friends from different parts of the country to “hear, see and dance with” Dosanjh, whom they consider “one of them”.

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Image caption,

Ali Sethi’s Pasoori was the most searched song of 2022 on Google

“Who hasn’t heard his music! I’m excited for the South Asian headliners, it’s crazy!” she says.

Coachella’s diversity and “brown inclusivity” appeals to fans of South Asian artists, who see it as an opportunity to “feel joy” like other Americans.

Ms. Patel says a dozen of her friends talked about “our community” at Coachella and felt a sense of attachment.

“Music festivals allow white people to experience joy, to connect with each other by centering their experience,” says Ms. Patel. “This is what this will mean for us South Asians. We will also have the experience of being centered at Coachella.”

South Asian singers and movie stars often tour North American venues packed with their fans.

Radhika Kalra has attended numerous Dosanjh concerts in the US and Canada, but says she “couldn’t miss him on such a huge stage”.

“It’s about time they got to that stage,” she says.

A trained dancer, Ms Kalra plans to have nine friends – all South Asian girls from New York – “practice a few steps to Diljit’s song Black & White” for the festival.

For South Asians who grew up in North America listening to songs from Bollywood and other South Asian films, it is a cornerstone of their culture.

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Image caption,

Fans say this year’s lineup is a huge moment for South Asian music fans

So not attending Coachella just wasn’t an option for Denver-based Deep Singh Badesha and Harshwinder Kaur Badesha. The couple bought their tickets “as soon as the message appeared” on their computer.

Their tweet about the booking received a reply from the star herself.

“I hope Diljit sings Born to Shine, GOAT, Vibe and 5 Taara,” says Mr. Badesha.

Immigrant parents of second-generation South Asians support travel as their children embrace music with ties to their heritage.

Sarina Singh, who describes herself as a “huge Diljit fan”, was torn about taking the Coachella trip with husband Simranjeet Singh Bedi as she is seven months pregnant.

Her mother decides to fly from Pennsylvania to Colorado to take care of the couple’s two-year-old daughter, allowing them “their baby moon,” a little trip before their baby arrives.

“My mother said we should celebrate. I’ve never had any interest in going to Coachella, but I’m going to Diljit’s!” Ms. Singh says.

Music and fashion go hand in hand at Coachella. Fans whose daily playlists include Dosanjh and Sethi are gearing up for fashion. Ms. Kalra plans to wear an anodized silver necklace with coins on it, which she bought in India, over a white top with denim shorts for a “quintessentially boho Coachella look.”

image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Fans say they’re having a “conversation” about the cultural appropriation of festival outfits

Garima Singh says she got her nails done with a henna motif to go with her Indo-Western outfit.

As fans accessorize their looks, they are mindful of the cultural appropriation associated with American festivals, such as the use of henna tattoos and bindis, which originate from South Asian culture.

Fans say it has raised a conversation about how one appears at the festival as young South Asians try to reclaim their culture.

“So many of [the] music festival style [here] has been appropriated by Indian culture,” says Garima Singh, with jewelery such as anklets and nose rings.

Neha Asar, a popular artist from Los Angeles, is used to painting elaborate henna designs on festival goers.

“People want to show off their bodies, and henna has become a go-to accessory for Coachella outfits,” she says. “The reason is to take advantage of the ‘bohemian’ look. But henna for me is Indian, not bohemian!”.

Fans hope this year’s festival will help non-South Asians better understand the community and its culture.

“I hope people will listen to more South Asian music after this,” said Ania Asanaa, a fan of Pakistani origin.

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