By Ninder Kaur
He is the controversial presenter than can be heard daily on BBC Asian Network. He has interviewed numerous people including; music artists, politicians and Gandhi’s grandson to name a few.
We chat to the 44-year-old Harlow born presenter to find out about his controversial steak, the challenges he has faced in his career and his recently released album – The Asian Collection.
Very few Asian DJs, such as yourself have broken through ethnic radio and into the mainstream, why do you think that is?
I actually went from mainstream to the BBC Asian Network because I wanted to change from being a music DJ into being known more as a speech broadcaster. I felt that there was more longevity in that and also I get more of a buzz from hosting debates than I do from DJing, that’s why now I only DJ at events I really want to do. I’m DJing at the Victoria and Albert Museum at the end of September and that will be a special gig to do. I think some Asian broadcasters need to work on being more relaxed. You don’t have to project every time the MIC comes on. Be yourself. Be conversational.
You have never shied from discussing culturally sensitive topics such as racism, immigration, and politics and religion. Your discussions on the Asian Network have ranged from debating volatile issues that lie within the British-Asian community such as abortion and child abuse to interviewing, Bollywood producers, Bhangra artists, including famous politicians such as Gandhi’s grandson and the former cabinet minister, John Reid, and an interview with the late Benazir Bhutto, (former prime minister of Pakistan). In your view, what has been the most challenging topic to discuss till date and why?
Discussing the events of 1984 is always very challenging indeed. Operation Bluestar, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the ensuing massacres that took place where mostly Sikhs were murdered all requires a sensitive, knowledgeable and skillful approach to broadcasting. A lot of pain, frustration and anger exist to this date, so being balanced at all times is so important. The most difficult interview I ever did was with the mother of Dr Abbas Khan who was tortured and murdered in Syria. She spent the entire interview in tears and had lost all hope for humanity. Her heart was broken and looking into her eyes I knew that it could never be mended. After that show I stayed in my studio and burst into tears.
Staff at the BBC Asian Network are holding strikes over proposed staff cuts at the network this week. Some say the Asian Network is always being picked on by the BBC, what are your thoughts on the proposed cuts and the view that the Asian Network is being unnecessarily being picked on?
The station continues to build audiences and like most places it has to deal with cuts. The way the staff have pulled together to make the station even stronger is a testament to their hard work and imagination.
Your quiet controversial with some of your comments and have got into trouble in the past. For example, in 2012 you caused offense to the Sikh Community by implying that Sikhism was a religion made up of other religions such as Hinduism and Islam. You received a number of complaints and were forced to apologise. Many say that you are arrogant at times with your debates and you deliberately do this in order to arouse interest and generate debate. What would you say to that?
I wasn’t forced to apologise. I wasn’t forced to ring up the Sikh Channel while they were live and explain what I had said and apologise. None of my bosses advised me on what to do or not do. It was the right thing to do. I endured some vile abuse on Twitter but I did wrong, so I took it on the chin and moved on. There is a minority in every community who would rather I didn’t discuss certain topics, ask difficult questions, shine a light on some of the more unsavoury aspects of our culture. So often these people like to brush things under the carpet, my show has wooden floors. There’s not a carpet in sight. I have yet to meet a person who can provide a shred of evidence that I am anti- any community or religion. I am anti bigotry, stupidity and prejudice. I think that’s a positive place to be. Your caste, your religion and your culture does not make you superior or inferior to anyone else.
What can be done to create more diversity in the media? What would you like to see?
If you look around your workplace and everyone superficially looks like you and is from the same background, then you will not be able to generate the diversity of ideas to make you successful in a globally competitive world. This isn’t charity it’s an economic necessity.
Now to your music, when starting out as a DJ did you face any challenges? Obviously people from the Bhangra/Bollywood industry may have been a bit stand-offish with a Sri Lankan’s knowledge of music. How did you cope with that?
I put my head down and worked hard to earn their trust.
What is the reason for compiling this album?
There isn’t one out there like it. I wanted to do something original, something different that has never been done before.
Was it difficult choosing the tracks? Did you face any licensing issues?
No, it was straightforward, there are always issues but they’re too boring to go into.
Why have you chosen to include a number of genres?
Because Asians don’t create only Bollywood and Bhangra. There is so much diversity out there.
How long has it taken to compile?
It has taken over two years to compile. A lot of hard work has gone into the album. I just hope everyone enjoys listening to it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
What has the response been like?
Judging by all the tweets and Instagram pictures I’ve seen, it’s been really strong. I am really happy to see and hear all the responses it has received.
The Asian Collection album features 53 tracks of well -known artists. Who are your favourite artists?
All of them otherwise they wouldn’t be on there. I still have a few more artists I would’ve loved to have got on there but the space wasn’t there.
Obviously when you are not working, when do you find time to listen to these tracks?
Driving my kids around. I’m part broadcaster, part free taxi driver.
Has anyone been a bit bold enough to ask why he or she hasn’t made it on the album?
No not yet. Maybe they’re hoping for a second album.
Can we expect an Asian Collection Part 2?
If people buy it yes, if not then no.
This hasn’t been your first compilation. You have worked with Bobby Friction- How do you think Asian music has changed since then?
It’s difficult to say. Bhangra, Bollywood, chill, rap, R&B, there are so many genres under the umbrella of Asian Music.
As a DJ, who inspires you? As an individual, who inspires you?
The three best DJs I have seen are Andy C, Jags Klimax and Zane Lowe. They are just unbelievable! People who choose tolerance over hate, even against those who have abused them, inspire me the most. That takes the kind of moral bravery I don’t think I possess.
Where would you like to see British Asian music in the future?
I would like to see artists being signed to major labels, Asian labels being more organised and supported by British Asian music buyers. It would be great to see people finding stars and not just good singers.
One message that stuck to me the most from my dad was that: “Things are only as complicated as you want to make them,” and I live by that.