Julia Szivak (Birmingham City University, UK)


Despite their distinct historical trajectories, South Asian diasporas around the globe face similar issues when it comes to racism and post-9/11 suspicion against immigrant communities. The war on terror and the ensuing populist political discourse have reinforced already existing racial stereotypes and accused non-white communities living in the West of being socially conservative and supportive of extremism. In turn, these processes have prompted a number of Desi (South Asian-origin) artists to raise their voice against the racial profiling that blurs the lines between terrorists and immigrants and erases histories of colonial injustice. This paper offers a musicological analysis of the work of  the transnational hip-hop crew the Swet Shop Boys, and argues that they are working towards establishing what can be seen (by extending the work of Paul Gilroy 1993 and Alpesh Patel 2015) as a “Brown Atlantic”; a space of diasporic consciousness that counters the mainstream narrative in the age of closing borders. Using a notion of the diasporic ‘third space’ as defined by Homi Bhabha (1990), this chapter explores how Desi hip hop artists confront Western representations of the South Asian diasporas in their music both on the level of lyrics and instrumentation. They challenge racial stereotypes and voice strong social criticism from a subject position that is informed by both Western and non-Western narratives, while negotiating a new, critical, Desi identity, which is simultaneously transnational and global. In the process, the genre of hip-hop, that is associated with protest against social grievances, takes up a specifically South Asian flavour that makes Desi hip hop an apt tool of social and political activism on a global scale.