Growing up, like many of my contemporaries of a certain immigrant demographic – the keep-your-head-down aspiring doctor and lawyer kind – I was always more Bollywood/ bhangra than Asian Dub Foundation/ Fun-da-mental. Much to my detriment.
So discovering Michael Muhammad Knight’s Taqwacores – a book imagining a Muslim punk band, which spun off a movement of actual South Asian/ Middle Eastern/ Muslim punk bands who went on a US tour captured in a documentary of the same name – was many, many kinds of cool.
One of those bands was The Kominas, a group of American-Pakistani, Indian, Bengali guys (Shahjehan Khan, Basim Usmani, Sunny Ali and Karna Ray) from Boston who made seriously hard hitting punk music about what it meant to be brown and Muslim in America, and to be portrayed as such by the powers that be. And seemingly upsetting everyone in the process – the right, the liberals, the Muslims and the Islamophobes. One might argue – the ultimate in punk credentials.
With us it wasn’t really a choice. We were always outside.
Admittedly if you paid attention to the lyrics, and weren’t able to apply a hefty tongue in cheek filter to them, they were pretty shocking. But their explicit South Asian identity, their Bollywood/ Punjabi folk/ bhangra infused punk music and their unapologetic questioning and rejection of dominant narratives – social, political, religious – that keep us excluded and docile was everything. As was their conviction that as immigrant people of colour, whose everyday lives were inherently political, they were uniquely able to inhabit the rebelliousness of punk music. I went to see them at the Southbank Centre in 2010 and literally almost danced my head off.
See here Tunnnnnn, one of their most popular songs from 2010.
Still, as powerful as it was, it all seemed a bit niche, and at least in the UK disconnected from a broader movement.
Today things for people of colour, immigrants, Muslims have gotten infinitely worse. But now, we’re having none of it.
Seven years on, and we’re thrilled to be supporting The Kominas’ return to London as part of a veritable extravaganza of South Asian voice, creativity and resistance. This Sunday they’ll be co-headlining with the all-women UK punk band The Tuts. Writer and editor Nikesh Shukla will read from the endlessly amazing The Good Immigrant, DJ Nerm will spin his desi-influenced drum n’ bass and electronica, and a host of spoken word artists, including poet and playwright Rabiah Hussain, will tell us exactly how it is.
Guitarist Shahjehan Khan says: “This is our first proper UK/Europe tour in several years, and we’re thrilled to have it conclude with the other fantastic artists on this bill. We consider them all family, whether old or new, and are looking forward to painting the town brown.”
The Kominas’ music has evolved over time – as part of their own artistic development, but also in response to the lazy pigeon-holing that plagues artists and creatives of colour, especially if they happen, as in The Kominas case, to be somewhat Muslim. But whether it’s their classics or their departures (or even the new album they’ll be previewing on Sunday) what’s certain is music that’s clever, exciting and eminently dance-able.
Consider this brilliant video for See Something, Say Something (from the 2015 album Stereotype) which parodies the atmosphere of suspicion of Muslim-looking people on public transport.
And if they don’t play it, be sure to roar for this version of a certain Bollywood classic.
When: Sunday 20th August 2017, 7pm
Where: The Old Blue Last, 38 Great Eastern St, Shoreditch, London EC2A 3ES
More info: Kominas Facebook page
By Seema Khan.
Posted on 14 August 2017
Photos courtesy The Kominas