interview by dimmSummer
transcribed by laura
listen: Streaming MP3 40kbs mono
ET: This is ethnotechno's interview with Bobby Friction and Nihal. Nihal, is that your first name? Last name?
NIHAL: First name.
ET: Can we know your last name?
NIHAL: Yes you can, it's Arthanayake.
ET: What was that?
ET: Wow, man. Now, Bobby Friction - is this your real name?
BOBBY: No no no. Proudly I say my name is Parumdeep Singh Sadev.
ET: So when did Bobby Friction come about? Tell us the history of the name.
BOBBY: OK, well, Bobby isn't Bobby it's Bobb-i which was my nickname, my mum and dad's thing. And the Friction just happened throughout the '90s.
ET: Is that the short version?
NIHAL: It's a reference to how he used to masturbate with one metal glove.
BOBBY: That's why I'm sitting like this.
ET: Ah, OK, that clears it up. I heard you guys have a show on the BBC. Could you tell me about the show?
NIHAL: "I don't know what it is, but you're brown, so it must be something to do with what I do, yeah?"
ET: What's the official name of the show?
NIHAL: It's called Bobby Friction and Nihal Presents.
ET: There's also some uncle saying (cuts to radio ad) "The Friday Night Hot Mix" That's Adil, right? [Ray, a radio DJ on BBC Asian Network] Do other people ever get you guys confused?
BOBBY: Never, apart from you.
NIHAL: We've traveled a long way to get the first person, that's really the sole purpose of our trip, to come over here and find someone who confused us with Adil.
ET: I'm glad I was the one to bring in the confusion, but do you guys have a lot of competition? You're both on the BBC, and you're dealing with South Asian music. Are you guys friends or what?
BOBBY: It's purely friendly musical competition. It's about putting the bar up. We chase exclusives and all that sort of stuff, but there isn't any competition in that way. The BBC is a family, that's the way we look at it, so there you go. I mean, we all link to each other's websites, the same listeners trawl through the message boards. We give each other records, it is truly a musical family.
NIHAL: That was the diplomatic answer. The real answer is that we hire people to fix the brakes on his car all the time but they're such losers that it never happens and he's still alive, so...
BOBBY: And he slept with my grandmother like two years ago and I didn't even realize, he'd actually had it planned then because he knew something was going to happen. I'm going to get you, Adil. I'm gonna git you, sucka.
ET: Your demographic, the people that listen to your music, just in the UK, the live show, do you guys know if it's just all South Asian people, or do you know there's other people in the UK that are appreciating the music? Do they write in? Do you hear about them?
BOBBY: Yeah, it's about me and Nihal logging in and taking an interest in our show. When we get e-mails, you know by names, you know by the way they speak, about the music they listen to. The most amazing thing during the first couple of months, it didn't surprise me and Nihal, we loved it, was the amount of e-mails we were getting that were non-desi, non-Asian, just saying "I've stumbled across your show. I usually listen to Fabio and Grooverider." Radio 1 has a huge following of people who listen to that station as opposed to certain shows and each one of them just came in saying, "This is amazing, your music..." and now they're regular listeners. Even though there's an Asian following, I would say that the Asian following was in the minority, in a way, even though they are more a hard-core bunch.
NIHAL: Recently, an example of us reaching a whole new audience was one week when we shifted the time slot of our show and we followed a DJ called Giles Peterson, who's one of the most famous eclectic DJs in the whole world, he's like a genius, really. And we picked up a lot of his audience, who, throughout that show, sent SMS messages in to us and e-mailed us just saying "This is amazing, we've never heard anything like this before, it's just so different, so exciting..." I think in percentage terms at this stage it probably is 80% to 90% South Asian - hardcore. But it has to be hardcore. Remember, our timeslot in the UK is 3 to 5am, so you would have to be really dedicated and hardcore to do that. When it moves to another stage, I mean, we've only been on-air for 11 months, so in terms of Radio 1 DJs, we're babies. We're the enfants terribles of Radio 1, really. So when and if they move our slot to an earlier time, I know we will get a whole new audience added to the audience we already have, and that's growing, our audience is growing week by week, and it's doing it organically, you know? There's no big marketing push or press and PR push, it's just word of mouth.
ET: I thought you guys were around for a lot longer. It seems like I'm always hearing about Bobby and Nihal.
NIHAL: Whenever I spend time with people lately, they'll say "God, it seems so long..." (laughter)
ET: Seriously, I think you reach...I mean, I have friends in Jersey who are like, yeah, I listen to their station online. A lot of people know.
NIHAL: On October the 18th it'll be one year.
ET: Safe, man. What's your...
NIHAL: You HAVE been hanging out with English people! "Safe, man."
BOBBY: Safe, innit.
ET: Safe Innit? Aw, shit.
NIHAL: "Safe, man" would just be a generic, kind of urban thing. Innit gives it the South Asian twist on the end of every sentence.
ET: What does innit mean? A lot of people on the boards...what is this innit? What does innit mean?
BOBBY: You know what innit actually means? You know in India everyone speaks "euuhhh" The innit is the verbal nod. "Yeah yeah yeah, I'm going out. Innit?"
NIHAL: It's (thick South London accent) "Ya know what I mean?"
ET: It's kind of like "isn't it" becomes "id'n'it" becomes "innit."
NIHAL: It's an abbreviation of that. It's an abbreviation of "know what I mean" but at the end of a sentence it just sounds so good. Innit? Innit?
NIHAL: Innit. ET: Innit. innit.
NIHAL: I think Southall is the joint home of innit, Birmingham is a big innit. I love the Birmingham innit.
BOBBY: I've actually studied the history of innits. I really...
NIHAL: You were in "innit" crews.
BOBBY: Yeah, yeah, but the history of innit, as far as I know, came from Southall. Anyone in Britain who says it didn't, they can shut up. It came from Southall in the '80s. But when it transferred to Birmingham, they took it on with such gusto and such a mad accent that they claimed the word innit for themselves. So if you still go to Hounslow, you know that's the home because a lot of 40-year-olds there, who came over when they were young, still say innit. No one over the age of 30 says it in Birmingham. The ones who do, it's just unbelievable.
ET: Do you guys have different musical tastes? Like, REALLY different? Is there stuff that you likes that he hates?
BOBBY: I hate music. (laughter)
NIHAL: I hate Asians! No, my thing's very much more from the urban background. The black music, hip-hop, RnB side of it, and that's what drives me. The1Shanti is almost a perfect representation of where I come from. I'm grounded in hip-hop, but via that path through hip-hop I found myself working for Outcaste Records and seeing what happened there and that was interesting just for me because I'd always felt like a bit of a musical island, really - doing hip-hop, and surrounded by black people and white people. So it was really really good to hear Asian MCs and see people doing music in a different way and making really really interesting music.
BOBBY: My background's almost cut into two. I grew up with bhangra, I came from a Punjabi household. I love electronic music, I love abstract music and obviously the first screamings of the Asian Underground totally appealed to me. So, rather like Navdeep has got both of those things in his head as a producer, I have those as a consumer and a listener and a DJ. One of the best places where me and Nihal meet, and we both cover everything on the show, is when bhangra meets hip-hop. That's where we really meet, that's when our two sides come together... Punjabi hip-hop. That's why it's been interesting for us, because we brought all of that to the show and we respected both sides, but we really felt strong and passionate about those both sides. The timing of actually coming together and the point where bhangra and hip hop have come together has made a lot of sense to us and also accounts for a lot of the success of the show, which is the energy we put in, and that's because we love that music.
NIHAL: Timing is very important. The timing for our show, it's almost like Nostradamus planned this show to happen at the tail end of 2002. Panjabi MC became number 5 in January of that year.
ET: What do you find exciting about the scene in the UK? And whatever your perception of the scene is in the U.S., what are the differences and similarities?
BOBBY: In terms of the scene in the UK, the one thing about the UK is just OVERLOAD. The Asian communities in Britain are massive, the musical scene is massive, so many bands come from there, so many producers come from there and it literally I suppose would feel like either living on Carnaby Street or in Liverpool when the Beatles and the swinging '60s were in action, on an Asian level. I'm not saying it's like that, I'm not making that separation, but I just feel so lucky and privileged musically as an Asian to be living in London, to be living in England. So I love that, and that's what's going on there. The nice thing about what's happening in America, even though time's going like this, and no one's backwards or forwards, the experience in America has been so kicked off with all the hip-hop stuff that's going on, your perception is so different. I'm not just talking about hip-hop because even your Asian Massive stuff is so different and it's approached in a different way and it's really interesting for us. For me it's a lot like the '60s where you could get music all over the world, but the most important things were the interplay between The Beatles and the Stones and The Doors. I think we're just in the next two years reaching that point on an Asian level. The countries are the same, America and Britain, the exciting period of change mixed with an interesting political background is exactly the same like the '60s but it's our little Asian thing going on. That's why they're very different, but it's a very exciting time.
ET: Do you think that politics has to be part of it just so it gets noticed?
BOBBY: No. The reason why I mention the '60s and the interplay between Britain and America in terms of rock is that, in times of great change and distress, there's always great art. If you look throughout history, there's always great art. Now look at the times of change and distress that are going on in the world right now. Look how they concentrate on India and Pakistan and people of Middle Eastern descent. We're right in the middle of the politics and the energy that's going on right now and it's not been like this since the '60s and that's why I mention politics. It's not about ADF or Fun-Da-Mental or making political statements, we are destined to make the most interesting music that Asians have ever made in a really weird and new way because of what's going on in the world.
ET: Do you think it has a lot to do with breaking down barriers? Like you said, w hat's going on, people opening up to different things because their eyes are open to that side of the world, because there's conflict...?
BOBBY: I don't think it's a straight, natural link, that they're doing it because of that. I'm just saying that in interesting times of change, art always goes through a hyper period as opposed to a mellow period, and I'm just saying that at the moment for creativity, not just for Asians but the whole world, is going through a hyper period because of the politics of the time. But because we're Asian and because the politics relate to something specifically Asian, Islamic, it really is the idea of questions against the West. It just means we're in the forefront of all of that, and it's going to effect our music. It doesn't mean it's going to totally inform our music, it just means we're under the spotlight creatively, so we're going to go forward. We're under the spotlight as people, aren't we? After September 11, whether you're Muslim or not, if you're brown you're under the spotlight. It's a mad time, it's going to affect our art and music.
NIHAL: Just coming over to New York, it's no coincidence that you and I had to take our shoes off. When we got on the plane, we had to take our shoes off and they were checked. Going back to what Bobby was saying, I interviewed Chuck D and Chuck was like, without Reagan, Public Enemy never would have happened. And without Thatcher, Nation Records may never have happened. And that's a really an interesting thing - it's kind of a weird analysis now because the mainstream is so all-pervasive now and the traditional engine of radicalism, the student movement, has been totally taken away from students. Students used to go to university to rebel and become left-wing and question things. Now students go there in mind of how much money they can earn when they leave. I can only speak for the UK, but I know universities have become kind of hotbeds for dreams of company cars rather than dreams of revolution. That's the agenda that we have, we have a center-left government in the UK... And creativity is kind of weird in the UK, isn't it? I mean, bhangra and Asian music is just getting bigger and bigger and bigger by the day, but that's not a political thing, I don't think. That's just the fact that Asians in the UK are now the largest minority. 2.9% of the population are Indian or Pakistani or Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan, predominantly Indian. So that has driven that through. I mean, if you come to the UK, you will not believe what goes on. Adverts for crisps are done in a Bollywood style...
BOBBY: Ads for crisps in Britain are done with the "Goodness Gracious Me" people. Have you seen that? It's just an Asian comedy show. But I mean yes, done in a Bollywood style...
NIHAL: Car ads! Banks!
BOBBY: One of the largest banks literally created a whole Bollywood film set and did it to a Liberty X song which is the funkiest urban band, but then did a Bollywood mix on it.
NIHAL: They had the whole dance and everything. And then the Bhangra Knights track is from a Peugot French car advert! It's difficult to imagine just how Asian Britain is right now, it's insane, absolutely insane. We might as well walk around with a t-shirt saying "Yes I Am, and Yes I'm Cool." And "You Want to Be Me" on the back.
ET: Here is weird. There's a lot of us here in this area, but... In the U.S., we're the wealthiest immigrant group, but it's still a minority. So when we talk about this whole music scene, it's always in pockets, and it's some dude out in Ohio and the only way he gets it is like what we were talking about, on the internet or through your show or whatever.
NIHAL: An interesting thing about it, imagine if every Korean shop owner in the states was Indian, and that's what the UK's like.
BOBBY: Forget that, imagine if every Latino...
NIHAL: No, all the Koreans here own the shops, don't they?
BOBBY: Talking more about impact, Latino people have had a lot more impact on American culture than Korean people-
NIHAL: My point is that because the Koreans run the shops, and oftentimes those grocery stores are the epicenter of the local community so people of all nations will always see them and in the UK that is the case. I mean, Indian people run every corner shop and grocery store and everything. It's a cliché but there's a lot of truth behind that... We're now in the middle of a big metropolitan, cosmopolitan city and a couple of thousands of miles away there are first cousins fucking each other, brothers and sisters fucking each other in some little cabin in some backwater...
ET: There's a lot of that here, man.
NIHAL: That's what I'm saying to you! (laughter) I had this argument with these American people I was talking to, actually this woman was French-Moroccan, and she'd come here, and she was like, "the UK is far more racist than America." And I was like, are you insane? When was the last time in the UK that two drunk white people in a lorry tied an African-American by chains to the back of it and dragged them through the street? When has that ever happened in the UK? There are race riots, there are racial killings that have happened but if something extreme as that happened in this country, we can't even imagine that. Actually our race things, in such a short space of time considering here, there's a 300-year history of African-Americans being here, and it wasn't immigration that brought them here. Mass immigration to the UK has really only happened in the last 50 years, and the progress that has been made in the UK has actually been quite amazing. I mean, there are lots of things wrong with race in the UK and we're lucky enough to be in a position as Asians that we've actually done quite well but Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities are really underperforming in the UK.
ET: But why are car commercials using bhangra music? I mean, Asians are the largest minority, but they're still a minority, so the commercial is going to hit more white people, so why are they turning towards this as a viable marketing tool?
NIHAL: Because white people aren't scared of Asian culture. I think it's non-threatening because like I said, it makes sense with the cornershop point, which is that Asians are -
BOBBY: Actually I disagree with all of that.
NIHAL: OK, but I think that white people, their proximity to Asian people... What British people have a problem with is Muslim Asian culture, but not Indian culture per se, I don't think they have a problem with that. I don't think that there's any real issue, and that's post 9/11. There are problems in communities especially in the north in Bradford and Leeds, in Bradford especially we saw rioting, but I really think it's a non-threatening culture to the British.
BOBBY: I think the shallow end of that culture, when white people in Britain take little bits as non-threatening - all right, fine, but they ARE threatened by Asians! Every race issue in Britain that's garnered a lot of hate over the last 10 years, not just after 9/11, has been about Asians. Yes, it's become more focused on Muslims - but I disagree, I think white people ARE scared of Asians. I don't mean generally. There's so much conflict in terms of ideas.
NIHAL: You grew up in an Asian environment. I grew up in a white environment, and it was non-threatening, because...
BOBBY: Go to a community where there's a mass majority of Asians and see what the white people are like on the edges...
NIHAL: I was in an Asian family in the middle of a white environment and we lived within those people and...
BOBBY: That's why you wouldn't understand, because basically, if you go to the northern places where there's riots, if you go to any place where there's race troubles, it's always where there's a large Asian community. It's different. It's just like us, if we all look the same and there's one family living amongst you lot, you're not going to feel threatened. But when you've got pockets growing, and we're not going to get sterilized, there's conflicts and that conflict is going to grow. Obviously everyone wants love to win, and we will work through it, and Britain's got a better record than any other European country, maybe any other Western country with accepting it, but there are problems and those problems are going to perpetuate something over the next 100 years.
NIHAL: I think going back to your initial point, I'm right in so far as what they're showing, that type of Indian culture that they're showing is not about Muslim families moving into environments and being very insular, they're not using that as an advertising tool. They're using the non-threatening parts of what Indian culture is, which white people DO understand. The curry is the most popular dish in the UK, the national dish of Britain is the curry. So those kind of images, they're going to know. They're going to know what sitar sounds like because they're in a curry house. So that non-threatening image. Yeah, of course people have a big problem in the UK about the insular nature of immigrants coming in. The Home Secretary said "If they come in, they should learn to speak English in the communities." And underlying that is actually quite a good point about integration and fostering understanding between communities, rather than you come here and become blocked, which is all-excluding. You have to have your own culture, and you have to be proud of that and practice that, fine, but I think what's happening is, and it's a particular problem for the Bangladeshi community, is that they are not integrating and they're not finding it easy to integrate and that's showing in their figures for children, about their pass grades. I think they have the lowest exam pass grades in the UK right now, which is very worrying. As an Asian person, I want to see all Asian communities doing very well in the UK. And it's great, Ugandan Asians are the most successful part of the British economy -- not Indians, but Ugandan Asians are the most successful economic immigrants. It would be nice to see all kinds of communities, but you can't paint every Asian as being fantastically great. I mean, in Southall there's loads of drug-dealing, gun-wielding coke dealers, and in Bradford there's loads of heroin dealers. There's a brilliant book you've got to get a hold of, written by Sukhdev Sandhu, called "London Calling" and it's a history of Black and Asian writers in London. It's brilliant because you read about the riots from the '50s, '60s, '70s - these writers go back to the 1500s. Queen Elizabeth I sent out a proclamation saying there were too many black people in London. It's amazing. London is an amazing city. These weren't black people who were coming over as slaves, these were people who were hanging out and being hustlers and fathering children and that kind of stuff all over London. Coming off the Cheapside.
ET: ...isn't this about music? This is music, right?
NIHAL: There's no music.
ET: But it always comes back to music. Do you guys want to do any shout-outs to any people here or there?
NIHAL: I would just like to say keep the movement strong in the U.S. Start believing that this movement can grow and grow and grow and grow. It's about practicing. If you're going to make music, make it the best, judge it by the standards of the mainstream, by the best. Don't be insular and judge it only by your own little crew. Judge it by the best music that's being made out there. I think there's a large problem in the UK with music being made by producers who come to you and say "Why can't we have the same success as blah blah blah, we sound just like so-and-so," and it's like no, mate. You're just ripping off samples and sampling really bad lyrics over it and expecting to be good. Bobby and I, we're actively pushing that in the UK. We are trying to push people to really up their standards. We talk to everyone. Everyone who sends us something in, we'll e-mail them back, we'll go, "We're not feeling this, this is where we feel you should go." It's taken both of us 10 years to get to this stage, and we ain't been fucking around. We've been working in this industry. Me in the business side of the music industry, very much in the heart of major-label record industry and we know what it takes. People have got to really really get motivated and get focused and start seeing the big picture. I don't think this is just about selling 10,000 albums, this is a revolution happening.
BOBBY: I want to give too much love, more love than I could possibly have, to all.
NIHAL: This isn't another masturbating reference for you, is it?
BOBBY: It is.
BOBBY: To all the Asian brothers and sisters in the U.S. who are making music and pushing that game up. The next 100 years are important for the world, and the communities in America and Canada and Britain especially, as well as India. But in the West, we're not going to go away, and we're going to grow. All of us are the pioneers of those grandchildren and the great-grandchildren who are going to be totally somewhere else. So we're actually writing the story. Let's take that story forward together, and let's do it brilliantly, spiritually, beautifully and with as much attitude as anyone as a citizen of this world can, and we all will, and our future's looking beautiful creatively.