A THRILLING year for British Asian music saw everything from much-awaited single releases to world-class performances by international artists in sold-out arenas.
Newcomers breaking through, the rise of devotional music, established names making headlines, melas, music festivals and an interesting comeback were among the noteworthy events.
Eastern Eye decided to commemorate these great UK music occasions with an all-inclusive 2023 A to Z guide.
A is for Apache Indian: The British Asian music legend spent the year touring the world to celebrate three decades in music. He told Eastern Eye that his greatest moments have been with his fans, who have supported him throughout his career.
A is also for Afro-beats: British singer Hemina Shah led the way once again with her fusion of Hindi and African music with songs like Oyi.
B is for Busking: Bollywood busking enjoyed a massive boom, largely thanks to talented Indian singer Vish. He has become so popular that, apart from drawing huge crowds, big names like rapper Badshah joined him for performances on the streets. With over 400,000 Instagram followers and recognition from major names, the young sensation is destined for greatness as a result of his UK street performances.
C is for Classical: Leading venues in the UK hosted classical Indian concerts all year round. The annual Darbar festival, which featured top performers and music legends alongside newcomers, was the highlight once again. Sitar maestro Roopa Panesar enthralled music lovers with her live performances as well as her album, Atma. In addition to captivating audiences, Sitar player Anoushka Shankar received two Grammy nominations.
D is for Devotional: Thirteen years ago, Shivali Bhammer released her debut album The Bhajan Project, which opened up new territory for devotional music.
This year, she released the highly-regarded The Bhajan Project 2 as a follow-up to that groundbreaking musical release. The record blended spiritual elements with modern genres like pop, rock, soul, and r&b. Bhavik Haria continued to entertain audiences of all ages with bhajan music.
Meanwhile, Punjabi singer Sonia Panesar teamed up with EDM producer Yomi Singh for the spiritual prayer Moolmantar (Ek Onkar).
E is for Exodus: Independent singer and songwriter Inder Paul Sandhu launched his own designer fashion label Exodus, Pas De Ce Monde in 2023. He offered eye-catching clothes, accessories and footwear, inspired by his musical journey.
F is for Free: There were several free live music performances of south Asian music genres like Indian classical throughout the year. The Midday Mantra shows produced by the Birminghambased arts organisation Sampad was one of them. In London, the Nehru Centre led the way for free concerts featuring leading artists.
G is for Ghazals: The UK-based record label, Sufiscore, released some great ghazal albums. The masterful Ghazals & Thumris From The Musical Heart of Budapest, was a standout. Live recordings of ghazals and thumris are featured on the album, which was produced in collaboration between Indian musicians and the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. Lafz Bheege Hain was another major ghazal album. Well-known singer Pratibha Singh Baghel was featured in both.
H is for Hauli Hauli: Singer Jassi Sidhu and music producer PBN teamed up for one of the best British collaborations of the year, Hauli Hauli. Both artists delivered excellent songs at a time when UK bhangra was in the doldrums.
I is for Icons: British bhangra legends such as Malkit Singh, Heera, Channi Singh, Apna Sangeet and Balbir Bhujhangy continued to delight audiences on the live circuit. Pioneering music mogul Mohammad Ayyub was conferred a lifetime achievement award during South Asian Heritage Month for his contribution to British Asian music, which included founding the first record label and discovering top talents such as Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
J is for Jazz: Renowned British Asian pianist Zoe Rahman was at the top of her game once again with richly nuanced performances incorporating a wide range of influences. Collaborating with musicians across genres, she introduced her distinct style of jazz to cross-cultural audiences.
K is for Kiranee: Multi-tasking British singer Kiranee found time between singing, songwriting, composing, and running a record label to co-found an initiative to help newcomers. She teamed up with Rishi Rich to help provide a platform for new talents.
L is for Live: International musicians toured the UK in large numbers (see U), but there was also a wealth of local talent who entertained British Asian audiences.
Navin Kundra, music collective Kaykay & Co, Botown, Shama, Raf Saperra and a host of other artists delivered dynamic live performances. Guitarist Simon Thacker teamed up with India’s Piah Dance Company for the new musical, Tandava, which had its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe. There were also Gujarati language shows and great qawwali (see Q) performances.
M is for Melas: British Asian talent was once again given a platform to perform thanks to the melas conducted around the UK. Regretfully, the majority seemed to be trapped in a time warp, with performers only miming to old tunes. This appeared to be the result of the organisers’ reluctance to update the routines.
N is for Nitin Sawhney: The music virtuoso continued to entertain audiences on the live circuit. A major highlight was curating the Journeys festival at the Royal Albert Hall in London, which celebrated diverse experiences and identities through music, art and discussion.
O is for Opera: The popular song, Aapki Khushi, was released as a standalone single. The song, which was composed by Jasdeep Singh Degun, was originally intended for young British singer Ashnaa Sasikaran and debuted as an aria in the multi-cultural opera, Orpheus, in 2022. Talented baritone Oscar Castellino played the lead role in a new The Barber of Seville adaptation, which was performed for the first time in a Yorkshire dialect and premiered at the new Bradford Opera Festival in November.
P is for Proms: Opinions were split on a concert honouring Lata Mangeshkar that was held at London’s Royal Albert Hall as a part of the BBC Proms this year.
Although many people praised singer Palak Muchhal, others felt that the organisers had erred greatly in selecting her to perform with a large orchestra at the prestigious musical event.
Q is for Qawwali: The year also saw qawwali maestros performing Sufi music concerts all across the UK. There was much going on, including a performance by Faiz Ali Faiz that fused qawwali and flamenco. However, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan drew the largest crowds. There were also standout performances by the exciting new act Chahat Mahmood Ali Qawwal Group, which is backed by the British company Say Arts. Among the British acts, Chand Ali Khan Qawwal & Party delighted audiences.
R is for Rock: Maya Lakhani continued to be a shining star of guitar-thrashing rock music. The independent singer and musician started off the year by releasing her terrific track Torn in Two, and followed that up with several live performances. Her invitation to appear in the BBC Music Introducing Live Lounge was a major highlight.
S is for Saloni: Few British Asian singers showed more versatility than young sensation Saloni. Whether it was cool cover versions in her own unique style or top tunes in different languages, the terrific talent offered original music throughout the year. Nee Gundellounna (I’m in Your Heart), the first song to blend Telugu, Bangla and English, was a major highlight.
T is for Travellers: Multi-talented British musician Jason Singh teamed up with the Banwasi Collective for one of the year’s finest albums, Travellers. The top tracks combined rich Rajasthani folk music with spirituality, poetry and contemporary influences.
U is for UK tours: It was another action-packed year of international acts touring the UK. Some of the many outstanding shows were headlined by big names such as Shreya Ghoshal, Sunidhi Chauhan, Asees Kaur, Ali Azmat, Badshah, Gurdas Maan, Shubh, Satinder Sartaaj, Adnan Sami, Atif Aslam, Ammy Virk, Ranjit Bawa, Ghulam Ali, Javed Ali, the Indian Idol finalists, and Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi.
V is for Voice: One of the most welcome highlights of the year was Real World Records’ reissue of the legendary British singer Sheila Chandra’s solo voice albums, Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices (1992), The Zen Kiss (1994), and ABoneCroneDrone (1996). There was also a companion album of remixes, demo recordings and outlier tracks, many of which were previously unreleased.
The singer, best known for her iconic song Ever So Lonely, retired from music in 2009 after being diagnosed with Burning Mouth Syndrome and losing her voice. Her timeless music, which still sounds fresh, remains a testament to her phenomenal talent.
W is for Womad: The annual Womad music festival in July had a strong south Asian contingent. The variety of acts on the international line-up included Malkit Singh, Amjad Ali Khan with his sons Amaan and Ali Ayaan Bangash, Sozumik Datta, Amrat Hussain Brothers Trio and the Orchestra Qawwali Project featuring Rushil Ranjan and Abi Sampa.
X is for XCX: It was yet another prolific year for British pop princess Charli XCX. She had single releases and musical collaborations, and performed on major stages around the world, including as a headline act at the Coachella music festival. In addition, she signed a major new record deal, entertained fans with social media posts and continued to be a fashion icon. She also spoke up against patriarchy and lit up the red carpet with her eye-catching outfits.
Y is for Young talent: This year, too, saw some young British talent emerge, including Londonbased Beant. The gifted MC released his accomplished debut EP, The Rules of Engagement, which was a potent mix of various musical influences with meaningful lyrics and powerful vocals.
Z is for Zayn: After a turbulent few years, Zayn Malik attempted to resurrect his music career by signing up with new management and releasing music. Sadly, his song Love Like This, from his fourth studio album, underperformed. Instead, he was largely resigned to selling merchandise and launching a non-alcoholic drink.