During the 1970s and 1980s, second generation Asian youth were yearning for representation and affirmation, for opportunities to express themselves and to participate in all areas of life. But these were hard to come by and achievements were often hard fought.
Apache Indian was born in 1967 in Handsworth, Birmingham, to Hindu Punjabi parents. He is a musician and singer, who combined his Asian roots with reggae. His emergence represented a momentous step for Asian youth and culture.
Apache Indian’s beginnings were humble, and reflected the multicultural ‘melting pot’ that is Birmingham:
My grandfather used to work in a factory in Digbeth. My father used to work in the same factory. All the people were coming over from India. My mother came over later. Elder brother, and all my cousins, uncles, had gone to the same school, Handsworth Boys School. I grew up with all the different cultural influences from Birmingham: religiously, music, culture, style, fashion. And then growing up at home, very traditional. The little radio playing Hindi music. Take me to the temple, Heathfield Road, the temple there, Diwali, everything!
Growing up in Handsworth, life is very different to what the parents are telling you, because they can only tell you about their background, which is India […] I enjoyed my youth, I enjoyed growing up. I enjoyed celebrating all these differences around me. Then I started realising that it’s not the same like this everywhere, in the city or in the country, even in the world. We’re in a unique spot here. So, whilst I could see tensions between people of different backgrounds, I always tried to celebrate it in some way, whether it’s language, whether its culture, sounds, styles, fashion, music. And that showed in my dress sense, in my language, my style of music. I was enjoying this melting pot.
But the streets and urban surroundings could be difficult too:
You had to be careful where you went, which streets you go on. Because you didn’t want to go to certain places, you can’t walk past that, and you’re going to get pushed around if you go there. So, it made you tougher, it made you streetwise.
While still in his youth and needing to provide for his family, Apache Indian worked at the same factory as his grandfather and father. While appreciating the livelihoods the factory had provided his family with throughout the generations, his desire to do more was irrepressible:
I thought there was more to life to than this. So…I made a record in 1989. I was 21, 22 years old. Made a record in 1989 called ‘Movie over India’. I loved music. Every time I went home, there was a movie on from India. It’s that simple. And every time I used to go the reggae shows, I used to like a reggae track instrumental called Shanka I Sheck. So, I literally wrote a song about me going to India to make a movie using this Shanka I Sheck, but I put a little tabla in the rhythm. A bit of my own language in there. It was a reflection of how I speak. At home, a little bit of Indian. On the street, you “wha gwarn”, a little patois. And it wasn’t just a little kid, saying, ‘Respect, respect.’ For the first five years of my life, while my parents went to work, I had a Jamaican nanny and grew up in a Jamaican household. When I would speak to my Jamaican friends, I could have a conversation in Patois. And so, I put it in a record. Sometime its Patois. Then I broke it down in Indian. Then I broke it down in tabla, all the sounds in my head, all the fusion of languages, and put it on this record. And it couldn’t be any more real than ‘Movie over India’. Amitabh Bachan, whatever names I heard, it was in there. You never going to make a song like that thinking of charts.
I made ‘Movie over India’, and I remember wanting to make ten copies of this record. Nobody would make me ten copies. They said, “You have to have 500.” “I don’t need 500 copies of this record. I just want ten copies, for my friends. and bits and pieces.” Cut a long story short, they said “You have to have 500 copies.” Worked out the best deal. They said, “Can you fill in this form?”, “What’s your record label?” Haven’t got one. Sound system used to be called Sunset. “Oh, Sunset records.” “Artist’s name?” Haven’t got one. Used to listen to an artist called Apache, from Jamaica, super cat. “Indian, I’m Indian, Apache Indian.” It literally came [together] for this one record. I took it to all the reggae shop, took it to everyone, 500 copies. Eventually, that record got to number one in the reggae charts, in Birmingham, for six weeks. Other leading reggae artists from Jamaica were number two and three. And this Asian kid was number one.
Apache went on to release many albums, selling over 11 million, and tour the world extensively. He is now celebrating over 25 years in the music business. He has appeared on popular British television shows like Network East and Live and Kicking. He has achieved seven top forty British hits, four Brit Award nominations, Mercury Music Prize, Ivor Norvello Award, International Dance Award alongside many other accolades. He was the first Indian DJ to have his own show on National Radio 1, Channel 4, ITV & MTV from Jamaica. And his songs have been included in five Bollywood and eight Hollywood movies!
In 2013 Apache set up a music academy based at the Handsworth campus, of South and City College. He helps young people with music and life skills and encourages them to celebrate diversity, and be proud of community and the city they live in. AIM Academy now hosts over 250 young people and has recently won the National Diversity Award for being the ‘best group for age’ in the country:
Hopefully my music will inspire the youth to be themselves and be proud of the community they live in and realise the importance of contribution and how that affects future generations.