The Freer and Sackler galleries unbutton a bit in the summertime, keeping the lights on late for the soiree known as Asia After Dark. The first one of the season arrives this weekend with a theme tied to “Beyond Bollywood,” an exhibition that opened this winter at the National Museum of Natural History. Like the exhibition, the party promises to be a whirl of color and sights: Tour the galleries’ South Asian sculpture collections, try your hand at making crowns inspired by Hindu deities, or sip cocktails and dance to the rhythmic sounds of bhangra from New York’s DJ Rekha.
Rekha Malhotra is the internationally recognized queen of the monthly New York dance party Basement Bhangra, which she launched in 1997, carving out a niche mixing the sounds of East London South Asian immigrant populations with the drum-heavy folk of the Punjab region of India. The party, still going strong at New York's (Le) Poisson Rouge, also regularly hits the road: You can frequently find Rekha on the decks at the Black Cat.
"I think there’s an aspect to D.C. that’s very international," Malhotra told us.
"I can dive in and out of genres."
We asked Malhotra to mix her own playlist for the summer, and sure enough, she genre-hopped, whipping up an eclectic list of more than a dozen songs she's listening to right now, plus a couple of straight bhangra bangers from her 2008 album, "Basement Bhangra." Check it out and read on for her comments about the list.
Tell us about the playlist.
Malhotra: The list is basically songs that would fall into each other. Rhagav is a Canadian singer ... he’s a solo artist and his first album did really well. He is sort of a pop singer, but he does have a lot of dancehall tracks. Most of these songs, whether explicitly Indian or not, are produced the way modern dance music is produced. It doesn’t matter if you know the words or not. They’re danceable.
As a DJ, do you start slow and work up?
Depends on the night. I like the challenge of mixing into that last song, whatever genre it is that I'm playing. I do think you need to build, you need to take people into highs and lows. You want to kind of bring them in the fold.
These parties [like Asia After Dark] aren’t timed to club hours. They’re timed before. So it’s always the last hour that people are drunk enough to really get into it. I really try to match their energy, and really try to elevate their energy.
Speaking of genres, there are several represented on this playlist. Can you tell us about them?
The Lil Jon is just a hip-hop song, which is something I’d play, maybe not for long. "Mast Kalander" is a traditional Sufi song. It’s probably one of the most covered songs, and various iterations have appeared in movies. "Pyar Baile" is my own song. It’s got tons of genres in it.
The MIA song ["Double Bubble Trouble"] is my favorite on the album ["Matangi"]. It was not promoted much. The big song off that album is “Bad Girls,” but this is my favorite. It’s got that global bass sound.
[House music pioneer] Frankie Knuckles, rest in peace. People may not expect me to play that song. There’s a stereotyping ... People expect the ethnic person to play ethnic music. My crates are deep, I grew up on all kinds of music. It’s fun for me to surprise people sometimes.
Asia After Dark: Bollywood and Beyond
Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW. 202-633-1000. $15 advance; additional $10 for VIP admission. www.asia.si.edu/asiaafterdark.