Best. Lesbian. Week. Ever. (November 5, 2010): DJ Tikka Masala at the White House, Jane Lynch a homo for the holidays

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This week, Brooklyn-based deejay DJ Tikka Masala snagged a gig at the most exclusive venue in the country: The White House. Yes, that White House. A force in the queer dance scene in New York City, DJ Tikka self identifies as a queer woman and has launched many queer events in Brooklyn, including her flagship monthly party That’s My Jam. She has also deejayed in the queer scenes in Europe and Asia.

Born in Calcutta, DJ Tikka is of Indian descent, and she will be deejaying the annual Diwali Celebration at the White House next Tuesday. AfterEllen.com chatted with her about the upcoming gig, her career and being a queer woman of color growing up in a socially conservative family.


Photo by Allison Michael Orenstein

AfterEllen.com: When I first read that you were deejaying at The White House next Tuesday, I’ll admit I thought it might have been the name of a new megaclub in NYC I didn’t know about and Googled it. Nothing came up, but I did a little happy dance for you anyway. Then I realized that you were talking about Barack Obama’s house, and my head exploded. Then I did a really really ridiculously big happy dance for you. So just how did you get hooked up with this gig?
DJ Tikka Masala:
I worked really hard for six years; made my own mash-ups and remixes, played a ton of shows and parties in New York City, started That’s My Jam, deejayed in countries besides the U.S., such as Japan and The Netherlands. I was at the right place at the right time when a friend I went to high school with recommended me for the gig.

When I was a kid, there was only Bollywood on the tape deck and record player, so I know my parents’ era of Bollywood music really well. I have great friends, got lucky, and was prepared with a strong deejay resume when the opportunity arrived.

AE: You’re playing the White House Diwali Celebration. Can you give a brief overview of the Diwali festival for those not familiar with South Asian culture?
TM:
Diwali is a very popular holiday for a lot of South Asian folks — Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains specifically. It’s the festival of lights. Everyone lights these little clay lamps in their homes, people hang out with their families, and folks celebrate by getting together with their loved ones and practicing regional and family rituals that make the style of celebration unique to whatever part of South Asia they are from. Prayer and family are at the center of the holiday, but it is definitely one of the most important social events of the year for people in Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities in America.

When I was a kid growing up in Jersey my family used to go to Puja (Worship) for religious reasons, but they’d stay for the party and the cultural events surrounding the celebration: dance, music, and theater. With the ritual of Diwali intact in America, people from these faiths know they have a consistent time and place where they can celebrate together and catch up every year, while keeping their culture alive thousands of miles from where they are from. It’s great because Diwali spans multiple religions and language groups, so in America it’s a holiday that can bring people of really diverse backgrounds together.

AE: So this will be a totally different vibe than your parties in Brooklyn.
TM:
Yes, this is a traditional religious holiday.

AE: Do you know any special guests that will be present at the festivities?
TM:
My little brother! He is 9. There will be politicians and diplomats there as well. I hear Joe Biden will be giving a speech. I mean, it’s the White House — the bouncers don’t mess around! [Laughs]

AE: How did you get your start as a deejay?
TM:
I met a really cool deejay named Cheb I Sabbah when I lived in California. He was mixing really traditional Indian music with electronic sounds, and we connected right away. I grew up studying Hindustani Classical vocal music. My family builds Indian instruments in Calcutta, so when I heard this guy bringing this very traditional sensibility into the nightclub in a surprisingly culturally sensitive way it gave me a whole new perspective on what deejays actually are capable of doing musically, especially in terms of bridging different cultures. I play guitar and some other instruments as well, so learning how to deejay was just like learning to play a new instrument.


Photo by Bex Wade

AE: So you grew up in Jersey, had a stint in California, where you caught the deejaying bug. What brought you back to the east coast, specifically New York City?
TM:
Grad school in Cinema Studies brought me to NYC, and I started deejaying to pick up some cash on the side, but it took on a life of its own I guess. People responded to my selections, mashups, and remixes. I got a lot of house party gigs, gigs downtown, dyke nights and artsy things.

Eventually I got tired of working for promoters though and set up That’s My Jam in Brooklyn, blocks from my house, and then that led to some international recognition from the queer scene in Tokyo — Tokyo Wrestling shoutout! Also, the queer scene in Amsterdam — PinqRadio and LoveDance shoutout! Best idea ever.

I definitely feel like support from the queer community in NYC, and the global queer community is completely responsible for so many amazing opportunities I’ve had as a deejay, and this White House gig is a prime example of that.

AE: What thoughts and emotions have been running through your head since you found out you got the gig?
TM:
I’m in disbelief, and I feel really privileged to be in this position. I also hope my work finds its way to other queer kids growing up in socially conservative immigrant families. It’s totally possible to stay connected to your heritage and stay true to who you are without compromising either side, you just have to get creative. I keep telling myself that, anyway, and it seems to be working.

by Grace Chu

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