By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly
Portland, get ready cause here it comes again — bumpin’ Bhangra music, break-dancing, beautiful women, a silent auction, and Portland’s own DJ Anjali. It’s Portland’s Annual HerHRC event for the Human Rights Campaign.
For those unfamiliar with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), it’s the largest civil rights organization in the United States working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans with more than 1.5 million members and supporters. HerHRC is an annual event put on in over 20 different cities across the nation with a mission of gathering women to both celebrate and build a greater sense of community while learning about the importance of engaging in the LGBT civil rights movement.
DJ Anjali has been an integral part of the Portland music scene for more than 10 years. She’s been the DJ for HerHRC Portland all three years and as the organizer of the event, I recently had the chance to speak with her about Bhangra, HerHRC and what it means to her.
PQ: Where are you originally from?
DJ Anjali: My Mum is from India and my Dad is from Oregon. I grew up all over the place; Oregon, Tucson, Philly, NYC, and India. My childhood was mostly spent living out of a suitcase, which is why I’ve remained in Portland for so long. I got tired of living on the road. I’m a mixed race baby that can pretty much fit in anywhere because I am from nowhere.
PQ: How did you get into Bhangra Music?
DJ Anjali: Bhangra is an infectious little bug that bit me hard. When I first started DJing I had no Bhangra in my collection (I played mostly Britpop!). I grew up hearing vintage Bollywood (songs from Bombay musicals) and seeing Bhangra performed at cultural events. I was a bit obsessed with British Asian music (Cornershop, Badmarsh & Shri, etc.) so I thought I better check out this whole British Bhangra thing…
PQ: You’re particular style seems a little influenced by hip-hop. What are your thoughts on the addition of break dancing to HerHRC?
DJ Anjali: Bhangra is a truly global music, spread around the world by the Desi (South Asian) Diaspora. As Panjabi laborers moved to the UK Midlands in the ’50s and ’60s to work in factories, they brought their culture with them.
Generations later, the British children of these immigrants mixed their parents’ folk music with disco, reggae, and hip-hop. South Asians are the UK’s largest minority group and Bhangra is a full-fledged global industry, complete with blinged out videos, and Bhangra superstars. Hip-hop has been a roadmap for many Desi kids dreaming of a more glamorous and meaningful life.
I love that B-Girls are now involved with this event! Let’s get more women and girls on stage!! If we’re gonna complain about not being represented we should be willing to do something about it!
PQ: This will be the third year you’ve been playing for HerHRC. What motivated you to become involved?
DJ Anjali: I am a defender of human rights and equality. I can’t be on the front lines fighting the fight everyday but I love to do my small part. Humans have made some strides in terms of loving & respecting each other but there is still so much work to be done.
PQ: I know you are very supportive of the LGBTQ community and have done other events. Is there something in particular that motivates you to be more socially active in this particular community?
DJ Anjali: I have many queer friends that I love dearly, plus I am the official DJ of TrikoneNW, a community of LGBTQ and differently-oriented South Asians. I myself am not embraced by my so-called “South Asian” community. I know what it’s like to not fit in and it is a true honor that the queer community respects what I do.
My Dad’s only brother was openly gay. He and his long-term partner died of AIDS in the early ’90s when I was in high school. Their illness and death was one of the saddest moments in my family’s memory. Their courage and love still guide me.
PQ: Any thoughts about this year’s HerHRC?
DJ Anjali: This is a unique event, not just for Portland but worldwide. I think the HerHRC programming is visionary — I don’t see these kinds of line-ups happening in NYC or LA. Portland is special in this way. HerHRC events are a uniquely safe space for women and feminist men to club it up a bit and feel secure.
PQ: What is your favorite aspect of playing Bhangra and teaching?
DJ Anjali: Dancing with strangers in the middle of the night is kinda fun.
PQ: You are not only playing Bhangra music at HerHRC but also teaching some of the dances. Some people might be a little intimidated to learn a new dance. What would you say to encourage them to try it?
DJ Anjali: Because Bhangra is a folk dance, literally anyone can learn. I’m the shyest gal ever so if I can do it, anyone can!
This year’s HerHRC will be at Lola’s room, Feb. 17 from 7 to 10 p.m. This event is expected to reach capacity. For additional information about HerHRC check out the Facebook event page. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $9.99 or online at hrc.org/events/entry/her-hrc-portland.
Shaley Howard is a sports writer for PQ Monthly as well as an athlete, sports enthusiast, and organizer of the annual HRC Women’s 3×3 Basketball Tournament. She is also is the owner and operator of Scratch N’ Sniff Pet Care, which she considers the best job in the world. Shaley can be reached at email@example.com.