Concordia’s Indian international students forgotten in India-Canada Crisis

As diplomatic tensions rise, the largest demographic of international students in Canada are caught in the crosshairs

The recent rift between India and Canada has brought uncertainty and chaos for both Indian international students at Concordia and the university’s Sikh community.

On Sept. 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of involvement in the assassination of Canadian citizen and Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Since then, diplomatic relations between the two countries have rapidly deteriorated, and India has halted visa applications for Canadian nationals in retaliation. 

Angad Singh Malhotra, president of Concordia’s Sikh Student Association (SSA), said that over the last two weeks, a number of students have reached out to the SSA for help and advice regarding the situation.

“Yesterday somebody was telling me about how their parents got their visa refused because of the issues that are going on,” said Malhotra. “And they fear that a lot of them who are engaged with the community, if they are vocal, will get the refusal to go back to India.”

These concerns come as Indian government officials and media outlets portray Canada as a breeding ground for the Khalistani movement, which strives to establish a sovereign state for the Sikh population in northern India. While militant factions within the Khalistani movement exist in South Asia, the overwhelming majority of Khalistani activists adhere to non-violent principles.

For Sikh Canadians, like Singh, a Concordia graduate who asked his firstname not to be disclosed, the effects of these allegations are having deep reaching impacts into their personal lives. Following Trudeau’s announcement, Singh said he’s getting calls from his family back in India concerned about his well-being, owing to the spread of misinformation by the Indian media.

“They tell me that [based on] what Indian news channels show us, you guys are in deep trouble,” he said. “The Canadian government is kicking out all Indians or the Canadian government is kicking out all Sikhs.” 

According to Julian Spencer-Churchill, associate professor in Concordia’s political science department, the proliferation of fake news stems from the consolidation of Indian media under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These developments stem from a rise in the far right Hindu nationalism in the country over the last decade.

Indian students comprise over 40 per cent of international students studying in Canada, making the group the largest demographic of international students in the country. Nevertheless, the group suffers a lack of representation in both countries, according to Spencer-Churchill. 

“Indian international students in Canada are victims here,” said Spencer-Churchill. 

Concordia has made no formal announcement regarding the ongoing India-Canada crisis. As far as Malhotra knows, no one from the university’s administration has reached out to the SSA.

Spencer-Churchill recommended that the Indian and Sikh students lobby Concordia’s administration to allow for special accommodations, such as being able to attend classes remotely, until visa restrictions are lifted. However, he predicts that any visa complications that Indian international students are facing will be short-lived, due to the economic impact that these policies will have on educational institutions.

“The universities want money,” he said. “These people [Indian international students] are bringing their own money in many cases, […] and where they’re not like PhD students, industry is going to probably sponsor them. So there’s no advantage for Canada to keep the system stuck.”


Indian protesters will not back down till their demands are met

Indian farmer protests explained

Tens of thousands of Indian farmers have been protesting against three new farming bills for almost seven months now. Around 60 per cent of India’s population works in the farming industry and many are living in poverty. They fear these new laws will make their current situation even worse.

The new bills seek to reform India’s current farming system by:

  1. Allowing farmers to sell directly outside of Mundis (state-owned markets)
  2. Allowing farmers to enter into contracts with the private sector by allowing orders on future crops
  3. Removing hoarding regulations, allowing traders to stockpile food

The Modi government claims that these new regulations will “liberate” the farmers; however, farmer’s unions believe that the government is “throwing them to the wolves.”

Farmers claim that these laws will put them at the private sector’s mercy, since their obligations are to their shareholders and not the farmers’ wellbeing.

In the state-owned Mundis, there are currently Minimum Support Prices (or MSP) in place, which guarantee the farmers a minimum price to sell their crops. These new bills will remove MSP pricing since the private sector’s goal is to increase profitability.

Additionally, nearly 70 per cent of Indian farmers are small producers, which means they will have little to no bargaining power against big corporations.

The only way Indian farmers and farmers’ unions can spread their concerns is by protesting. This is why tens of thousands of farmers from the Punjab and Haryana regions marched to India’s capital on January 26th. They have been protesting in the region for over 100 days.

Farmers have set up camp, brought food, and are ready to stay for as long as needed. They have already stated that they will not leave until the government rectifies the bills.

Overall, the farmers protest civilly and peacefully per their rights in the Indian constitution. However, the Indian government has been using “war-like measures” to disperse the protesters and stop them from exercising their rights.

Indian officials have put up barricades and nail strips around the Delhi region to prevent farmers from entering the area. Additionally, police have used tear gas and water cannons against the crowds. Some protesters have reported being beaten with batons. At one point during the protests, the government even cut off internet access.

Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, even called out the Indian government by saying, “People have a right to demonstrate peacefully, and authorities need to let them do so.”

With the Indian government refusing to rectify the farming bills, the protests could last several more months.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab

Briefs News

World in Brief: Health emergency in India, a bloody weekend, and “Wexit”

India’s capital New Delhi has been under heavy smog and dust since Friday, prompting authorities to declare a health emergency. The Associated Press reported that such air conditions arise yearly around Nov. 1 because of fireworks during a Hindu festival and the burning of agricultural fields. Schools will be closed until Nov. 5 and construction activities are to be paused temporarily to control the dust in the air.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the death of 49 Malian troops on Friday and the explosion causing the death of a French soldier, corporal Ronan Pointeau, on Saturday. The Malian Armed Forces said Friday’s attacks also injured three Malian soldiers of the military outpost targeted by the attack, reported the Agence France Presse. Saturday’s incident happened as the armoured vehicle Pointeau was travelling and hit an improvised explosive device while escorting a convoy.

A man shouting pro-Beijing slogans went on a stabbing rampage in Hong Kong on Sunday leaving five wounded, including a politician with an ear bitten off, reported The Guardian. Andrew Chiu, a local pro-democracy councillor, attempted to subdue the attacker before getting his ear bitten off. The attacker was allegedly shouting pro-Beijing slogans during another day of protests on the main Hong Kongese island.

Following the Canadian federal elections, a new wave of western separatism emerged, and “Wexit” attracted hundreds in Edmonton last Saturday. Wexit Alberta Leader Peter Downing said he will make Alberta great again after seceding from Canada, which he referred to as “the leech,” reported the CBC. Downing said that despite the movement being associated with Conservative politics, it is neither left-wing nor right-wing, but “it is open to everybody, except for eastern Canada.”


Graphic by @sundaeghost

Briefs News

World in brief: Spotlight on the Climate Change and the Kashmir ongoing lockdown

Lockdown in the Himalayan region of occupied Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan, hits its 50th consecutive day on Sept. 23. At the beginning of August, the Narendra Modi-led Indian government revoked the special status of the region, dividing the Muslim-majority state into two territories to be controlled by the federal government. Videos of torture, midnight raids and detentions of thousands of people from the academic elites have led Amnesty International to call for the resolution of the conflict. The NGO reported that more than 8 million people are under extreme lockdown, as cellphones and the internet remain disconnected.

On Sept. 20, American youth took to the streets of New York City to protest the climate crisis. Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that more than 60,000 people attended the march, and CNN reported that 1.1 million students had been excused from class to participate. The movement has gained a lot of attention in the past weeks, as Greta Thunberg called on people worldwide to join this youth-led strike. Over 150 countries have stepped in and are organizing protests from Sept. 20 to the 27th. Montreal is expected to host the biggest protest yet, on Sept. 27.

A year-long study on climate change began on Sept. 20, as an international team of researchers left for the central Arctic. Global News reported that the $150 million expedition will be conducted by over 600 scientists from 19 countries, including the United States, Germany and China. They seek to expand understanding of climate change and develop further models that can predict changes in the weather.  The expedition is described as one of the most complex studies ever attempted in as hostile an environment as the Arctic.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

Student Life

Creating understanding through film

British film student Meera Darji explores India’s marginalized hijras in Transindia

The idea to explore India’s LGBTQ+ community for her final university project arose when Meera Darji, a British film student, began researching the country’s perception of sexuality. Through her research, she discovered hijras, people who adopt a gender role that is neither male nor female.

“They go through the whole castration process, but they do not fully transform into a woman,” Darji explained at a screening of her latest documentary, Transindia, on Feb. 10. The event was hosted by the Montreal-based non-profit organization Never Apart. “It’s almost as if they are marrying into the community, and they have these vows and values that they live upon throughout [their lives].”

Darji described hijras as being “quite spiritual” and perceiving themselves as having a sort of “female power.” In 1871, after the British colonized India, hijras were criminalized under the Criminal Tribes Act, which was repealed in 1952. Despite this change, the hijra community is still marginalized in India, according to a synopsis of the documentary. “I only [heard] negative rumours that my family had told me,” said Darji, who has relatives living in India.

According to Darji, the most common rumor about hijras is that they curse people who make eye contact with them or who do not give them money when they beg at weddings. Marginalization and prejudice makes it difficult for hijras to find jobs, Darji explained, so often their only source of income is begging. When she traveled to Idian and met the hijras, Darji discovered how inaccurate society’s perception of them is. “They were welcoming and invited me to their house to have dinner,” she said. “We became really good friends. I wasn’t expecting that.”

Darji claimed the most challenging part about making the documentary was gaining access to the hijra community. “In India, different districts have their own hijra communities,” she said. There is a tea store next to her grandfather’s temple where hijras spend a lot of time socializing. One morning, Darji received a phone call from her grandfather who then handed the phone to a hijra. This is what allowed Darji to begin making connections with the community.

Then came the next hurdle: building trust. When she arrived in India, Darji said she spent an entire week with hijras to get to know them better before she started filming. “I spent time with them without a camera,” she said. “I wanted to show them that I genuinely cared about them and that I didn’t just want to get amazing footage.”
What Darji learned during her time with hijras is that, although they are marginalized by the wider Indian society, they welcome people like them as family. “They see themselves as having mothers and sisters within that community, so they don’t feel like they are alone,” Darji said. “They feel like they have nowhere else to go except for this community, so they are all on the same journey, and they stick together.”

Darji said she wants more people to understand the hijras’ perspective and accept them as they are. “I want to show an understanding through the film so that people can accept [them],” she told The Concordian. “If you don’t have education for something, how are you going to understand it?”
This is part of Darji’s belief that communication is vital to creating social change and acceptance in our society. “Start conversations,” she asserted, adding that film is a great way of doing so because it captures people’s attention. “Now you know about the hijras—maybe tell your family and friends about it. The best way is talking about it.”

Photo by Sandra Hercegova

Student Life

A passion for justice through filmmaking

Dipti Gupta has been teaching for 17 years and directed the South Asian Film Festival

“During my 20s, I used to constantly read about things that were happening in India, and it made me feel extremely angry and uncomfortable,” said Dipti Gupta, an independent documentary filmmaker, researcher and multidisciplinary artist. “I wanted to do something which would lead to justice—to a fair society for all. I thought that the pen as well as the camera were two very significant and strong tools that could bring change.”

Gupta used her writing and passion for film as tools to shape her career. In the 1980s, she regularly contributed to magazines and won many writing competitions, but she said there were no university programs in India that offered courses in filmmaking or journalism at that time. While she was studying political science and commercial art at the University of Delhi, however, she met Siddharth Sanyal.

At the time, Sanyal was producing magazines under an organization called Workbench, and he took Gupta on as a proofreader. Workbench’s office was in the same building as the production company Cinemart Foundation, which produced political and socially relevant documentaries. The company was headed by documentary filmmakers Suhasini Mulay and Tapan Bose, who became inspirations to Gupta.

One of the first documentary films Gupta saw was An Indian Story (1981), a story about the suppression of civil and democratic rights in a democratic nation. Created by Mulay and Bose, the documentary focused on a series of incidents that took place between 1979 and 1980 in Bihar, India where more than 30 people on trial were blinded with acid by the police. “It made me angry and moved me no end,” Gupta said. “At 20, it made me aware of the many injustices in our world.”

An interview with Bhavna Pani. Photo courtesy of Dipti Gupta

Gupta said she was very keen to work for Mulay. “I had seen her work and had admired her immensely,” she said. Despite her ambition, Mulay was reluctant to give Gupta a job. She told her: “Do you see any other women working in this organization?” When Gupta replied that there were only men, Mulay said: “Well, then you will not survive here.”

Nonetheless, Mulay ended up hiring Gupta because “she realized that, even though I looked really scrawny and small, I had a lot of guts.” Gupta got most of her training in the field while working for Mulay and Bose. “I learned a lot while working with her. She became my mentor, and today, she is a very dear friend,” Gupta said.

In addition to giving Gupta some challenging assignments—one of which required her to travel to a remote part of Delhi to interview a Hindu fundamentalist group—Mulay was also the one who introduced Gupta to her husband. He was working as a playwright in Canada, and Gupta eventually moved to Montreal in 1991 to be with him. “When you look back in life, you realize that there was some kind of a path,” Gupta said. “All the dots connect now.” Gupta’s husband runs the Montreal theatre company Teesri Duniya Theatre, which is dedicated to producing socially and politically relevant plays. Gupta has been on the company’s board since arriving in Canada.

When she first moved to Montreal, Gupta wanted to work for Studio D, a National Film Board of Canada studio dedicated to producing women’s documentaries. Unfortunately, the studio closed in 1996 due to a lack of funding. Around that time, “there wasn’t much work for new immigrants and someone who had very little or no Canadian work experience,” Gupta said.

After working for a short time with a few documentary filmmakers, including Martin Duckworth, Gupta decided to go back to school. She completed a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and got her master’s in media studies, both at Concordia University. During her studies, Gupta had a special interest in social and women’s issues. For her 1998 master’s thesis, “Confronting the challenge of distribution: Women documentary filmmakers in India,” Gupta interviewed several female filmmakers in India about the challenges they faced.

“I focused on women who had addressed issues of poverty and violence, women who were focussing on everyday struggles in society, be it education, social injustices, gender discrimination,” Gupta said. “There were so many things happening, and that’s what inspired me to do my master’s work.”

A group photo with the committee members and organizers of the South Asian Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Dipti Gupta.

Twenty years later, these challenges are still prevalent. “I just came back from India a few days ago, and what is really sad is that not a lot has changed,” Gupta said. “People are making good films, but there is still very little funding, and today, many artists are also facing state censorship.”

After completing her master’s, Gupta began her PhD studies at McGill University in art history and communications. However, Gupta’s daughter made her realize she wanted to work in a system that would allow her the flexibility needed to take care of her child while doing research and teaching.

Gupta has now been teaching in the cinema-video-communications department at Dawson College for 17 years. She is also a part-time faculty member at Concordia where she teaches art forms of Bollywood cinema. However, she still feels sad that she never completed her dissertation at McGill, despite finishing all her course work. She said she hopes her current work may help her eventually finish it.

Gupta’s pedagogy has always focused on exploring situations or moments in history that have brought about change. “I have consciously created courses which highlight and focus on the evolution of society and the community,” she said. “I always recognize that we are ever fortunate to have an education, and we need to use this privilege to create a fair democratic society in every way.”

According to Gupta, teaching at the CEGEP level has been an extremely humbling experience. “I always remember and recognize how I was at that stage of my life as I teach these young minds. I was idealistic and had huge dreams. It is an impressionable age. Hence, we as teachers have a huge responsibility towards this age group,” Gupta said. “My focus on my teaching has always been to make sure that I can inspire students and give them tools to prepare them for their future studies and careers.”

A portrait of Dipti Gupta, an independent documentary filmmaker, researcher and multidisciplinary artist. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

At Concordia, Gupta’s art forms of Bollywood course focuses on the study of the construct of mythology—marriage, motherhood, masculinity and misogyny—within Indian cinema, especially films coming out of Mumbai. “My aim through that is to look at this particular construct and also to break certain stereotypes that exist while viewing and engaging with popular culture from India,” she explained.

Currently, Gupta is working on a new documentary film which explores these topics. “I think cinema gives us that window to explore and study the trends—after all, art imitates life and life often imitates art.”

These are ideas Gupta promotes outside of the classroom as well. For the last seven years, she has been on the organizing committee for the South Asian Film Festival. Hosted by the Kabir Cultural Centre, a charitable organization in Montreal, the festival highlights the work of South Asian filmmakers that focus on contemporary issues in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan. In 2017, Gupta worked as the festival’s programming director alongside her friend and fellow director Karan Singh.

One film featured in last year’s festival that particularly stood out to Gupta was A Billion Colour Story. Directed by Mumbai-based filmmaker N. Padmakumar, the film discusses communal tensions and identity issues in India. It was voted Best Film by the festival’s audience.

“The film took my breath away—with its story, it’s beautifully composed shots and the acting,” Gupta said. “[N. Padmakumar] made one of the most incredibly humane stories I have seen on screen, and it is a must-watch.”

The work Gupta does for the south asian film festival is entirely voluntary as it is a volunteer-driven festival. According to Gupta, teaching at Dawson and being a part-time employee gives her more time to contribute to other projects, such as the festival. “I am growing older, and I am realizing the urgency to contribute as well as give back to the community that has really supported me,” she said.

Dipti Gupta alongside filmmaker N. Padmakumar.

In terms of support, as a part-time faculty member at Concordia, Gupta said she feels that the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA) is supportive and generous when it comes to providing grants for research. However, the research grants are not very large. “Often, as teachers, we end up putting in our own money to pursue the work,” she said.

According to Gupta, even if part-time professors only teach one or two courses, the number of hours that one puts in to create a course, to mentor or give feedback to each student is still the same as any full-time teacher. “The sad part is that, often, we are not even sure if we will continue to teach the class the following term—so you can be putting in all this work for just one term or maybe two,” Gupta added.

According to Gupta, the vice-president of CUPFA, Lorraine Oades, has created interesting forums/micro-talks on campus for part-time faculty. “Every time we get a CUPFA grant, we come and talk about our research work and the kind of contributions we are making in our discipline,” she explained. “This is very helpful.”

Aside from the film festival and teaching, Gupta is an independent filmmaker herself. Using funding from CUPFA, she made a short documentary film in 2014 alongside Karan Singh called At Home in the World. The short film celebrates over 100 years of Indian cinema in the multicultural city of Montreal. It explores Montrealers’ love of Indian cinema and their understanding of films from that country.

Gupta said establishing connections with people has been important to her life and her success. “One encounter can create a lifetime of great bonds—that is what I have learned through this entire journey,” she said. “You just have to have love in your heart and respect for people, and you will go a long way.”

As for women who aspire to become documentary filmmakers, Gupta had one piece of advice: “The key as a filmmaker and as an artist is to identify what inspires you, what drives you. I think, in your heart, you always know.”


World music review: Asia

7he Myriads (Russia): If you think space disco is a kind of theme party thrown by Russian cosmonauts, then you’re missing out on quite possibly one of the most enjoyable new hybrid genres, and the dual-continental band positioned squarely at its forefront. 7he Myriads, formed by Vitalic Teterin and Alexey Krjuk in 2007, are more than just an electronic group. Adding Yunusov Ilgiz to the band, the Ekaterinburg (Asia) natives draw upon disco, funk, deep house, rock and electro, while combining live instrumentation with electronic staples like the ever-trusty laptop and MIDI keyboard. Now based in St. Petersburg (Europe), the intergalactic rock threesome released their debut album ∞ in 2010 and an EP, Running Man, soon after. Although they haven’t released another album since, they’re constantly updating their SoundCloud online where you can stream almost 30 tracks for free.

The Raghu Dixit Project (India): Combining traditional Indian vocal styles and instrumentation with unconventional musical styles including funky basslines, reggae rhythms and crisp, clean electric guitar, the Project is more than just a name—it’s an “open-house” for musicians and artists to come together and express their craft, regardless of genre, style or nationality. While the majority of his music is inspired by Shishunala Sharif, a saint from Karnataka, India famous for his poetry, Raghupathy Dixit’s lyrics, which are mostly in his native tongue, speak to the masses and deal with everyday experiences and emotions. The self-taught composer and musician believes Indian folk music is not a genre, but a state of mind. “We’re all untrained musicians,” said Dixit on his website, “and singing a song, because it’s innate, is a basic instinct.” The RDP’s debut self-titled album, available to stream online, includes eight full-length tracks that were composed over the past 12 years. The quintet that currently makes up the Project also has a new album in the works.

Morphy (Singapore): This collective, represented by vocalist and guitarist Lilia Yip and supported by Eugene Wong on synth and bass, lead guitarist Alexius Cai and Chua Yingtze on percussion, is not for those who enjoy mainstream folk music. The ambient, electronic, folk-pop band melds genres and risks melding your mind with their psychedelic ambient potpourri of sound. Stepping beyond electronica, the band uses traditional instruments from all areas of the world, including the wooden folk flute, and the African thumb piano, also known as the mbira. Their seemingly rule-free composition stems from their open approach to their music, inviting musicians from all corners of the globe to contribute to their sound. Their first album Pink Ashes (2004) set the pace for what was to come in their 2010 release Just Like Breathing, which featured U.K. guitarist Timothy Lloyd. Their presence in the scene, however, is reminiscent of their music—rather ambient—so if you want to hear them, you’re going to have to do some digging.

Kabul Dreams (Afghanistan): Here in the Western world, the music market is oversaturated with rock bands trying to make it big. Afghanistan’s first rock ‘n’ roll band, Kabul Dreams, is only three years old. They have become somewhat of a novelty on a global scale, purely due to the fact that they’re the first ever in their country, but don’t let that stop you from giving them a listen. While their sound ranges from generic to melodic, they do have talent and a whole lot of gusto. As the self-proclaimed voice of Kabul youth, their ciphers deal with post-Taliban messages of peace, unity and love. Groovy. Although the trio lived outside Afghanistan during Taliban rule—singer Sulyman Qardash in neighbouring Uzbekistan, bass guitarist Siddique Ahmed in Pakistan, and drummer Mujtaba Habibi in Iran—they moved back to Afghanistan once the Taliban was removed from power. What’s interesting about these three Afghan boys is that they come from different areas of the country, so they all speak a different native language. Instead of trying to work with that, they decided to sing in English.

Niraj Chag (England via India): This British musician of Indian descent has spent his life in London. His family’s strong ties to their heritage and homeland inspired him to create what BBC Radio 1 host DJ Nihal calls “some of the most beautiful British-Asian music ever created.” Chag composes in multiple languages, including six different languages on his debut album Along the Dusty Road (2006), after which he was awarded the “Best Underground Act” award at the U.K. Asian Music Awards. His next release, The Lost Souls in 2009, drove home this fusion artist’s talent, blending major South Asian styles with Hindi and by combining over 50 vocal layers on one track alone. The songs themselves are relaxed; it’s the type of music you can picture yourself listening to while smoking fragrant Mu‘assel from an ornate hookah in some tucked-away lounge amongst the crowded streets of New Delhi.

Eli Walks (Japan): Producer extraordinaire Jeff Lufkin has long had his hands in Japan’s thriving popular music scene—it’s a family affair. Both of his sisters are established musicians; Olivia is a fairly successful J-pop songstress, while Caroline is a vocalist for indie rock’s Mice Parade. Lufkin had an early affinity for heavy metal, but after his sisters introduced him to electronica à la Kraftwerk and Massive Attack, he searched for a method that would allow him to meld the two, and found it in club music. Lufkin worked as a producer, guitarist and composer in Japan, but moved to L.A. and birthed the moniker Eli Walks, as he studied sound design, engineering, and mastered Ableton Live at the California Institute of the Arts. His 2012 debut, Parallel, is delicate yet abrasive, overlapping atmospheric dance music. This is music to fill your ears; it works equally as an isolation soundtrack/solo travel companion or setting for a chill, alternative dance floor. He will make his Fuji Rock Festival debut this summer alongside the likes of Radiohead and the Stone Roses.

BoA (South Korea): K-pop girl groups have steadily grown in popularity, breaking into Western and Japanese music markets on the heels of BoA (Beat of Angel), or Kwon Boa, the reigning “Queen of Korean Pop Music.” BoA’s dance electropop first hooked South Korea in 2000 after she caught agents’ eyes while accompanying her older brother to a talent search. In 2002, she became the first South Korean musician to break Japan since the World War II entertainment trade embargo, opening the doors for girl groups like the Wonder Girls and 2NE1. BoA secured a fan base in the U.S. with the 2009 release of her self-titled English debut album and after spending much of 2010 touring the states and promoting her single “Eat You Up.” The pop starlet is it still maintaining her presence in Japan and South Korea, but is also set to make her Hollywood debut in the dance flick COBU 3D, so brace yourself for a K-pop invasion.

Modern Dog (Thailand): As the victors of the Coke Music Contest in 1992, college mates Modern Dog were instantly thrust into a world of bright lights and flashing cameras to sell over 500,000 copies of their debut album. Their introduction to the Thai music market may seem near effortless, but their sound was over a century in the making. For years, Thailand borrowed music from its neighbours India and China, resting at a crossroads of traditional Greek and Roman trade routes. But Thailand’s popular music format, known as “string,” wasn’t developed without the influence of American R&B, shipped overseas courtesy of American and Australian soldiers serving in Vietnam. Modern Dog broke through the sticky sweet boundaries characteristic of string and brought heavier, American influenced experimental rock featuring English and Thai lyrics. With That Song (2004), produced by Tony Doogan (Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian), and a 2006 U.S. tour, they tried to break into the Western world, but failed to gain much steam. Still hailed as the leader of Thailand’s indie rock music scene, Modern Dog paved the way for alternative rock’s presence in popular Thai music and have sold over two million albums to date.

Hedgehog (China): Despite China’s well-documented, swelling population, it has never been considered a major producer or consumer of popular music. Due to state restrictions, cantopop and mandopop commercialized love ballads pollute the radio waves, for an alternative hasn’t yet broken into the mainstream. Inspired by Western bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, a black/thrash metal scene developed among youth in the ‘90s, and heavy rock music has now grown in popularity in Beijing and Shanghai. Beijing’s Hedgehog was born out of those same punk/grunge roots, and they developed a fan base playing shows underground in 2005. Fans now flock to their shows to see Atom, the petite yet aggressive female percussionist, peeking through a mop of hair, behind a towering drum kit. The guitarist, Zo, sings most lyrics in Mandarin and English, and they recently recruited a new bassist, Xiao Nan, for their 2011 U.S. tour with Californian synth pop collective Xiu Xiu. Hedgehog recorded their upcoming 2012 release, Sun Fun Gun, in New York with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s John Grew and Russell Simins, and the album’s first single is now available for free download on Bandcamp.

Hiromi Uehara (Japan): Hiromi Uehara is known as one of the world’s most talented, game-changing musicians for her ability to bring raw, emotional rock to the piano—a relatively peaceful instrument. She began playing the piano at six years old, joined the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at 14, and has now broken into the more mainstream alternative Western market. Hiromi first worked as a jingle writer in Japan, but travelled to the United States to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music to study jazz piano. Since the release of her debut album, Another Mind (2003), she has travelled the world, developing a reputation for her inventive, high-energy fusion of classical and hard rocking jazz. With the Hiromi Trio Project, she will bring her latest release, Voice (2011), to this summer’s Fuji Rock Festival and both Montreal’s and Toronto’s jazz festivals.

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