Sathish Bala who founded desiFEST, shares the story of how it all started

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We all have moments when our life’s work needs validation.

For desiFEST’s founder/ artistic director Sathish Bala, the moment came five years ago, albeit with a price.

The 2018 desiFEST takes place Saturday, June 2 at Yonge-Dundas Square from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

For years, Sathish—the rebel/disruptor—had resisted the path his family hoped he would chase (Engineering). Instead, he struck out and decided to kick-start a free music concert in Toronto (Yonge-Dundas Square). This music was far cry from the classical Carnatic ragas that courses through the vein of every South Indian.

Manjeet Rai aka Manj Musik sits on a white platform against a green backdrop.

Manjeet Rai, aka Manj Musik, an internationally-renowned singer/songwriter/composer known for his Bhangra and Hip-Hop infused music will perform at the 2018 desiFEST, June 2. Supplied photo

It was Hip-Hop, Reggae, rock, Bhangra-fusion, and other genres that his traditional South Indian family did not understand.

Sathish’s dad was an engineer. The apple turns out fell far away from the tree. Disappointment festered between father and son over his career (music).

Time went by and the strained relationship continued. Over time, desiFest found its feet in the multicultural cauldron that is Toronto. As Sathish’s name began to appear in the media, his father slowly came around. The critic became his son’s cheerleader. Then, five years ago, one day after that year’s desiFest, Bala Sr. breathed his last.

The genesis of desiFEST

Sathish came to realize the therapeutic as well as the addictive power of music in his teens when he became a DJ.

“Early in 2000, I joined a club called Bombay Martini where I would spin Punjabi, Bollywood and English music together,” he recalled. “Learning to connect to other cultures through music was a great lesson. From there on, I learned to negotiate with venues and do marketing and advertising…”

All he needed was to connect all of the pieces to a bigger purpose. And that’s how desiFEST happened.

Photo of Tamil rapper set against the backdrop of high-rise buildings

Lady Rolex Rasathy, a Sri Lankan rapper is among those scheduled to perform at the 2018 desiFEST, June 2 at 4:35 p.m. The free music festival runs from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at the Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto. Supplied photo

“I come from a generation of South Asians whose teenage years were influenced by urban music,” Sathish said. “Our original music was fused and we faced challenges trying to find space to display this music. We were by name and sound ‘ethnic’ so mainstream wouldn’t book us either.”

Sathish decided to bridge the musical void.

What now?

Even though Sathish did not opt to become an engineer, he had a natural flair for entrepreneurship. In 1999, while at the high school, he launched his first company, which he later sold. Since then, he has set up several digital marketing and tech enterprises later scooped up as acquisitions.

Sathish Bala wearing a salmon-coloured shirt with a blue bow-tie.

Sathish Bala, the founder of desiFEST, hopes the festival will serve as his legacy for the future generation of artists. Supplied photo.

“Our mission at desiFEST is to have a 12-hour conversation with the community through music,” says Sathish, the Indian-born transplant to Canada who came here via Singapore in 1989. “For desiFEST, we look at what are the different reactions we can create within a diverse community. 25 per cent of our audience is not South-Asians, so that’s important as well because they get to experience our culture and learn about our food, music and not just Bollywood, but the version of the next generation.”

There is a bit of Bollywood in desiFEST. The rationale is to display the talents of young artists who have incorporated Bollywood music into their own arrangements and melodies.

Having artists like Abhithi aka Amitha Mundechira a dancer/singer and a physician perform at the concert (1:55 p.m.) is Sathish’s not-so-subtle message to desi parents. He wants to tell them pursuing art alongside a profession doesn’t have to be an either-or situation. When the passion is powerful enough, it will pull you.

The desiFEST is Sathish Bala’s legacy to the next-generation of desis/South Asians in Toronto and elsewhere in the world. He wants them to take it and run with it.

Artists at this year’s desiFEST include Parichay, Divine, The Roach Killa, The Prophec, DJ Prodiigy and dozens of others. Check out their website for schedules. Also performing at the concert is Manj Musik, a singer/songwriter whose Bhangra and Hip-Hop infused work has been creating ripples around the world.

 

 

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