Desi Con: South Asian Artists, Arts & Culture Celebration at White eagle Hall
South Asian artists finally get the spotlight they’ve long deserved when Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC) presents Desi Con, eclectic evening of music, dance, comedy and theater showcasing artists and performers of Indian and South Asian Descent. Desi Con – a multimedia, interactive evening-long celebration of South Asian artists, arts and culture – takes Place Sunday, September 15 at White Eagle Hall, 337 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey 07302
Gautam Gurnani, writer and filmmaker and founder of JokerFace Entertainment and Pranav Patel, a professional dancer, artist, and choreographer and founder of AfroDesi are the creators of Desi Con. The project came about when the two friends realized that the many artists emerging out of the Desi Diaspora –new immigrants, ex-pats and second and third generation offspring of South Asian-Americans – seemed barely visible in popular culture.
“There are no big events focusing on us, South Asian artists,” said Gurnani. “We saw an opportunity to create something for South Asian Artists that will present our work to a wider audience.”
To fill this artistic void, the creative duo are directing a fun-filled, revue styled extravaganza featuring an array of comedians, actors, musicians, dancers and other performers from this diverse community. Desi Con is also historic. It’s believed to be the first time that a night of live entertainment, performance and collaboration devoted solely to South Asian Artists will be held in North America.
“Desi Con represents a safe place for artists from all walks of life and experiences to come together on one stage and showcase the unique and wide breadth of South Asian arts,” said Patel. “This type of show is something that has yet to be offered to the tristate area.”
It’s also fitting that Jersey City – and its premier historic venue, White Eagle Hall – hosts this groundbreaking event. Not only does the U.S. Census indicate that Indians are the fastest growing ethnic population in the New York Metropolitan Area (which includes the five boroughs, Long Island, as well as New Jersey), but Jersey City’s India Square – popularly known as Little Bombay – is home to the highest concentration of South Asians in the Western Hemisphere.
The “Desi” community – which includes people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka – has long established itself in Jersey City and the surrounding regions. From local business owners and restaurateurs to professionals including teachers, healthcare providers and lawyers, South Asians are an integral part of Hudson County and beyond. However, Desi artists seem conspicuously absent from Jersey City’s thriving arts scene, a situation Desi Con seeks to remedy.
“JCTC’s mission is to serve the diversity of Jersey City,” said Olga Levina, Artistic Director, JCTC. “Desi Con gives a stage to young and emerging artists from the South Asian community. Our future is not a purity of culture, but a bouquet of many cultures. Desi Con adds South Asian artists to the tapestry of the arts in Jersey City.”
The lineup for Desi Con features some of the region’s leading and up-and-coming performers, including KC Arora – a “Brownish Comedy” group whose members have appeared on Conan, The Late Show, Last Comic Standing and Netflix’s Brown Nation); Neel and the Band, a New York based-South Asian musical trio who has toured the world, The Big Fat Brown Show a comedic theater company – produced by JokerFace Entertainment – blending satire and choreography to break stereotypes through theater and humor and AfroDesi, internationally acclaimed dance troupe that merges AfroBeats and Bollywood dancing to form a new style.
In casting the lineup and creating the production, the Desi Con duo also took inspiration from two unlikely sources. The show’s name – Desi Con – is a play on Comic Con, which Gurnani confesses that both are “big fans of Comic Con. “We want to create a revolution and a convention for South Asian artist,” said Gurnani.
The other inspiration came from the constitution of the Republic of India. ”This show strives on the motto: By the artist, for the artist, which is based on the Indian democratic constitution: by the people, for the people,” said Gurnani. “Pranav and I are artists first and show directors second. The abundance of incredibly talented South Asian artists in New York and New Jersey demands a platform through which the various forms of live entertainment can be showcased.”