In this edition of Cultural Connections, we’ll go deep into the bustling cities of Delhi and London to discover their surprising yet undisputable link. India and the United Kingdom have shared over a century of history, with remnants of the past still visible today. The Indian diaspora have shaped their own communities in London, and this is evident in the Bengali signs plastered all over Brick Lane, and Southall – which has one of the largest Indian communities outside of India itself. Delhi, years after gaining Independence, still bears the marks of colonialism in its historic city center, rich in Colonial architecture, such as Connaught Place. But the link between the two cities is more than just historical symbols; it is also a new wave of creatives born from the blending of two cultures.
The musical connection between these two cities goes much deeper than Mundian Tu Bach Ke playing at a club on a random Wednesday night. From rock legend Freddie Mercury to electronic musician Jai Paul, London has a long history of Indian-descent musicians who have made significant contributions to the music scene. Hip-hop, particularly drill and grime, is what connects these two cities the most. Steel Banglez, whose name originates from the ‘Kada’ a steel bangle worn by Punjabi-Indians, is a production powerhouse who has made beats for everyone from Skepta to Dave. His single, “Fashion Week”, featuring AJ Tracey and MoStack, stacked up more than 11 million streams on Spotify and earned itself #1 on the official trending charts. His introduction to music started with playing Indian classical instruments such as the dhol and the harmonium which he still references in the beats he makes today.
DIVINE and Emiway Bantai are artists who brought the underground rap scene to India. Both of whom are inspired greatly by UK drill and grime. DIVINE is possibly the most famed rappers in India at the moment, having recently been signed to Nas’ Mass Appeal Records. His single, “Kaam 25” took India by storm and brought hip-hop to the surface of the Bollywood-dominated music scene in India.
Ahluwalia, launched in 2018 by Priya Ahluwalia, is an award-winning label best known for combining visual codes from the East and the West. The designer pays homage to her Indian-Nigerian heritage and English roots through vibrant prints and patterns, all the while keeping sustainability as a focal point.
Supriya Lele is another esteemed British-Indian designer who also draws inspiration from her heritage. After founding her eponymous label in 2017, she was nominated for the LVMH prize in 2020. Her work focuses on celebrating the female body while using a kaleidoscope of traditional Indian colours and drapery. For her Spring/Summer 2019 collection, the designer chose to combine sportswear with deconstructed sari darting. Stating that she enjoys playing with stereotypically feminine silhouettes in order to stop them from being “too elegant or ladylike”.
On the other hand, in India, western streetwear is dominating fashion. Multi-brand stores such as VegNonVeg and The Mainstreet Marketplace as well as brands such as ALMOST GODS and JAYWALKING have created a cultural space instead of “just a sneaker store”, allowing the younger generation in Delhi to tap into the influence of sneakers on a larger scale that touches the creative fields of art, music, and fashion and fuses the East with the West.
If there are two things that unite people, it would be food and going out. The best example of a culinary classic loved by the populations of both Delhi and London is ‘Chicken Tikka Masala’, which originated as a twist on the traditional North-Indian ‘Butter Chicken’ by Indian chefs living in England. The dish is now considered a truly British dish, due to both its popularity, and its symbolism of the various external influences that have shaped British culture.
With stories of the legendary Goa raves being told like historical events of the past, it’s no surprise that India has just as much of an underground rave scene as London. Boiler Room-esque sets are popping up all over courtesy of collectives such as the Warp Core – an underground music society started as an alternative to the commercial club scene in Delhi with a focus on musical experimentation.
Delhi and London have inextricably linked cultural histories and futures. Their youths are united by a raw sense of frenetic creativity and determination shaped by the forces that shaped the rich histories of the creative hubs they call home.