HUNGAMA: The London party fusing Bollywood with queer club culture
Crack Magazine is marking Pride season with a series of specialist mixes and playlists dedicated to LGBTQ+ club nights and promoters. From the iconic parties of bygone eras through to the emerging events breaking through in 2022, we’ll be highlighting the sounds of these parties and the artists that shape them.
HUNGAMA has been a vital hub for South Asian queer culture and creativity since its inception in 2017. First held at popular east London queer pub and performance space The Glory, the trailblazing event has since travelled to cities such as LA and Mumbai.
Born out of founder Ryan Lanji’s desire to hear Bollywood tunes on the dancefloor – and to create a space where he and his peers could celebrate their queerness openly and reconnect with their culture – HUNGAMA club nights encapsulate a euphoric and celebratory energy. The name itself means ‘chaos’ in Hindi.
The events take in a wide range of creative pursuits, with Lanji’s background in fashion and art curation playing a role in creating space for the kind of authentic, abundant expression HUNGAMA offers its community. Over the past five years, HUNGAMA has continued to evolve and grow, with a continued focus on alternative South Asian club sounds as well as Bollywood music and culture. Earlier this year – and for its milestone anniversary – the party shared its first release. The eponymous project was centred around remixes and reworks of Bollywood tracks and feature pieces by queer South Asian artists.
This coming weekend, HUNGAMA hosts their new party NAZAR – a series in collaboration with NAFS.Space, who are championing the queer SWANA [South West Asia and North Africa] community – at fabric as part of UK Black Pride. Ahead of this, we spoke with Lanji about the inspiration behind HUNGAMA, nurturing a space away from nightlife hierarchies and the upcoming NAZAR event on Sunday (14 August). You can also check out an exclusive playlist curated by Lanji alongside NAFS.Space’s Drew Demetry.
A celebration of South Asian queerness and creativity. Since its inception five years ago, HUNGAMA has been a hub for South Asian creatives and young artistic talent. It’s a moment to allow your queerness, culture and counter culture to exist in one room.
What inspired its launch?
HUNGAMA was a rebuttal to cis-entered white queer spaces. I didn’t see myself anywhere and wanted to hear Bollywood. I am so proud that after five years of hosting it regularly we have now played London, LA and Mumbai, and are inspiring South Asians around the world to embrace queerness and their creativity while opening the sounds of our culture to the white queer community without being fetishised. In London, we have played fabric, Ministry of Sound, Lovebox, UK Black Pride and more. We are also proud to have had incredible parties at the Tate Modern, Southbank and National Theatre this year alone.
What inspired the name – and how does this meaning relate to the project itself?
My mum used to use the word Hungama to describe the parties she would have with my aunties in our home and the fun they would have at weddings. Hungama by definition means ‘chaos and celebration’. I remember being at the end of the couch while she said, “Last night was such a hungama”. The word stuck, and I wanted to bring that feeling to my party.
Who is involved in HUNGAMA?
HUNGAMA was founded by myself and I am so honoured to have had incredible young people attend the night and now be pillars of their fields. We have cultivated an incredibly talented roster of drag performers and cabaret artists including Bolly-Illusion, Bindiya, Kaajel Patel and more. Likewise, our DJs are celebrated throughout music industry; we have had the pleasure of having artists like Aisha Mirza, Shivum Sharma, My Panda Shall Fly, Shimmy Ahmed and Chippy Nonstop play our nights.
We have since expanded the sound from just Bollywood to alternative South Asian club music and have hosts including Sheerah Ravindren – a model and activist who was recently featured on the cover of British Vogue – and actress Nikkita Chadha. The nights have become a meeting place for fashion designers, photographers, singers, artists and more.
What promoter experience did you have prior to HUNGAMA?
I have always found myself organising events and happenings. When I moved to London at 23, I found myself curating exhibitions. With that logic and event planning, I was able to overlap it into nightlife. When I started the night I was learning and unlearning. Thanks to incredible people in the east London QPOC community, I was able to turn my night from a sound into a powerful movement for the queer South Asian community.
Is that what you were striving to achieve when you started the night?
At first, I was just trying to create a space were we could celebrate our queerness openly and reconnect with our culture. It was honestly so incredible to see the eyes of South Asian siblings hearing the music they grew up with. With our amazing DJs, we have managed to create a euphoric space that borrows sounds and genres from other nights, but is underpinned by the beauty of Asian music. We are not a troupe or an act. HUNGAMA is a space where if you show up and get involved, you get to be a part of something bigger than all of us.
What kind of environment are you trying to nurture through your nights?
I don’t like club nights that have a hierarchy or prioritisation of certain people or aesthetics. HUNGAMA is dichotomous, ever evolving and always open to hearing how we can embrace more of our South Asian family and sounds. I am so proud to have not only Hindu Punjabis like myself in the space, but also Malayali, Tamil, Bangladeshi and Gujarati artists and attendees all partying together while appreciating each others culture. HUNGAMA can and will always do more, but right now it’s a beautiful prism of all of those who show up and party.
What was your first party like?
The first party was held at The Glory in Haggerston – it’s a wonderful pub and watering hole for east London queers. I remember I had fashion designer Max Allen decorate the pub in Marigolds and fringing and we had DJs from the iconic Club Kali as well as their drag queens come and perform.
On the flip, how was your last party?
For our new initiative NAZAR, I partnered with Drew Demetry – founder of NAFS.Space, which champions the SWANA [(South West Asia and North African] queer community. Together, we took over the Southbank for Pride. To be able to include Persian, North African, Egyptian and Turkish music was honestly an unforgettable moment of unity. We were celebrating all styles of dance, sound and activism in the same space. Flying Palestinian flags, fighting for queer rights in Istanbul and reminding everyone that we are all in it together.
"It's a moment to allow your queerness, culture and counter culture to exist in one room" – Ryan Lanji
What are you most excited about when it comes to the future of HUNGAMA?
HUNGAMA is something that will live in the minds and hearts of every South Asian person who first attended and allowed it to be part of their story and journey. What excites me the most is the potential of expanding it through NAZAR to create a larger party that unifies everyone on the dancefloor and makes the activism for one pressed group or community an urgent matter for all of us. I want us to be able to celebrate everyone behind the decks and on the dancefloor with kindness and appreciation – not only for their abilities, but for their people as well.
Tell us a little about the tracks and artists you’ve chosen for your playlist?
I worked with Drew to find tracks that embodied the SWANA community, the sounds of HUNGAMA and the vibe we will be bringing to the next NAZAR event this weekend.
What memories do you have of these tracks at past parties you’ve hosted?
To be honest, we all probably have memories of some of these tracks growing up and the remixes we have curated are the sounds we have partied during this short but powerful time. The memories I know I will cherish will be the ones we make on Sunday (14 August). See you there!