In the heart of Los Angeles, a compelling force has emerged, pulsating with the rhythm of South Asian beats from the ‘70s and '80s. This is Naya Beat Records, an initiative of two individuals, Raghav Mani and Filip Nikolic, who have chosen to tread the path less travelled and breathe new life into the forgotten dance music from a bygone era.
The name "Naya Beat" speaks volumes about the project's ethos. Inspired by the Belgian dance movement of the late 80s, New Beat, and the Hindi word for "new," Naya Beat echoes the fusion of traditional South Asian culture with a modern electronic sound palette, a perfect reflection of the music they are reviving.
The inception of Naya Beat was rooted in a shared passion for music, a friendship nurtured through a mutual friend and DJ, Daniel T. Initially, the idea was to create a mixtape using Mani's extensive music collection, but as the tracks underwent enhancements, the potential for an official release materialized. Thus, Naya Beat Records was born with a noble mission - to generate income for the original artists whose music they were reissuing.
Mani, an international citizen with Indian roots, returned to his origins, driven by an impulse to contribute to the Indian music industry's evolving youth culture. Nikolic, a music producer with limited exposure to South Asian music, embraced the project with the enthusiasm of discovery.
As the pandemic confined everyone indoors, Naya Beat Records became a beacon of creative energy for the duo. Nikolic's backyard studio in Los Angeles became their sanctuary, where a simple mixtape idea metamorphosed into an eclectic label. Their first compilation, Naya Beat Volume 1, was not immune to challenges. Licensing issues forced them to expand their vision beyond India, filling gaps with unique music from South Asian diasporas worldwide, including tracks from Guyana, Holland, and Bhangra from the UK.
The essence of the Naya Beat Records identity lies in its visual representation - the artwork, the logo, and the aesthetics. Crafted in collaboration with South Asian artists, they encapsulate the spirit of Balearic India. A tapestry of creativity, the cover artwork evolved from an intricate collage piece by Delhi-based artist Roohan Segel, and was transformed further by LA-based artist and designer, Radha Vishnubhotla.
The label's journey has been characterized by fortuitous collaborations and inspiring dialogues with renowned artists like Asha Puthli as well as with lesser known pioneers like the band Pinky Ann Rihal. Through numerous conversations, including those held virtually during the pandemic, the duo developed a fruitful relationship with Asha, leading to opportunities to work on new projects using the original stems and studio recordings from her first four albums - a rarity in the industry.
This relationship brought Mani and Nikolic on an unforgettable trip to West Palm Beach, Florida, where they spent four days immersed in Asha's world. This encounter offered them an intimate glimpse into her life, her struggles, her triumphs, and her profound cultural impact. This experience fueled their resolve to widen the recognition of her legacy, both through their label and an upcoming documentary about her life and career.
The enduring ambition of Naya Beat Records is not just to preserve Asha's legacy but to ensure it echoes throughout the global music scene. Filip's dream is to see Asha perform at a major Los Angeles venue, like the Hollywood Bowl, an occasion that would underscore the magnitude of her influence.
For aspiring label creators, Mani and Nikolic's journey provides invaluable lessons- from securing licenses, finding distributors, mastering and occasionally remixing tracks to the crucial importance of mutual respect and teamwork. Their unique partnership forms the backbone of Naya Beat Records.
In essence, Naya Beat Records represents the harmony of organic growth and shared passion. Mani and Nikolic laud their small yet potent team for their capacity to navigate intricate aspects of reissuing music, from rights acquisition to restoration and remastering.
Their story is a testament to the enduring power of music and an example of how dedication, respect, and teamwork can breathe new life into forgotten sounds. As they continue their quest, Naya Beat Records is reimagining the South Asian music scene, one beat at a time.
Words by Akhil Hemdev and Nisanth Srinivasan