With the emergence of a distinct North American identity for South Asian youth in the late 20th century, came a need for creative outlets to express these cultural changes. Today, through a consistent effort to push boundaries and a natural evolution, such spaces have been created. A thriving South Asian cultural establishment for the youth now exists. Chief among this group of influencers, is Rukus Avenue, an entertainment and lifestyle brand based in Los Angeles.
Rukus Avenue was founded by record producer Sammy Chand in 1996. The core mission of the label at the outset was to create a space within the entertainment business for the growing pool of talent in the South Asian diaspora, outside of the traditional channels.
Chand’s personal identity as Punjabi; Londoner and Los Angeleno, reflects an entire generation shaped by considerable cultural exchange. He identified this trend in it’s nascent stages and began preparing the landscape to build upon through the label.
Rukus Avenue’s first release was a compilation album, Passage to India. The album demonstrated the variety of sounds that were being created by the diaspora at the time of it’s recording and Sammy’s versatility as a beatmaker and record producer.
From this initial collection of artists, which included Kanwar, the first Hip-Hop artist to perform in English and Punjabi, and CJ who has had a successful singing career, as a touring artist and in film/TV, came the multiple-lingual Hip-Hop group Karmacy.
Led by Chand, the group became well known among college-aged fans, touted by academics and toured extensively in the US in anticipation of their debut record, 2005′s The Movement. Their music was also featured in the films: Leela, American Desi, American Chai, Where’s the Party Yaar? and Quarter-Life Crisis. Karmacy’s hit single Blood Brothers, transcended borders, earning a distribution deal for The Movement from Sony Music in India and a place in history as the first Hip-Hop record played on the short-lived, but culturally significant MTV Desi channel.
Post-Karmacy, the label shifted it’s attention to conquering the digital arena, signing a distribution deal with The Orchard. Chand also executive produced an R&B project with NYC-based singer/songwriter/producer Sandeep. Rukus Avenue developed a relationship with the Los Angeles Clippers during this time, and together co-produced the first NBA sanctioned India Republic Day Celebration, with Sandeep as the headliner.
The label also made inroads in the world of film, by partnering with The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA). Since 2008, Rukus Avenue has produced and presented the IFFLA Rhythm Village, a live music complement to the film program that has expanded in scope and remains immensely popular.
Chand released his debut instrumental album, Tale of a Crown in 2010, riding a wave of high profile placements, including: The Oprah Winfrey show, Bizzare Foods, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, America’s Most Wanted & others.
Looking to the future, the label continues to develop talent, and produces projects that reflect the dynamic changes in the South Asian community, as it reconciles itself within the larger society. One such talent in the roster is Hoodini, a native of Los Angeles and a proud second generation Punjabi-American Sikh. His community involvement and activist role blends well with his variety of Hip-Hop that appeals to a conscious, critical mind.
Rasika Mathur came to Rukus Avenue with a desire to express her comedic talents through music and worked closely with Chand to realize The Sari (W)rap: A Buffet of Musical Comedy Delights. She has pivoted from that of a pure entertainer, into a role model for young women, who are anxious to pursue a non-traditional path. Rasika now conducts workshops for young people, and uses comedy to facilitate an honest dialogue.
Ginger Shankar is an award winning film composer, classically trained violinist, one of two masters of the double neck violin and is of an elite musical pedigree. After contributing to The Passion of the Christ, she attended the Sundance Composers Lab program and performs frequently at fundraisers and festival events. Her upcoming collaboration with Sammy Chand fuses her dramatic double violin with his heavy-hitting tracks.
The future also finds the label expanding the scope of it’s mission to a content creation model that uses it’s musical repertoire as the foundation for a steady supply of video content and news-worthy stories. The label is line with the direction of consumer content consumption trends, including the explosive growth in the mobile landscape, and has plans to expand further in this arena.
2012 is shaping up to be the most exciting year in the label’s history.