While most DJs these days are known for having crazy stage names, DJ Akbar Sami - who is credited for introducing the concept of house music and EDM (electronic dance music) in India way back in the 1980s - doesn't believe he needs any of these gimmicks. "When I started in the '80s, this concept of DJing didn't really exist. I went on with the name I was born with. My name is my name, why should I change it?" asks Sami, while in Chandigarh on Friday for a performance at a local lounge.Sami got his break in a Mumbai club whose resident DJ had quit midway. "The owner knew that I used to make my own show tapes and figured I could handle this. It was either that or to close the club," laughs the DJ who shot to fame with his albums of remixed music including Jalwa and Jadoo. According to him, the four or five DJs that he knew at that time wanted to quit the business because they thought it was never going to be profitable enough. Of course, the scene has changed and how.
Having remixed over 300 tracks in various Bollywood films as well as having performed at the IIFA awards show, Sami now wants to take a break free from the film industry because he believes that the influx of new DJs has harmed business. "These people don't even know how to remix a track properly and they're charging half of what DJs like me and other reputed DJs ask for. It's just not right," he says in despairs, further adding, "Calling yourself a DJ doesn't make you one; it's a tough craft to master." Currently on a hiatus from the industry, Sami believes that if he's not getting paid the amount that he deserves, there's no point doing it.
Meanwhile, the DJ's experience of performing in Chandigarh was exciting as Sami found the crow to be very receptive towards global music, "even if they end up insisting on hearing Bollywood and Punjabi music". Known for his interesting mixes of jazz, rap, folk, rock and contemporary music with traditional sounds, Sami feels the only way to the break the hold of Hindi film music on the DJs is that DJs feed new music to the people and help them get out of their comfort zones. "It's up to us to make people listen to different styles of music. But, it's a tough task as we have to play to the crowd's desire," he adds. The point brings him to reveal his favourite country to play music in - the UK. "It's always a fantastic turn out there and I get to play what I want. The crowd listens to me and not the other way round," he says.
While there's always a danger of burning out in this profession, Sami counters it when he tells us that though he thought the same 15 years ago, believing that he would perhaps be relaxing somewhere on the beach by now, his life has actually got busier. "People respect professionalism and talent and it's carried me so far. Burn out? Nah!" he smiles.