San Leandro, Calif. — From an orphanage in Kolkata to the highest level of New York City’s society and fashion worlds — one very special young Indian American woman has carved out a niche for herself as an in-demand DJ.
DJ Kalkutta spins in the hottest dance clubs, but she also keeps a busy schedule of corporate and fashion clients, playing at parties for designers Tory Burch, Betsey Johnson, Steve Madden and Diesel, and brands including The Discovery Channel, Microsoft and Maserati-Ferrari.
She was born in Kolkata and surrendered to an orphanage when she was just a few days old; but when an American woman adopted her as an infant and brought her to the U.S., it represented a new direction for her — although she took on the name “DJ Kalkutta” as an homage to her birthplace, and often sports a bindi at gigs, she is more of a fan of Western hip-hop and electronic music than a Bollywood fan.
“I spin completely open format — house to hip-hop and everything in-between, including disco, rock, reggae, pop — anything I think I can pull off,” Kalkutta told India-West in an e-mail. Some of the artists she’s playing a lot now include Modern Machines, Alex Adair, Gazzo, Trippy Turtle, Dallas K, and Route 94, she said.
DJ Kalkutta has worked the turntables on “Ellen” and “Good Morning America,” but she is also branching out into songwriting with the single “New Americana,” which made news on the charts last year for Capitol Records artist Halsey.
“Kal,” as she’s known — ask her for her real name and she’ll politely reply “Hermione Granger” — grew up in Wisconsin and studied voice, piano and cello. Moving to New York City at age 17, she started studying production and audio engineering at NYU’s Clive Davis Dept. of Recorded Music, and it was in New York that she became immersed in the worlds of club music and hip-hop.
A couple of years ago, it seemed like Indian musicians were close to making a big splash in the mainstream — from Jay Sean to Priyanka Chopra — but India-West wondered if their golden opportunity had passed.
“There is always a chance of any genre, artist or sample making it into the mainstream if the song is just a genuinely good track with timeless appeal and the stars have aligned timing/artist-wise,” Kalkutta told India-West.
“I think Indian and Indian influenced music are more present than people realize because Bollywood type stuff is sampled in hip-hop so much, but you're right — there was definitely a moment or two where it was a focal point of the mainstream.
“For what it’s worth, Charli XCX [of the multi-Platinum single “Boom Clap”] is half Indian — her mother is Indian — and she’s been killing the pop charts this past year. So even though it's not traditional Indian music, at least there is some desi representation in the mainstream right now, right?”
In 2015, Kalkutta is making a move from New York City to the West Coast. Follow her on Twitter @djkalkutta.