Page last updated at 07:55 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 08:55 UK

Mixing up the boy band genre

By Yasmeen Khan

3Mix
3Mix already have a strong following on MySpace and Facebook

Boy band 3Mix are sitting in EMI's London offices looking every inch the perfect teen idols, from their baby-faced good looks and meticulously back-combed hair to their carefully co-ordinated clothes.

"We're proud to be a boy band," says singer Myan Mirza.

"We grew up listening to the likes of Boyz II Men, 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, so there's no shame there."

Like their idols, Mirza and his bandmates Usman Mirza and Karim Ismail are all in their early 20s, but there is one key difference - they are all Asian.

Black music has had 40 years to evolve, Asian music feels like it's had about 15 minutes
Aadil Rasheed, 3Mix's manager

They are the first act to sign to new label Gorgeous Brown, a joint venture between EMI and long-time A&R man Aadil Rasheed, who is also the band's manager.

"We have a vibrant British Asian music scene, but the problem has been that it stays in its own niche, it's been very difficult for Asian artists to break into the mainstream," Rasheed says.

He puts this down to the type of music the scene is producing - but also to the level of support from mainstream media.

"If you compare Asian music with black music, black music has had 40 years to evolve, Asian music feels like it's had about 15 minutes.

"We still feel like novelty artists."

'Mainstream playlist'

The British Asian music scene has grown over the last two decades helped in part by the arrival of specifically targeted stations like the BBC Asian Network and Club Asia.

Historically, however, few tracks have crossed over to a non-Asian audience.

Lee Ryan
Lee Ryan has co-written 3Mix's debut single

George Ergatoudis, head of music at Radio 1, says mainstream stations have a role to play in promoting specialist music.

"We believe the Radio 1 audience actively enjoys variety so we certainly keep a close eye on the Asian scene alongside many other genres.

"1Xtra and the Asian Network act as filters in their own right developing new artists that might go on to be represented to the wider market on daytime Radio 1."

This crossover success was borne out in 2002 when Punjabi MC's Mundian To Bach Ke became the first bhangra track to make the mainstream top 10 and an appearance on Top of The Pops.

Somthing of a novelty track, it sampled the Knight Rider theme, but it sold well (one estimate puts global sales at 10m) and it caught the attention of Jay-Z, who put together his own remix of the song.

But it has taken a few more years for more conventional-sounding British Asian artists to make it big.

That success came in the form of singers Raghav and Jay Sean.

Both artists have had a string of bona fide top 10 hits with the likes of Eyes On You and Stolen (Jay Sean) and Angel Eyes (Raghav).

Mainstream artists have since wanted to get in on the scene, whose most successful producer, Rishi Rich, has recently been commissioned to remix Britney Spears, Estelle and Mary J Blige.

Ingredients for success

As well as developing his own stable of artists, Rich now runs a music academy for aspiring singers with leading lights of the British Asian music scene as teachers.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that we finally have an Asian boy band, and one which has attempted to tick as many mainstream boxes as possible.

To say you're an Asian boy band right now might get you some attention. For long-term success, it's down to the music
David Sanjek, professor of popular music at Salford University

3Mix's debut single, Put It On Me, has all the ingredients they feel necessary for chart success.

It's an R&B influenced track about love and lust, co-written by Lee Ryan, formerly of Blue, and produced by Mushtaq, who previously remixed Amy Winehouse's Back To Black.

No matter how light and accessible a track might be, 3Mix's manager still feels there is another hurdle to overcome.

"Asians are long established in Britain - let's face it, everyone loves curry - but there is a perception that Asians are just not cool," he says.

However, there may have been an unforeseen breakthrough in that area, thanks to the success of a certain Oscar-winning film.

David Sanjek, professor of popular music at Salford University, suggests that Slumdog Millionaire has had a positive impact on the perception of the Asian community.

"Parts of the film, like the final sequence in which they perform a Bollywood-style dance routine, bring something that is acoustically unusual to a mass audience," he says.

"You also have a young British Asian actor in a key role in a very hyped film getting lots of publicity.... It gets people used to seeing aspects from a culture that is otherwise alien to them."

Yet Professor Sanjek is still wary of the "Slumdog effect" working on consumers in the long run.

"To say you're an Asian boy band right now might get you some attention. For long-term success, it's down to the music."

3Mix themselves are positive about their future and their fan base.

"We've already got thousands of people following us on MySpace and Facebook, and we've got a lot of fans that aren't Asian, so hopefully we can get beyond the novelty of being the first British Asian boy band," says Karim.

"But some of our older relatives can't help themselves," he laughs. "We've got a record deal, a debut single and we're out doing gigs, yet they still ask us what our real job is."

Yasmeen Khan is a freelance journalist who also works occasionally for the Asian Network.



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