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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Hi-tech workers make 'curry rock'
By Clark Boyd
Technology correspondent

Image Srikanth and Kartik jamming
H1Bees' curry rock album mixes eastern and western influences
Hundreds of thousands of hi-tech workers from India have come to the US in the past decade.

Many of them arrived on the H-1B visa programme, which allows American companies to hire highly-skilled foreign workers.

For many Indians, getting a visa is a dream come true. But living and working in the US can be harder than expected and a group of Indian-born engineers has put the H-1B experience to music.

It all started, as these things often do, at a party. It was a house-warming party in the Washington DC area to be precise.

An Indian computer engineer with a yen for Jethro Tull was throwing the shindig. Among the guests were a couple of other Indian hi-tech workers with musical backgrounds.

'Curry rock'

They chatted, hit it off, and decided to make an album. They enlisted various musicians from the Washington area, and from India, to complete the studio sessions.

The result is an east-meets-west musical combination that the musicians who made it dub Curry Rock. It is a mix of grooves that sound like Indian ragas mixed with a They Might Be Giants vibe on the record's seven tracks, which are done in English, Hindi and Tamil.

"This is not really a band yet. It's more of a concept," says Srivatsa Srinivasan, who helped produce the record. The concept album has been named H1Bees, as in worker bees.

Image of Swathi and Alisha singing
The seven tracks on the album are in English, Hindi and Tamil
Mr Srinivasan's story is typical of those associated with the H1Bees project. In 1996, he came to the US on an H-1B visa to work in the tech sector.

"Back in India what they say is that if you get an H-1B and go to the US, you're the king," he says. "But that's just not the case. I mean, you still have to do the work.

"You have a nine-to-five job, you have to maintain your family, you've got find time for your hobbies, the whole thing. Just by coming to the US, the whole thing doesn't become colourful."

The group decided to pour all of their experiences as H-1B visa holders into the multilingual album.

The title track, also called H1Bees, follows an Indian worker through the entire process of acquiring a visa, travelling to America, and settling into life here.

In one section of the song, the Indian worker pays a visit to the US consulate in India to get his H-1B visa.

Standing in line, papers in my hand
All my answers, practiced and planned.
He asked me, would you ever come back home?

Yes, sir, just give me that H-1B.
Just give me that damn H-1B.

The H1Bees album takes a light-hearted approach to what is often a serious and highly politicised subject.

Each year, the US Congress battles over whether to raise the number of H-1B visas allowed into the country.

Some US companies say that they need skilled labour, but many tech workers in America complain that H-1B holders are essentially stealing jobs from US workers.

Hot and hotter

The musicians behind the H1Bees record wanted to steer clear of politics.

"We kept it kind of mellow, and kind of comical," says Mr Srinivasan.

"But, we kind of assert the point that while it's funny, it's also true that H-1Bs have to put in hard work. It's not just easy over here, as people assume."

In fact, arriving in America can be a real shock, culturally, and meteorologically.

Image of Srikanth Devarajan composing
Srikanth composed the music for the H1Bees album
Musician Srikanth Devarajan, who is originally from Chennai in Southern India, composed the tracks and put together the musicians who play on the H1Bees album.

"It is really hot there. It is hot, hotter and hottest there," Mr Devarajan says of Chennai. "But as soon as I landed in the United States, it was snowing. That was really interesting."

The musicians involved in the H1Bees project do not have any intention of giving up their day jobs in the tech sector.

In fact, most of them are not even H-1B visa holders anymore. They are permanent residents in the US.

The project's next goals are to choose a name for the band, and to figure out a way to market their Curry Rock back home in India.

Clark Boyd is technology correspondent for The World, a BBC World Service and WGBH-Boston co-production


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