“I’m sorry, but I talk a lot,” warns Abhishek Das, or Dj Abhi as he is known to listeners, as he sits down for an interview at his desk set just outside the Terramerragal studio at the Koori Radio office. The desk is strewn with printouts of program schedules and promo scripts, several headphone sets and blinking mixing boards. For large swathes of the day he can seen sitting here, behind a glass door with his face leaning towards two large computer screen monitors, both of them filled with cascading windows of sound editing software and waves of digitised audio tracks.
“I don’t know how to control it,” he goes on, “it happens in interviews a lot, when I get passionate I just keep talking.”
This passion for talking can lead to some rapid fire conversation. Abhishek’s sentences build a near overwhelming momentum at times, then he’ll catch himself, becoming suddenly silent, smile, and calmly rock his head from side to side in that unmistakable manner of Indian culture. His enthusiasm for talking is natural, and to be expected from a man who has staked a successful and now international career in radio broadcasting. His journey in radio began on the outskirts of India’s bustling city of Calcutta, a long way from where he sits now in the Koori Radio studios in the heartland of Sydney’s Aboriginal community in Redfern.
“When I was 11 or 12 years-old, FM radio was just beginning to boom in India,” recalls Abhishek, and it was after hearing the “tremendous” sound quality of the FM band on a cheap world radio receiver that his “addiction” to radio began in earnest.
“I was just a crazy, mad person for radio. I’d spend my entire days listening to those short wave FM channels, and I realise now that I was totally intoxicated with FM radio, and every time I was listening to radio I was learning cultural lessons, lessons about society, lessons about music, I’d tune in to stations from Ghana, Fiji, Nigeria, America — that amazing feeling that you are travelling the world with a twist of a finger — that’s what got me into radio.”
By the time he reached his senior years at high school he was already broadcasting his own pirate frequency, having built several 10 watt transmitters and connected them to a bunch of old antennas on the top floor of his apartment building.
“I’d put my radio in the bike, play a song from cassette into the microphone attached to the transmitter under my bed, and I’d ride around checking the reception to see how far my music was going,” recalls Abhishek.
“I was one of the first FM pirate broadcasters in India, I didn’t even know it was illegal.”
He was also being influenced at the time by the the dance music and DJ remixes he was finding on the airwaves. He taught himself the basics of sound engineering and mixing and began remixing his favorite songs. With these skills and his passion for broadcasting, after high school he began landing jobs at some of India’s major radio stations. At the same time, his career as a DJ began to take off and he soon released a series of popular remix albums. he also began working in TV as a presenter, winning several broadcasting and DJing awards along the way.
After eight years working for commercial stations, in 2008, Abhishek made the leap to community radio, where he helped build Calcutta station, Community Radio JU, from the ground up, working across all facets of the organisation.
Having achieved his goal of managing a radio station, In 2014, Abhishek decided it was time for a new challenge and a new experience, bringing him to Australia, and eventually to the studios of Koori Radio where he now works as both as a production coordinator and broadcaster. While he admits that it’s been a steep learning curve at times, Abhishek says he is relishing the opportunity to work for an Aboriginal broadcaster.
“This Aboriginal world was new to me, it’s been amazing,” he says, his eye growing large and his voice inflecting with enthusiasm.
“At times it’s still difficult for me — yesterday I learned about NAIDOC week, so gradually I am learning new stuff everyday. There’s also similarities between our cultures, in India there are so many tribes and cultures, that’s why I’m finding it interesting here — the Australia I used to picture back in India is not the Australia I see now.”
As well as helping to produce all of Koori Radio’s programs, Abishek also hosts two of his own, ‘Bollywood Beats’ (Saturday nights live at 10:00pm) and ‘Bollywood Border Crossings’ (Wednesday nights live 6-8:00pm).
“I noticed that people here love to party on a Friday and and Saturday night, more so than in India,” says Abhishek, explaining the motivation behind ‘Bollywood Beats’, a live DJ set mixing Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi and Bollywood tunes.
“What people from the West like about Indian music is that it has a good melody, even if you don’t understand the lyrics — the tone of it, the sound of it — there’s a catchiness to Indian music, that’s the feeling of it,” says Abhishek.
While ‘Bollywood Beats’ is catered towards the weekend party crowd, ‘Bollywood Border Crossings’ has an open format talk-back focus, also playing Hindi language based music and taking requests. The show is already gaining a strong following with callers phoning in from across Sydney’s Hindi language community, or simply those with an interest in Indian culture and music.
“Because Hindi language is spoken in so many countries, through Indian music you can cross borders,” explains Abhishek, discussing his motivations and hopes for the show.
“So I want to keep building this place on air where people who enjoy Indian music, and those who are missing their grassroots, will have a common platform where they can make a community, and be stronger in being together.”
Tune in to DJ Abhi on ‘Bollywood Beats’ Friday nights 10:00pm – 12:00am and on ‘BollywoodBorder Crossings’ Wednesday nights 6:00pm – 8:00pm.