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Ushka3

Always Foreign, Always Brown: Crown Heights-based activist DJ Ushka on growing up in Thailand, gentrification, global bass, and Edward Said

By Guest Contributor Rishi Nath, cross-posted from Open City Magazine

Crown Heights-based activist DJ Ushka. All images by Nabil Rahman.

[Editor's Note: This is Open City's second installment of "Lyrics To Go," a collaboration between writer Rishi Nath and multimedia journalist Nabil Rahman . The series features conversations with contemporary musicians whose life and work intersects both Asian-American communities and New York City neighborhoods. Click here for DJ Ushka's special mix for Open City readers.]

These days, DJ Ushka seems to be everywhere at once. She is all over Brooklyn, whether opening for Sundanese vocalist Alsarah in Stuyvesant Heights, deejaying and booking the monthly iBomba party in Williamsburg, or swooping in to save the AAWW PageTurner Festival party after a booked act canceled last minute. She also zig-zags the country, appearing at gigs in Boston, Philadelphia and Oakland. And that’s just weekends. During the day, she is a full-time staff member at the New York Immigration Coalition , where she handles communications and youth development.

Born Thanu Yakupitiyage, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Ushka grew up in Bangkok, Thailand. She attended college in western Massachusetts, where she was turned on to post-colonial theory. From her spacious, dimly lit living room in Crown Heights, she described how that experience, a decade ago, changed her.

“It was the first time that I really started to understand concepts such as Orientalism, through Edward Said,” she said. Her laptop, attached to speakers and headphones, was open and glowing on the coffee table in front of her as she spoke. A poster proclaiming “Stop Racial Profiling,” hung on the wall behind her.
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