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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

DJ Radical Sister on spinning tracks as the first female DJ on the Daytimers scene

Rani Kaur, also known as DJ Radical Sister, has lived multiple lives, from being the first female DJ on the Daytimers scene to setting up the first refuge for South Asian women in Kirklees.

An advocate for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and a CLP delegate to the Local Campaign Forum at the Kirklees Labour Party branch, Rani Kaur has spent the last thirty years working in the volunteer charity sector, working previously as the operations manager at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Leeds. Last month, she also won the Community Pioneer of the Year award at the first British Sikh Awards organised by Oceanic Consulting.

Ms Kaur also goes by another name, DJ Radical Sister. In the late eighties and early nineties “daytime raves” exploded. Young South Asian men and women came together to dance before during the day, with some often bunking off school, college, or university before they sat down for their evening tea.

Ms Kaur is also commonly known by her stage name – DJ Radical Sister.

Daytime ravers, who went on to be called “Daytimers” danced to bhangra, garage, and Bollywood and hip-hop mashups.

These raves that saw the likes of Bally Jagpal and the Punjabi Hit Squad stream from the speakers were popular across the country, but none more so than in Bradford, which is often referred to as the “Daytimers epicentre.”

One of the most well-remembered DJs from this time is none other than DJ Radical Sister, who was the first female DJ to play at these gigs.

At just twenty years old, Ms Kaur spun bhangra tracks in places like Maestros whilst her peers danced around her, leaving a legacy for young South Asians today.

In the summer of 1987, Ms Kaur bought her first record – Bad by Michael Jackson, quickly followed by an album by Prince. It wasn’t until an opportune trip to Leicester, where she discovered a record shop owned by an Asian mum-and-son duo, Friends Electric, that she bought her first bhangra tunes.

“I must have spent £300 in one go at Friends Electric”, she said. The owner of the shop and the co-owner of Punjab2000, the late Tony Singh Pabla, went on to become one of Ms Kaur’s biggest champions.

It was shortly after this trip that Ms Kaur took to the decks herself playing tunes such as Munde Kanan Wich Mundran Pake by Alaap. She said: “The raves were a lot of Asian music and a lot of Asian kids just dancing and having a really enjoyable time.

“I used to have conversations with the DJs about which tracks to play. After I got my own records, I was invited to get involved. My involvement in the scene evolved, it wasn’t something that I decided I needed to do, it was just something that happened.

“I don’t think people batted an eyelid when I started DJing, I was already attending the raves, so people knew me there, it wasn’t a big deal. At the time, we were just getting on with it, it wasn’t seen as groundbreaking.”

The raves were a place where South Asian women could get together. Image: Tim Smith.

The raves were a place where South Asian women could spend time together, free from family pressure or expectations of how they should behave from the outside world. At the raves, they were themselves.

The DJ added: “At the time, a lot of women like me, were just trying to find a place for ourselves in the community that we lived in. We were Asian women who went to college, but we needed a safe space to leave our hair down.

“We were a bunch of girls who would go together. We used to go, have fun, and go home. We had a rule where we would go together, stay together, and leave together, and it is what we did. It was a safe place where we could be ourselves.

“For Asian kids, not just women, it was a safe space where you could hang out and just have fun.”

After gaining a reputation and following in West Yorkshire, DJ Radical Sister went on to playing gigs across the country, from the West Midlands to London, playing a set at an international music festival in Vienna, Austria.

Being proud of her heritage, not once has Ms Kaur played a gig in western clothes. She said: “I’m enormously proud of my heritage. It was a conscious decision not to play gigs wearing western clothes.

“Other people would leave their house in one outfit and change into another, I left the house in whatever I was going to wear on the decks, it was a take me as I am situation.”

Almost living two separate lives, it was around this time that Ms Kaur became a qualified youth community worker and founded Kirklees’ first refuge for women affected by domestic violence.

Ms Kaur was also responsible for setting up the first refuge for South Asian women in Kirklees.

She mentioned: “The refuge was set up in 1989 to support South Asian women impacted by domestic violence and it is still delivering services.

“I am no longer involved with the project, but I was chair for around three years. I still see women now that the organisation helped back then.”

Taken to hospital with relentless pain in her right eye, Ms Kaur was diagnosed with MS in 1990, a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation, or balance. The MS Society estimate there are over 130,000 people with MS in the UK, and that 7,000 people are newly diagnosed each year.

Ms Kaur has previously worked as the chair of Asian MS, a national group that offers tailored and culturally sensitive services for Asian people with MS, their careers, friends, and family.

In 2017, Ms Kaur Joined the MS Society Research Network Steering Group being involved in a wide range of things from supporting a researcher to develop their patient involvement strategy at the pre-application stage to attending a research network conference with clinicians and researchers.

Ms Kaur said: “My journey with MS has been quite a difficult one. I am on crutches, and I have a wheelchair. I continue to do other things and support others, which hasn’t at all changed.”

Talking about the impact Covid-19 has had on her, Ms Kaur added: “The pandemic was tough; I have been shielding since February 2020 and only seeing immediate family. I have been out about three times non-medical related, the rest of the time I have been at home.

“For me, during the pandemic, I supported people like me, with MS, who felt isolated. I also helped people get food parcels who needed it, as in one of my previous jobs I used to create food parcels for refugees and asylum seekers.”

For more information on MS or for help and support, visit www.mssociety.org.uk

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