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‘Weirdo’ is the bold zine uplifting alternative South Asian voices in music and beyond

Naz Toorabally talks us through why she created a zine by and for all the South Asian punks, goths, metalheads and weirdos.

22 Jan 2022

Arhantika Rebello

Growing up as an obsessed fan of alternative music, I often attended shows and felt alone for the lack of acts on stage or fans in the crowd who looked like me. I first came across Weirdo zine in April 2020 while going down a rabbit hole looking for British South Asian punk artists online.

A copy of the Music Issue of Weirdo Zine, from 2021

Branded in bold red capital letters, Weirdo takes inspiration from the DIY radical scene, with its monochrome covers unafraid of standing out. The zine’s mission statement is documenting the experiences and perspectives of South Asian people in the alternative scene. It was refreshing to see a platform embracing the notion of enjoying something you love, even if it makes you different (not least for South Asians, whose more traditional family members might discourage anything seen as deviating from ‘normal’). It has finally helped me to feel at home within the music genres I’ve embraced.

Weirdo is an annual print zine which offers a space for unique artists to speak about their experiences in the scene and for readers to connect with global artists from their own community. From Ashrita Kumar, the American pop-punk lead singer of the band Pinkshift, to Riz Farooqi in Hong Kong-based act Unite Asia, this zine was one of the first spaces I saw a collective of South Asian game-changing artists and industry leaders come together. Weirdo is taking a creative stand to prove there’s a vocal, visible South Asian community ready to speak out about a genre and scene they love. 

“It was refreshing to see a platform embracing the notion of enjoying something you love, even if it makes you different”

As a self-funded project, Weirdo fights to put South Asian representation on the page. The UK listens to 60 billion hours of music a year, yet, to date, there are so few leading faces from the South Asian community being spotlighted for their efforts and contribution to music in this country – especially those who are working outside of the ‘expected’ genres for South Asians, such as Bhangra. In 2018, BAME women made up just 17.8% of the UK music industry, but with no specific stats pertaining to South Asians, it makes it even more difficult to see to what extent we are represented or how often we are given a seat at the table. 

For London-based artist Naz Toorabally, creator of Weirdo, the lack of representation ranging from festival line-ups to music events has been “quite disappointing”. Speaking to gal-dem, Naz breaks down why she started Weirdo, the importance of culturally specific platforms, and why wide-ranging South Asian representation is vital.

gal-dem: Weirdo zine has been running for nearly two years. How did the project come about?

Naz Toorabally: I started Weirdo in 2019 to address the lack of alternative South Asians. Having been interested in the alternative scene since I was a kid, I never saw people like me. With a lot of South Asian publications, the more alternative side of the South Asian experience is not represented. It’s such a niche thing, so I wanted to create something that represented me and other people like me. Weirdo’s first issue explored identity and community in British subculture. Issue two, the music issue, which came out in November [2021] was about finding South Asian people in the alternative scene who have been successful. I got to speak with Ian D’sa from Billy Talent, Shilpa Ray, Laila Khan from Sonic Boom Six and rising stars like Ashrita Kumar from Pinkshift.

As an independent publication, it can be difficult to create a following. Why do you think Weirdo has resonated with such a global audience? 

I think it’s the first time some people have seen South Asian musicians represented within this particular punk/goth/alternative scene in one little document. It’s just a fraction of the talent that’s out there. Something else that I realised when I was creating the zine is that so many musicians started getting in touch saying they were in a band, or [that they had] found new artists through Weirdo. The response has been really good. 

“So many South Asian people who are in this scene are doing incredible work that’s not necessarily being seen”

Zines have often been associated with grassroots causes. Why did you choose for Weirdo zine to be in print rather than online?

I’m aware that print is dying. Take NME, for example, which is no longer in print. It’s not going to be long before a lot of other publications follow suit. However, during this time, we’ve also seen more people publishing zines. I think it’s a way for marginalised voices to be heard in a different way. Obviously, it would be much easier for me to publish something on my website, which has a larger reach, but there’s something special about it being on paper. The first issue of Weirdo will eventually go onto the website for free, but I think it also draws more interest having it on paper as well. I’ve got my own copy that I’m going to keep forever. I hope that one day someone finds it as a really cool thing that someone made years ago. For me, it’s a tangible way of solidifying the community that exists.

Weirdo appeals directly to the South Asian community. Why do you think audience-specific outlets are necessary for today’s music audiences? 

I believe that culturally specific initiatives are needed. We’re not lumping everyone into the category ‘people of colour’ because that’s not how everyone always gets to be seen. We’re always focusing more on that South Asian perspective. The goal is to see more of our faces out there and more diverse representation. It’s going to be slow and it’ll be small wins here and there. So many South Asian people who are in this scene are doing incredible work that’s not necessarily being seen. It is not just some tick box exercise. I hope that Weirdo will then become a creative brand that people can come to and find people to work with.

Weirdo has had two issues exploring representation and progress in the alternative space, what do you have planned next?

I’ve thought more about the third issue because it was actually supposed to be the second issue. A lot of it was already planned for Weirdo. We have quite a global community with people reaching out from the UK, the US and people across South Asia as well. So, I’m hoping to have a Zoom meeting to find out what people think about Weirdo and to write up a manifesto for how we’re going to move forward, what we stand for and what we want to achieve. 

“The zine is called Weirdo because people in our families think we are weirdos. People within the wider mainstream community think that people in the alt scene are weirdos”

With a new issue on the way, what are the next steps for Weirdo zine?

Currently, we’re transitioning into being a collective and applying for funding. Weirdo is completely self-funded by me and any sales we make from the zines go back into paying for printing costs, the website, etc. But now it’s looking to how we can pay people to contribute to the zine and so it’s finding different ways of doing that. So there are a couple of different funding applications that are on my radar. Hopefully, we’ll have something for next year to help fund the third issue. 

Outside of Weirdo zine, how are you hoping to integrate greater South Asian representation in the alternative music scene? 

I’m looking for more industry change. Something a lot of collective groups are trying to address, in general, is how people of colour can be visible and feel safe in alternative spaces. For example, I attend a lot of gigs on the feminist punk scene in London. I’m usually one of the only brown people (or people of colour) in those groups. I want to see more of us feeling comfortable enough to attend gigs. I want to see more South Asian metalheads being championed by the South Asian community. My dad is the one who introduced me to bands like Metallica and Papa Roach. There are people within the community who are into this and some people keep it to themselves because they think that maybe it’s not going to be accepted by other people. The zine is called Weirdo because people in our families think we are weirdos. People within the wider mainstream community think that people in the alt scene are weirdos. It’s about making sure that we’re seeing a variety of South Asian visibility at this moment. 

You can buy ‘WEIRDO: The Music Issue’ here, and follow Weirdo on Instagram and Twitter.