Radio host, dancer and DJ, Arthi Nachiappan, speaks with Entertainment Editor Shenead Poroosotum on all things to do with her flourishing career in the music industry.
Dancer and DJ Arthi Nachiappan is a jack of all trades within the music universe. Blending her favourite genres that she enjoys dancing to within her DJ mixes, Nachiappan has gradually grown into a well-respected choreographer with a handful of celebrity collaborations under her belt, as well as being an admired DJ and host of the widely popular Rinse FM radio show.
Nachiappan was born in Chennai, India, and moved to Wales with her family when she was two years old. She relocated around the UK with her family to Newcastle and eventually to Nottingham, where she was raised.
From the time she could ride a bike at the age of 15, she found herself biking to attend her dance lessons, all down to her piqued interest in the world of dance from a young age. It was from dance classes that she eventually discovered the world of DJing.
"I helped choreograph a routine to a hip-hop track and a DJ called DJ Raz who was spinning the tunes showed me his software, and I thought it was really cool!"
She subsequently went on to learn at the London Sound Academy in 2014 and then went on to perform at a friend’s event, Formation, which was a DJ competition.
From playing to small crowds to then approaching radio hosts to submit guest mixes on their shows, her passion grew, which paved the way to starting up her own radio show on Rinse FM.
Formulating a selection of sounds that range between dancehall, reggaeton, afro beats, amapiano, afro-house and latin, Nachiappan enjoys playing the types of music she likes to dance to, as well as what she wants to hear in a club setting herself.
"I like to create moods when in play and I don’t always just play the latest tunes," says Nachiappan. "I love the idea of being able to curate a list of good music for someone to hear on a night out that they’ve paid for that’ll put them in a good mood."
Her steady growth landed her an opening set for musician and Rinse FM resident, Katy B at Manchester Pride Festival, which was her biggest crowd to date.
The world of DJing is a very inclusive pocket most of the time and Nachiappan, thankfully, has never felt isolated from being herself in these environments. But like with any woman in a male-dominated industry, DJing sometimes came with setbacks.
"Most of the time it’ll be people who aren’t even in the music industry who feel the need to quiz you on what you already know and about DJing. Everyone plays in their own way, and no one is perfect either," she says.
With pressures, in areas where she felt like she needed to perform perfectly, especially as a woman and an ethnic minority, she eventually broke through the stereotypes that she needed to be a perfectionist in any way. Nachiappan believes that just because she is someone of an ethnic minority, she doesn’t need to be an ambassador for her race or gender in any situation.
But the embrace of her Tamil culture was highlighted when she landed a spot in Beyoncé’s 'Brown Skin Girl' music video after dancing all through her teen years and for the duration of university. From being approached by choreographer Ivan Blackstock, whom she respected in the dance world, she had already decided that she wanted to work with him even though she didn’t know who it was for.
"I didn’t find out till on the day when I had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement and her name was on the top. It was a gruelling but amazing experience," she says. She still can’t fathom that it happened to her, as she mentions that at the time, she watched it around 20 times and cried.
The symbolic nature of the video was to highlight and celebrate all shades of brown skin, and for the group of female dancers to be dressed as regal debutantes. She also revealed that they also didn’t wear foundation and instead just glitter to extenuate their skin tones. As Beyoncé stands as her biggest achievement to date, it wasn’t her only famous encounter.
She also danced for Dave in his 'Professor X' music video as well as live for Nigerian artist Tiwa Savage, in the festival Afro Republic, in the video 'OUT OUT' with Charli XCX and Saweetie and more recently in 'SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY' by Amaarae and Kali Uchis.
Identity plays a part in everything, and there were moments when Nachiappan found herself relating to Indian culture that she didn’t really know for ease of living in Britain. "I’m from the South of India, but I speak Tamil and not Hindi. I’ve felt more of a connection with my Tamil side and Sri Lankan Tamils and our culture is so different, beautiful and not commonly understood."
Nachiappan thinks that it’s important not to umbrella all the cultures of India just because she looks Indian, as the clothes Tamils wear are different as well as the food they eat.
"I used to like being associated with India because of their Bollywood actresses as they all had lighter skin and I didn’t, I thought it would make me seem more desirable too," she says.
This is a problem that many darker-skinned South Asians face, as colourism that has been passed down from generation to generation still hasn’t gone away. She had been told countless times by her parents how she shouldn’t stay out in the sun for too long to avoid getting any darker.
However, Nachiappan was able to break away from the belief that darker skin was less beautiful than lighter skin tones. And musicians such as Beyoncé show us to embrace all shades of skin in media by presenting them on big platforms, which is a huge win.
"But it’s easy for representation to be used as a tool to give minorities easy wins," she ponders. "I think whilst representation is important, it’s sometimes just used for optics and not enough is being done behind the scenes such as improving disparities."
She pauses, "there have been a lot of times when I’ve been in situations where the performers are all people of colour and the whole crew is white."
Nevertheless, Nachiappan’s identity allows her to be part of a changing dance music scene, including events such as No ID and Dialled In that are created by South Asians for South Asians, giving a platform and safe space for them. And it’s important that they’re getting the opportunity and recognition to create and thrive.
After trying to perfect her DJing and sound by sending off her mixes to other DJs who would give her feedback, she realised that when most people listen to the radio, they’re usually doing something else and not recognising if there’s been a slip-up.
When it comes to dancing, she advises aspiring dancers to keep practising and network with as many people as possible in the industry and maybe one day, you might dance for Beyoncé too.
Nachiappan is essentially a stunning role model to South Asian people, who can look up to people like her for direction and inspiration. Coming from a generation where representation in media was limited, she’s become someone that she herself could have looked up to when she was younger.
What would she say to someone who might want to follow in her footsteps? Her answer is short and sweet: "Give up the idea that you have to be perfect."
Check out some BTS content from our photoshoot below!
This is from the Kindred. Identity issue, out now. Purchase the copy through the link here.