Satyal Puts a Comedic Spin on 60 years of American Pop Music

Raj Satyal performed his comedy routine during the Houston stop on his 17-city Taking a Stand tour. Satyal was accompanied by singer/songwriter Taylor Anderson.

Rajiv Satyal performed his comedy routine during the Houston stop on his 17-city Taking a Stand tour. Satyal was accompanied by singer/songwriter Taylor Alexander.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: From the moment he jumped on the stage, he was wired and in his groove, talking a mile a minute, every sentence containing a burst of humor that made the audience break out in a laugh. Thin, in a light blue suit with matching thin tie, his eyebrows thick and dense, Rajiv Satyal even poked fun of his clean shaven head, exclaiming that he and India House Executive Director Vipin Kumar even went to the same barber!

That was just the beginning of Satyal’s 90-minute rapid-fire monologue as he sped through an anthology of American pop music from the 50’s onward, assisted in the race by Taylor Alexander, a young singer and songwriter who played riffs of popular songs from the past six decades. Even though he had gone through this in 13 other shows across the country, he still made it look fresh and relevant.



The program was organized by Meera Kapur (center) who posed with Sewa International’s Houston Chapter President Gitesh Desai and Hindu American Foundation Board Member Rishi Bhutada (right).

The two have known each other for 7 years ever since Satyal, now 41, worked with Alexander’s dad at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Now we both live in Los Angeles and we explored this idea I had,” explained Satyal, “about mixing music and comedy together.” Out of the collaboration came the Taking a Stand tour that the two have taken to 14 cities so far, Houston being the 14th, and will end with 3 more cities on the west coast. “This show is all about music and comedy,” he jested, “and which desi can resist that, two for one!”

And fittingly for these trying times the Bayou City has endured, the show was co-sponsored by the Houston Chapter of Sewa International with half the proceeds from ticket and drink sales going towards the group’s Harvey Relief Fund. Sewa volunteer Meera Kapur and her husband Umesh helped organize the program which brought out about 100 people on the evening of Friday, September 15 at India House. The audience was a mix of older Indians who crammed into the first three rows and a larger group of Indian Next Genners who brought along a few of their mainstream friends. It was Old-New Desi goes improve at the improbable nightclub called India House!

Aspiring singer Shreya Kaul was the lead in for Rajiv Satyal’s Houston show

Aspiring singer Shreya Kaul was the lead in for Rajiv Satyal’s Houston show

Given the emphasis of the show on music, a young and aspiring Indian singer, 20 year-old Shreya Kaul, opened up the evening with two songs that she sang with passion and a voice which was loud and confident. “My parents allowed me to take a year off from studying biology to pursue my dream of becoming a singer,” said a vivacious Kaul, who is releasing her first CD Skin this coming weekend at The House of Blues. She performed the original Energy, with a heavy R&B influence tied to an ending Indian riff and then Beyonce’s Halo which really expanded her range.

Satyal is no stranger to Houston, having performed here several times, as recently as this past May for the Save A Mother Gala (where Kaul also performed) and is well known by many in the community. He proudly proclaims that his wife Harsha Mistry is from La Grange, just west of Houston and has a special spot for Texas. “It’s great to leave America and come to Texas,” he quipped.

“American music is either black or white,” Satyal shot off. “Taylor brought the blues, and I brought the browns!” He added that music has always been controversial between generations, acting out an imaginative skit from the 1750’s when Bach could have been considered conformist only to be beat out by radical Mozart compositions. Then Satyal fast forwarded it, asking the audience, by their applause, to show which era of American pop music they identified with and most went for the 80s ad 90s. Alexander played a little Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and two medleys before the Thriller soundtrack blew out of the laptop.

“The greatest star of the 80s was Michael Jackson,” Satyal said as he recalled when he first heard Thriller. He poked gentle fun at his Indian immigrant parents unsuspecting the hidden meaning in lyrics. “Michael Jackson was famous all his life from 5 to 50,” he quipped, adding “black people die of drugs, but white people die of painkillers” citing that as an example of racist dialogue even as it elicited “ooh’s” from the audience. Satyal ran through the 90s and the 2000’s, and the era of boy bands, grunge, hip-hop and rap, and was visibly comfortable with these genres that formed a central part of his adulthood, pausing to dance, strut and even sing some of the lyrics. He snapped his hand high and hopped like a performance artist as Alexander played a little Snoop Dog, Kayne West, Jay Z, Hammer, Dr. Dre, Puff Daddy and explained how black music has now taken over.

At that point of total recall and familiarity with the American pop music scene, there was no separation between Satyal’s experience as a child of immigrant Indian parents who grew up most of his life in the US, and that of the average American kid. In that moment, the Next Genner desis in the audience related to him and you could see the mixed-race, mixed-culture tomorrow of America evolving. And he ended the show with a snub to Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan by holding a cheeky, naughty placard over his head with a similar refrain. But it would ruin it for others to reveal exactly what!