A remarkable exhibition recently opened at the Manchester Museum, spotlighting one of the most extensive collections of South Asian music on vinyl in the United Kingdom.
The exhibit, titled “Request Line” and crafted by artist Faisal Hussain, was inaugurated on the evening of July 19th within the South Asia Gallery of the museum. This exhibition is a key component of True Form Projects’ vinyl archive initiative. The exhibition is open from 19 Jul 2023 -17 Aug 2023 and was free to attend.
The vast compilation, comprising a staggering 3000 records, was salvaged by the archive back in 2017. The preservation effort was initiated when the Oriental Star Agencies record store owned by Mohammed Ayub in Birmingham faced closure. Notably, during the 1980s, a considerable portion of these records resonated on the airwaves of BBC Radio West Midlands, under the stewardship of Mohammed Ayub, Anita Bhalla, and Farah Durrani during the broadcast of the celebrated ‘East in West’ radio program.
Mohammed Ayub can be credited as the pioneer behind introducing Punjabi and Qawwali music on record for the first time in the UK. It was through the Bhujhangy Group that Muhammad Ayub and his OSA team realised the dire need for a credible recording label that catered specifically for Asian artists:
Describing the event, it was elucidated, “The record store, and subsequently, the label, emerged as a profoundly influential and pivotal facet of South Asian history and diaspora, both within the UK and across the globe.”
“Anticipating the store’s unfortunate closure in 2017, True Form Projects assumed the responsibility of safeguarding a substantial portion of the record collection, alongside various associated artifacts, with the objective of preserving them for the benefit of future generations. Over the course of a comprehensive three-year undertaking, they meticulously archived more than 3000 records and related artifacts, concurrently collecting reminiscences linked to the music and culture encapsulated within these invaluable records.”
Marking a highlight of South Asian Heritage Month, this installation not only showcased a curated assortment of the records but also exhibited their original vinyl covers. Moreover, it unveiled handwritten song requests, solicited during the 1980s, offering an intimate glimpse into Birmingham’s South Asian community during that epoch.
Complementing this display were an array of videos, animations, scarce memorabilia, and designated listening stations. The entire experience was further enriched through interactive discussions and DJ sessions facilitated by artist Faisal Hussain, along with performances by DJ Rizmi and Chandé.
The brainchild of 2012, True Form Projects emerged as a social enterprise with a distinct focus on amassing oral histories, artifacts, and personal narratives that revolve around the vibrant South Asian diaspora communities within the United Kingdom.
Originating from Balsall Heath, Birmingham, Oriental Star Agencies emerged as a prominent British record label. It introduced a diverse array of artists into the limelight, including notable figures like Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Malkit Singh, Alam Lohar, Amjad Sabri, and Bally Sagoo. The label’s inception can be traced back to a pivotal moment in 1969 when Muhammad Ayub, spurred by members of two local bhangra bands – Bhujhangy Group and Anari Sangeet Party – embarked on recording their performances. The success that followed these initial recordings spurred him to establish the label, marking its formal foundation in 1970.
The driving forces behind this endeavor were Muhammad Ayub, Abdul Ghani, and his son Dr. Abdul Mohsin Mian. Muhammad Ayub had a previous association with a record store alongside Abdul Ghani, involving the importation of Indian and Pakistani music into the United Kingdom. The label’s roots were firmly planted in Balsall Heath, where Muhammad Ayub established its headquarters. Over time, Oriental Star Agencies ascended to become a pivotal force in the Desi music domain. Its endeavors encompassed the importation, promotion, and production of music originating from the Indian subcontinent, while also nurturing emerging talents within the young Desi diaspora.
A testament to its lasting impact, Oriental Star Agencies maintained its operational base in Balsall Heath until the year 2017, making an indelible mark on the musical landscape.