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Music label aims to put pop in India

Desi Hits targets listeners at home and abroad

In India, most pop music comes from the West. But Desi Hits, launched five years ago by Anjula Acharia-Bath and backed by Jimmy Iovine, wants to change that.

With more than a billion people in India — many under 30 — and millions more among the Indian diaspora overseas, the music shingle feels it has a built-in audience, not only locally, but in the West as well, for its plan to develop Indian pop acts that can have global success.

Desi (a Hindi word meaning native), acts as a consultant to Western acts wanting to tour India, even as it plans the crossover careers of local stars. It brought Lady Gaga to Mumbai and other cities (“Gaga was very passionate about India,” Acharia-Bath says) and is promoting Bollywood thesp Priyanka Chopra’s singing career abroad.

Chopra has a global recording deal with Universal Music Group under the Desi Hits Universal label, with the aim to release a single “hopefully by summer,” Chopra says, though she adds that timing is flexible.

The company has also released a Pussycat Dolls remix of A.R. Rahman’s “Jai ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” and arranged for Bollywood composer Sonu Nigam to collaborate with Britney Spears on a remix of “I Wanna Go” as well as on a U.S. tour together.

“Desi Hits grew out of my love for Western music, pop and Bollywood,” Acharia-Bath says. “When we started, no one would talk to us, not even desis.”

But Interscope’s Iovine, a strategic investor, says he signed on the minute he met Acharia-Bath and heard her pitch. “She told me what her idea was,” Iovine says. “I thought it was an incredibly creative platform and one that doesn’t exist.”

Emanuel Nunez, who as a CAA agent helped arrange the DreamWorks-Reliance deal, acts as adviser to Desi Hits, “a friend of the court,” as he describes himself. Nunez sees great potential for Westerners to make money in the Indian market, and says that when everyone was flocking to China, he decided to check out one of the other emerging nations with a hot economy.

“Every time I went to India, I heard of Desi Hits and Anjula,” Nunez says. “We became friends and started working together, complementary, overlapping in entertainment. I’m film and film driven, she’s music.”

Pointing to such stars as “Slumdog’s” Anil Kapoor, who went from a recurring role on the last season of “24” to “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” Nunez says Indian talent has the ability to cross over, and adds that the challenge is to present that talent to the West in the most effective package.

Film music is pervasive on the Subcontinent, so the best route for developing crossover success is via Bollywood.

Leaving no stone unturned, Desi Hits has a presence online, mobile and on TV via pacts with such nets as UTV in India.

“We’ve got to crack the code musically,” Iovine says, “which we are beginning to do.”

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