Energetic crowd for Indian superstar shows Winnipeg becoming a destination for South Asian talent: promoters

The growth of Winnipeg's South Asian community was on display Friday night, when 2,500 people packed the RBC Convention Centre. Now, more than ever, the city is etching its place alongside bigger Canadian cities as a destination for South Asian musicians.

Growth in community encouraged promoters to bring Falguni Pathak, who draws thousands in India, to Winnipeg

Indian pop icon Falguni Pathak sings her soulful ballads to a crowd of 2,500 in her first performance in Winnipeg on Friday night. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

The growth of Winnipeg's South Asian community was on display Friday night, when 2,500 people packed the RBC Convention Centre for a concert by a woman one attendee says has the star power in India of a performer like Taylor Swift.

Thousands of fans who turned out to see Indian pop icon Falguni Pathak sang at the top of their voices and danced, many dressed in traditional Indian clothing to celebrate the Hindu festival of Navaratri.

And it's a sign, promoters and fans say, that the city is etching its place alongside bigger Canadian cities as a destination for South Asian musicians.

"The amount of people has grown at these events a lot," said Rinal Chaudhari, who has called Winnipeg home for five years.

"For her to come here, it means she would be looking at a huge crowd … for sure the community has grown from hundreds to thousands."

Pathak rose to prominence in the late '90s, when several of her songs were used in Bollywood films. Now, more than 20 years later, she still regularly sells out shows in India, with crowds in the tens of thousands.

Rimal Chaudhari says as the South Asian community in Winnipeg grows, attendance at events featuring South Asian performers is also growing. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

When Chaudhari left India for Winnipeg, she never imagined that she'd have the opportunity to take in a performance by a massive Indian star like Pathak in her new hometown.

Seeing her live, she said, is "as special as knowing that Taylor Swift is coming to Winnipeg — it's something like that."

Even Pathak, who is set to perform in Toronto this weekend, was surprised to know there was such a strong desire to see her in Winnipeg.

"I've been to Canada before, almost 10 years ago, but never to Winnipeg — this is a first. We're excited to be in a new city," Pathak told CBC News, speaking in Hindi (and translated by a Hindi-speaking CBC reporter).

A fan enjoys the concert just a few feet away from Indian superstar Falguni Pathak. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Pathak believes that Canada has allowed for diverse cultures to retain their roots, while at the same time be accepted by the majority of Canadians.

When she took the stage, she admitted she was shocked to see the crowd's reaction.

"I think there is Indian culture that is lively here already, but if you start to bring in talent from back home, people — especially young kids — will have a chance to connect with their roots," she said.

Pathak serenades the crowd at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

The excitement of the evening was summed up in the crowd's dancing, which carried on for hours. Pathak, who is known as the "Dandiya Queen" — "dandiya" translating to "dance of the sticks" — rocked the room for hours. 

A community gathering: promoter

Normally, someone of Pathak's stature — and her performing fee — might scare off promoters in smaller cities, for fear of not being able to draw the crowds needed to break even. But event promoter Shivani Entertainment is trying to change the narrative.

"You'll see these singers coming to Vancouver and Toronto, but this time it's Winnipeg. So, we're trying to build more cultural events and get Winnipeg known for what it is, the diversity we have is incredible," said Shivani Patel, the namesake and spokesperson for Shivani Entertainment. 

Shivani Patel and her father, Kalpesh Patel, were the promoters behind the Falguni Pathak concert. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

The Patels are well established in the Prairie region, with over a dozen grocery stores, butcher shops and other small businesses operating in the area.

With that success behind him, Shivani Entertainment founder Kalpesh Patel — Shivani Patel's father — wanted to put on an event that could make Winnipeg a destination for future events, regardless of the bottom line.

There were tense moments, admitted Shivani Patel, but when the event sold 100 tickets in two hours, it reminded her that ties to culture will always remain strong.

"When they're coming out and supporting us just because it gathers together the whole community, we all … enjoy this event," she said. "We all want an opportunity to be together."

Buzz about Winnipeg in India

One of the first times a major South Asian star came to Winnipeg was last year, when rapper Sidhu Moose Wala performed at the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre. Promoters originally expected 600 people, but had to increase the capacity to 1,400 because of the demand for tickets.

With two decades of Pathak's star power being able to draw a larger crowd, Shivani Patel says there is buzz growing in India about Winnipeg.

"People now know my dad and they're messaging him, talking to him about booking shows — there is interest growing in the market," she said.

Fans got in on the traditional dancing during as Pathak performed. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Chaudhari thinks filling venues shouldn't be too much of a challenge, as the city has became more desirable for South Asians due to an already established community. While in years past, she found people would look at the city more as a temporary stop before taking off to a bigger city, more and more are now making the decision to stay, she said.

"Winnipeg is booming, the number of [immigrant] communities that are coming here — look at the variety of cuisines you can have here," she said. "There is so much growth."

Open to everyone

A love for music is deeply ingrained in South Asian culture, and whether they involve qawwali (a style of Muslim devotional music) or kirtans (Sikh devotional songs), South Asian musical events serve as a place for people to come together regardless of denominations, to dance and sing with one another.

"It really advertises the diversity that we have," said Shivani Patel. "Every single year, you'll notice new faces at community events, so it's nice to have one big group setting like this."

Fans look toward the stage where Pathak sang. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

While the majority of the attendees at Friday's Pathak concert were South Asian, Patel believes music is an art form which can bring people together.

"Being a minority, we want non-South Asians to come, because this brings everyone together.… It's a win-win for all cultures."

Concert attendees broke into traditional dancing as Pathak performed. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Peering across the room from the stage, Pathak said she saw more than just South Asians. She says if the investment is made in the entertainment scene, it will showcase the beauty of the South Asian culture to other Winnipeggers.

"They will come — they will," she said. "This is just the first year where people will be watching us perform, but anywhere I've performed abroad, it's not only Gujaratis and other South Asians. The locals come, too."

Future plans

The Patels don't intend for Friday's concert to be a one-off. They're looking at bringing in more Indian entertainers to Winnipeg in the upcoming years.

"We're planning next year already. We've talked to some Bollywood stars, like Kapil Sharma or Neha Kakkar, so we'll see who we start getting," said Shivani Patel.

The fact more stars could be on their to Winnipeg is music to the ears of fans like Chaudhari — who hopes Pathak might even make a return.

"I'm looking forward to it, that she might come back … here and like it," she said.

"Winnipeg is becoming a global hub."


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