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Voices of the City: YouTube diva Vidya Vox is busy in L.A. mixing Indian ragas, hip-hop and dance music

Vidya Vox, a mash-up singer of Western electronic dance music and Indian ragas, loaded her crew into cars and ventured into the desert with sun visors from a 99-cent store. The YouTube star was shooting a new video and had packed an array of talents and nationalities to spend two days kicking up dust in Joshua Tree and Palmdale.

Vox met her choreographer, Kavita Rao, an Indian American who lives in West Hollywood, on an earlier shoot. The dancers included a Vietnamese, two women from Delhi, two guys from California, and a hip-hop-jazz man from New York. Vox was as focused on her dance steps as she was her fashion, changing from cut-off shorts to Indian bubble pants and twirling amid women in folkloric dress, as if a bit of Bollywood had bloomed in the scrub-brush and sage.

“I love mixing Indian and Western,” said Vox, who for the video teamed up with Arjun, a Sri Lankan-born British singer with a large YouTube audience. “I thought if Coachella happened in Rajasthan [India] or Burning Man happened in Rajasthan how would we all look?”

Vox is at once an ancient heart and a modern confection, slipping between love, abandon and defiance in videos that move in swift rhythms and lyrics that weave English, Malayalam and Tamil. With hybrids that mix the likes of Taylor Swift with Indian composer A.R. Rahman, and a new EP of original music, Vox has tapped into an international vein with nearly 300 million YouTube views and over 3.5 million subscribers on her Vidya Vox channel.

Vox has discovered that YouTube celebrity has frustrations. She recently pulled eight videos from the channel after Indian publishing houses raised copyright issues and demanded what she described as exorbitant fees for using songs. Critics of YouTube in the music industry complain that mash-ups and covers of songs on the channel often do not protect copyrights or reward songwriters.

The channel can also unleash angry comments and emails when viewers don’t like a rendition of a favorite song. Vox admires Rahman, who composed music for the Academy Award-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire.” But her remix of his classic “Taal Se Taal Mila” drew ire. “People said, ‘how dare you do this.’ The reaction was so horrible,” said Vox. “And I was like this is a Bollywood song, please relax. It’s not a devotional or religious song. It’s a movie song talking about love. I didn’t violate anything sacred here.

“I coudn’t get out of bed for a day and a half. I was so depressed.”

Vox says she’s had offers to become an actress and enter the enormous bubble of Bollywood. “People say, ‘Oh, you gotta go to Bollywood and sing these movie songs.’ That for them is the epitome of achievement. You get a song with any of the composers there and you’ve made it.” But she worries about losing creative control and sacrificing an independent music career. “Maybe it’s a mistake,” she says, “but I’m not accepting acting offers.”

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