Tarun Nayar’s career takes place on and off the stage. A founding member of the outfit Delhi 2 Dublin, co-founder (with Asad Khan) of the digital label Snakes x Ladders, and artist manager, in 2019 he became the Executive Director of 5XFest, after serving as its artistic director since 2016.

Once known as City of Bhangra, the Vancouver-based festival had successfully put traditional Punjabi music and culture on the map in Vancouver, but waning numbers and interest signaled that it was time for a change. 5XFest, a South Asian millennial festival inspired by the SXSW and Afropunk fests, officially launched in 2018.

Over his 15 years as a performer, tabla player Nayar – who’s trained in Indian classical music, and later developed a love for creating genre-less sounds in Delhi 2 Dublin, by fusing beats from all over the world – noticed an unmistakable absence in the faces to which he performed.

“So many [South Asian] kids grow up playing music, and music is so much a part of the culture,” says Nayar. “And yet at all of these festivals we were playing – largely in non-South Asian spaces, everything from Burning Man to some crazy festival in Bali – you just wouldn’t see any Indian people, either onstage or in the crowd. And I was like, there’s a disjoint here, especially in Canada.”

5XFest was created to address that disconnect. “Young South Asians have to decide whether to go to the wedding reception to listen to South Asian music, or to the club to listen to Drake,” says Nayar. “There’s no place where they can be the totality of themselves. We’re the only festival of our kind in North America, and possibly the world. I’ve gone to a lot of festivals in India and Asia, and we’re the only ones really championing this South Asian youth culture in a meaningful way, and actually connecting with young people.”

When not working from his home office, Nayar connects with the 5X Festival team. It’s a “super-tight” team of four, primarily young women, that expands to more than 100 (including volunteers, and skilled volunteers they call “special ops”) as the festival draws near, as well as the digital marketing team Skyrocket. The festival has also formed a team dedicated to 5X Press, a new initiative that fosters year-round engagement, reaching 10,000 subscribers weekly. “[It] talks about all the great and interesting things happening in the South Asian world, globally,” he says.

Nayar believes all these initiatives will help South Asian youths connect with their global family. ““There’s a bunch of really cool kids doing awesome stuff, and they’re not getting opportunities,” he says. “In my experience, by giving [them] those opportunities, it’s pretty mind-blowing what they can do.”

Tarun’s Tips to Prep for Success

Know what you want: “It helps when there are strong goals, a sound business sense, and realistic expectations. I provide advice and guidance for a lot of people, [but] the artist I decided to manage, Khanvict, is someone who has a track record of connecting with people. There’s not the initial three years of wondering if people will like what this guy does, because he’s been killing it in the South Asian world for years. He came to me with a specific goal: ‘I really want to do mainstream festivals and events.’ That’s a very defined problem, and we’ve been working really hard.”

Be Ready: “So many questions come to us. Kids hit us up by e-mail, like, ‘Yo, I want you to manage me.’ Alright, send us your links. And they don’t have any music up. They don’t have any social media presence. What do you want me to manage here?”

The right manager-artist fit matters: “There’s so much time invested into building someone’s career and taking them from one level to the next. It really has to be someone that I’m in love with as an artist, and person.”