NEW YORK (AP) — Alok is one of the biggest DJs on the planet, but at just 32 years old, he’s learned that fortune and fame don’t equal happiness.
“I was 24. I was the No. 1 DJ in Brazil. I had financial success, popularity. And I was feeling a huge emptiness because I said if this is the meaning of life for me, life has no meaning,” said the Brazilian electronic dance music star who became the first South American to reach global mainstream fame.
Alok was battling another cycle of depression which he first experienced at age 10. After embarking on a quest to find meaning in his life, Alok visited the Amazon rainforest to connect with nature and met the Indigenous Yawanawa people. He then visited Africa with the humanitarian group Friends Without Borders, which was life changing.
Alok, who didn’t believe in God at the time, partly due to rampant global poverty, had an encounter with a blind, elderly woman so starved that she had tied a rope around her stomach area to feel less hungry.
“She told me that she was praying for God, for someone to go there and help her. And then I told her, ‘Listen, God, doesn’t exist’… And then her answer changed my life forever,” he said, recalling the woman telling him she prayed, heard God and knew He was present. “I had everything and I was complaining about it…from that moment on, I could not abandon (God) anymore.” After that, he began pursuing philanthropic endeavors and “started to fill up my heart with that emptiness.”
Celebrated as the world’s No. 4 DJ according to DJ Mag, Alok, who released his highly anticipated “Jungle” collaboration with The Chainsmokers and Mae Stephens in September, has made it a priority to make the world a better place while making it dance.
Known for collaborations and remixes with artists like John Legend, Dua Lipa and The Rolling Stones, Alok participated in the United Nations’ Climate Week festivities in September for the second consecutive year. Representing his nonprofit Alok Institute, he hosted the “The Future is Ancestral: Music, a secret technology of the Indigenous Peoples” panel which highlighted how music can help preserve indigenous culture, including traditional languages.
Recently, Brazilian Indigenous people cheered a Supreme Court’s decision to enshrine their land rights, as a lawsuit attempted to block an Indigenous group from expanding the size of its territorial claim.
“We always have the mindset that the Indigenous, they are savage and they have a less developed culture…what exists is different values and goals,” said Alok, who dropped “Car Keys” with Ava Max this summer. “They never had the opportunity to tell their own story, or is (generally) told by another, usually a white man.”
Alok, who is also involved in philanthropic programs in three African countries, has dedicated himself to making sure Brazilian Indigenous communities have a voice, and he’s working to literally amplify their voices with an upcoming album, called “The Future is Ancestral.” Due out next year, it will feature Indigenous musicians.
“I’m not releasing the album as Alok, I’m releasing the album as a producer because I feel that who has to be in front of it? …the Indigenous people. And it can’t be myself representing them — a white guy, “said Alok, who used the Yawanawa tribe to connect with other tribal musicians across Brazil. “We’re always talking about protecting the forest and stuff, but we’re so disconnected with the forest… a very good way to do it is listening to the indigenous songs.”
The “Hear Me Now” and “All By Myself” artist, which have each racked up nearly 700 million and 100 million Spotify streams respectively, headlined the biggest show of his career earlier this month at Rio de Janeiro’s historic Copacabana Palace Hotel which celebrated its 100-year anniversary. Resembling Times Square on New Year’s Eve, thousands partied on the beach for free, while millions more streamed online and watched on TV, .Fireworks danced in the sky as Alok spun records from the top of a giant futuristic pyramid.
But as he appears at international festivals, residences and recent U.S. performances, you won’t find the married, father of two complaining.
“(I am) very tired, but very happy as well because honestly, I’m doing what I love and I’m seeing so many things going on and all the dreams being materialized…(but) it seems I’m not sleeping for the last five months,” said Alok, who’s also been embroiled in copyright controversy. “It’s just more about how I can find the balance to be with my family and do all of this. But I’m very happy.”
Born in Goiânia, located in Brazil’s agricultural heartland, he’s the son of two influential underground psytrance DJs, Swarup and DJ Ekanta. Alok and his fraternal twin brother, Bhaskar who’s also a professional DJ and producer, learned how to spin records as children. Alok says his parents didn’t force them into the family business.
Despite being known in Latin America, Europe and China, he says making more headway in the U.S. is important because receiving the American seal of approval is still significant.
“U.S. brings a validation… we’re always taught that in our country what is best is what comes from outside America and Europe, and we are inferiors,” said Alok. “But that’s not true. But what’s true is that we just have to work a lot to cross the frontiers to be here.”
He points to Brazilians seeing themselves represented on American TV, highlighting Anitta winning the VMA for best Latin video two years in a row as a point of pride — not only for the country, but for himself.
“I still think there is so much things (to accomplish). And every time you think that you’re too big, you just don’t leave space anymore to grow. And I always feel that I’m just starting.”
Follow Associated Press journalist Gary Gerard Hamilton at @GaryGHamilton on all his social media platforms.