How Immigrants and Refugees Use Music for Survival

 by Amina KhanFollow

Music plays a massive role for many immigrants and refugees in the past and present. The sheer power of it can resonate hope in times of survival. Artists showcase a sense of vulnerability when they write and sing songs about their own personal narrative. In doing so, they provide a safe haven for listeners who rely on music to survive traumatic situations.

African Americans

Singing was passed on from Africa to spread amongst slaves in America and these songs were often associated with spirituality. Slaves were not introduced to Christianity by their owners, but they would worship in small gatherings and mix Christian faith with religions from Africa. According to an article from the Library of Congress, after Nat Turner’s rebellion, in 1831, slave owners decided to convert slaves to Christianity, hiring white ministers to preach to them on such topics as obedience. This practice introduced slaves to white styles of hymns and psalm-singing that they then blended with their own styles of religious songs. The soul, pain, and suffering behind the lyrics is vividly represented in these songs. But many slave songs also held a coded meaning which gave descriptions on how to escape as shown in “Wade in the Water” which was coded and used by Harriet Tubman to tell slaves to get into the water and avoid being seen in order to escape.

1920 rendition of an old slave work song

Ed Lewis singing and recorded by Alan Lomax in the 1930’s.  This is a rendition of a slave song that was also used in the prison chain gangs.

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Indian Tribes

Many tribes in America were displaced but amongst the many, one of the tribes, the Seminoles, thrived a little while longer. However, as they too were soon displaced, a song was sung for the removal of the Seminoles.

 

Once children of European and American Indian heritage were produced, the children did not have a home in either of the parent’s cultures. In the 1820s, the Omaha negotiated with the United States government for a special reservation to be set aside for “half-breed” descendants of Europeans and the Iowa, Omaha, Oto, Santee Sioux and Yankton Sioux tribes. A song was sung by the “half-breeds” recorded by the 1983 Omaha Powwow.

 

The modern artist Cher also produced a song on being a half-breed as her father was a white man and her mother was of pure Cherokee descent.

[Read Related: The 9to5 Misfits Talk About Their Experience Immigrating to the U.S.]

Armenians

During World War I, Armenians were displaced and killed by Turkey as many were driven to the Syrian desert of Deir ez-Zor and left to die. The United States sympathized with these refugees and labeled the crisis as a “holocaust” whilst updating newspapers on the situation. According to an article from the Library of Congress, Sidney Robertson Cowell recorded Armenian songs in California in the 1930s, including the song “Deir ez-Zor Collerinde” about the deaths in the Syrian desert; “De le Yaman”, a traditional love song of longing that, since World War I, has taken the meaning of longing for the homeland; and “Andouni,” a song whose title translates as “homeless” that has come to be associated with the deportees and was arranged by the folksong collector and composer Komitas Vardapet.

“De le Yaman”

 

“Andouni”

[Read Related: 5 Real, not Alternative, Facts about Immigration]

Syrian Refugees

The Syrian crisis has forced 11 million Syrians to embody the role of a refugee.

A 17-year-old refugee created and listened to a Spotify playlist as she fled from Syria to Europe epitomizing her struggle during the crisis. The playlist consists of heavy metal music, something she has been listening to since she was 10, but the depth in the lyrics embodies the unimaginable pain she endured due to the ongoing war.

“Descent of Gods” – Aeternam

The first song in the playlist gives a glimpse of the history of the Nabateans. The Nabatean Empire has vague history, but according to a website on Nabatean history, the Nabatean empire stretched from modern-day Yemen to Damascus and from western Iraq into the Sinai Desert.

“Toxicity” – System Of A Down  

This song delves into an analysis of being caught in a dangerous situation and not knowing what to do as it also criticizes society and excessive drug use. Furthermore, the song implements points on ignorance and how purity can easily be blackened as people lust after wealth out of selfishness. The song also touches on corrupt leadership in countries.

“To Believe” – Trivium

The lyrics in this song make strong statements, beginning with:

as the innocent take the punishment and as the children died

These statements symbolize the horror of innocence being devoured due to the fatalities of war.

You cry ‘terrorist’
With a pounding fist
As your kind assists
Those who would end us

Yet, a lack of humanity is pronounced as people choose to direct their own fears by blaming the wrong people out of pure ignorance … *cough* Islamophobia *cough*.

Though these songs hold a deeper meaning through analysis, the Syrian refugee who created the playlist has a personal attachment to each one, where you can read here and listen to the playlist on Spotify here.

The songs the refugee chose to include in her playlist may seem too depressing to be analyzed as music that helps with survival. It clearly juxtaposes with the idea of survival and hope, something that is not evident in any of the songs listed. However, the rawness of her experience as a refugee is her way of connecting to darkness and finding familiarity in music that helps her personally relax as she fled from Syria to Greece.

Immigrants and refugees throughout the years who have been displaced while being forced out of the warmth of familiarity and submerged into the cold depths of the unknown have been driven towards music as it has been their savior and spark of hope. These songs help define their struggle as only they can relate to the darkness etched onto each and every word. The universal cultural significance of survival can be represented through music in ways that simple words cannot.

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Amina Khan currently lives in Dallas, TX but forever misses her home in Los Angeles. She hopes to become a successful journalist and is always working towards enriching her writing by blogging about her travels or her current favorite TV show/book. Her dream is to work for AJ+ and deliver raw and unfiltered stories that don’t make it to major news headlines. When she’s not attending college or wandering around in botanical gardens, she invests her time in creating oil paintings and occupies herself with learning how to perfect Arabic calligraphy art. She also has an obsession for sushi, baby goats, Marvel and old people. Feel free to check out her blog!

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

In Conversation with Karan Singh: CEO of the Sunburn Music Festival

Karan Singh Sunburn
Karan Singh Sunburn

From receiving his MBA from Harvard business school to being the CEO of Asia’s largest music festival brand Sunburn, Karan Singh combined his interests to push his passion for music! Singh received his bachelor’s degree in management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He worked as an investment banker for three years at Ambit Corporate Finance before working at Sunburn which is a part of his family’s business. Sunburn started providing the music festival experience starting in the year 2007. The first festival was in Candolim, Goa. The music festival brand has put on over 5,000 events over the past 15 years. In 2022 The Sunburn Festival will be in it’s 16th year. Continue reading to learn more about Karan Singh’s journey with the Sunburn music festival!

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What does the Sunburn brand offer and what made you have the festival in Goa as opposed to other parts of India?

We believe that Sunburn offers a really unique experience and is a melting pot of diverse people & cultures from not only across India but around the world. Goa is the ideal setting for this as there is something magical about Goa in the winter-time and truly enables us to tap into that global audience.

Safety at live events has always been a concern among concert goers. Considering recent, events more individuals have asked brands and artists to do more to ensure audience safety. What are you doing to ensure safety for live concerts?

Safety is a huge priority for us. We work with the best-in-class security agencies as well as closely with the police and requisite authorities. For anyone in the crowd a Sunburn safety officer will always be close by and easily visible. We also run an awareness drive on both social media and on ground.

What was the first Sunburn Festival like and what did you learn from this experience?

The first ever Sunburn Festival was in December 2007, and I had actually attended it as a fan, not part of the crew. However, it was absolutely eye-opening as the first proper music festival on Indian shores and opened up our minds to a world of possibilities.

As Sunburn houses so many electronic dance musicians who have been your favorites throughout the years?

It is difficult to pick from the list however the favorites for Sunburn, in no order and because of the amount of love they have shown Indian audiences, are Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hardwell and Armin van Buuren.

Do you plan to expand the festival to add other genres into the mix as well as more activities?

We have already expanded into different formats like Arena, Campus, Club, Reload and things like merchandize & academy. In terms of genres, we have been dabbling with genres like rap, hip-hop and pop, however our focus remains on electronic dance music.

What can someone expect from the festival as first-time goers?

Apart from a state-of-the-art production & line-up, one can expect a special experience, meeting interesting people from all over the world, and embarking on a creative journey of the theme for the year.

How does the festival help local musicians from Goa as well as the surrounding areas in India?

This year we had set up for the first time a special stage and village in the festival only for Goa which gave a platform to local Goan artists. But beyond that a huge focus for us has always been to showcase domestic home-grown talent and indeed 60-70% of the line-up each year is locally sourced.

[Read Related: Brown Boy Interview Series: In Conversation With KSHMR]

 

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A post shared by Martin Garrix (@martingarrix)

What was the experience like this year in 2022 and how is it different from previous years?

The biggest difference was that this was the first time the festival was back to its full scale since the pandemic hit after 3 long years. It was a fantastic release for everyone there. Our theme was “the future is now” and this was reflected across the festival experience and particularly in the main stage design – termed “Cyberpunk City” which received rave reviews from all.

[Read Related: Jai Wolf: First Bangladeshi Artist to Headline Red Rocks Amphitheatre]

What was it like having the legends Black Coffee and Afrojack this year as well as the DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike?

Afrojack and DVLM are both Sunburn & India veterans, it was amazing having them back crushing the main stage after very long. Black Coffee for us was something very new and exciting, to have a special artist and a unique sound like that close the main stage on day 2. However it was very well-received and took our experience to the next level.

As you have had the artist Avicii back in December 2011 how do you feel he revolutionized Electronic Dance Music?

Avicii is one of my all-time favorite artists and his show in December 2011 was actually my first one working on Sunburn so will always be extra special. There is no doubt that he revolutionized EDM by taking massive risks and introducing an entirely new sound which a lot of others then followed, but no one as well as he did.

How does it feel to be in charge of one of Asia’s biggest Electronic Dance Music Festivals?

It feels great, we have a very young but ambitious and hard-working team and our primary focus is to continue delivering the best possible experiences for our fans, artists and partners. India is such a vibrant and exciting market that I cannot help but be pumped about what the future holds.

Do you feel Electronic Dance Music is a misunderstood genre?

More so in a country like India possibly yes, where people who are not exposed to these experiences sometimes have preconceived notions about EDM festivals and the like. Oftentimes those people are also in a decision-making capacity and can directly affect the industry. However, things are certainly improving as the industry overall gets bigger and gets more acceptance.

What does music mean to you, Karan Singh?

Music provides a sound-track to life, it is something which is always there!

How do you choose to react when you receive negative comments about the Sunburn Festival?

Well, you have to be able to differentiate between those which are just trolling and those which are constructive or fair criticism. The latter is very important as it helps us to look at ourselves and continually improve, we are still a long way from where we eventually want to be.

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

I hope it allows us at Sunburn to reach a wider audience of the desi community around the world and hopefully get some more people to fly down to Goa for Sunburn Festival 2023 which I can promise you all will be the best one yet!

Artist Testimonials:

Dimitri Vegas Like Mike

We have had a long connection with India. The first time we played here was more than a decade ago. Going from clubs to being a regular feature at one of Asia’s biggest electronic music festivals which is now an institution in itself. It’s been an exciting evolution to see how Sunburn has grown over the years. The fans at Sunburn are some of the most insane and every show is a special one. We’ve always had an incredible experience at Sunburn.

DJ Snake

Honestly, the energy I feel when I am in India is one of the most amazing things. I would say the culture and energy is what keeps me coming back! India is like a second home to me, just like Sunburn. I feel so comfortable and welcomed here. I’m always excited about coming to India and playing at Sunburn, experiencing new cities, meeting more of the people, hearing more of the music, and seeing more of the country that has influenced me so much.

Afrojack

Sunburn has helped dance music artists world over to tour India and connect with their Indian fans and I’m always excited about performing at the festival.

Hardwell

I’ve a long history with the Sunburn team. They are a great team to work with and they also give the fans amazing experiences. As an artist, I want to be a part of providing fans with lifelong memories and so we all share the same vision.

Alan Walker

Sunburn is one of the pioneers of the dance music festival scene in India and has been instrumental in creating a truly world class platform that supports the dance music industry and all of its stakeholders. I’m always excited about touring India with Sunburn.

Photo Courtesy of DNH Media

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

Nancy Jay: Meet the Indo Caribbean Influencer Breaking the Mold

nancy jay
nancy jay

In an age where algorithms dictate viewership, Nancy Jay uses her love of dance to propel herself onto TikTok’s “for you” pages. Jay is an Indo Guyanese, Bronx native who began dancing at the age of three. As an influencer and content creator, she amassed a social media following of more than 500,000. Versed in many styles of dancing including Caribbean, Bollywood, urban and Latin, Jay can be spotted in soca music videos such as Linky First’s “Rock and Come in” and “Jeune Femme,” Adrian Dutchin’s “Roll” and by soca king Machel Montano’s “Mami Lo Tiene.”

nancy jay
Photo courtesy of Nancy Jay

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Many content creators are typecast into the niche but Jay has defied this norm and proclaims she is more than just a dancer.

“I dance, travel, post lifestyle and beauty content. I’m an Indo Caribbean woman who enjoys being myself and promoting my culture. I like showing viewers it is okay to be who they are and embrace what they look like, despite what they see on social media. I did not plan on being a TikToker. As I started posting videos, the love and support I received from viewers was amazing. I have never experienced anything like that before on Instagram, where I started my content journey,” Jay said.

In conversation with Jay, the following answers have been condensed for concision and clarity. 

Why is it important for you to create content related to your Indo Caribbean roots?

Growing up, I never felt represented as an Indo Caribbean on television, in movies, social media or anywhere else. My goal as a content creator is to promote the Indo Caribbean culture through my content and be the representation the Indo Caribbean community needs.

Are there unspoken rules about being a content creator or an Indo Caribbean woman on the platform?

Being an Indo Caribbean woman on TikTok can be challenging when you are trying to find your identity and do not feel represented. 

Jay explains her frustration with the lack of Caribbean representation and acknowledgment from platforms, as well as her goals as a content creator in this video.

@iamnancyjay Anyone else feel this way? Or understand what I’m saying? R E P R E S E N T A T I O N ?? original sound – iamnancyjay

Do you ever experience a block, similar to writer’s block, when it comes to creating content? How do you overcome that?

I have yet to experience a block. However, I do have days where I want to take a break and just relax instead of filming. As a content creator, it is important to take breaks and schedule days to just relax because being a full-time content creator is a 24/7 business. It can be draining and you may lose your sense of reality when you have the mindset that everything is content. I enjoy taking a day or half a day to cook, watch TV or go shopping with my partner without the worry of filming any of it.

How has your social media presence changed your daily life?

When I am in public, supporters approach me to express their love for my content and sometimes ask for a selfie. When I find people staring at me in public now, it’s most likely because they recognize me from social media and not because I look funny.

In May of 2021, I used my platform to reach out to brands and ask for their support in a project I named ‘Nancy Jay Gives Back.’ I put together care packages, using products donated by brands, and drove around the Bronx sharing them with people experiencing homelessness or those in need. Seeing the happiness on their faces upon receiving these bags was priceless. Additionally, I spread some extra joy through dance. I remember one lady telling me she’d never been to a club or party so I told her I’ve brought the party to her and we danced to her favorite genre of music right there on the street.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Nancy Jay (@iamnancyjay)

Jay plans on continuing this project as her social media presence has grown. 

How has your family reacted to your social presence?

My family has always been supportive of my talents and the path I have chosen. My first public dance performance was at the age of 12. I performed a fusion of Bollywood and chutney music at middle school events. When I got to high school, I participated in our talent show to a fusion of Bollywood, chutney, soca and top 40. I won the talent show three or four times. I also performed for fundraisers organized by mandirs in Queens, the Bronx, weddings, sweet sixteens and other social events. 

My family always came out to support me. They love seeing my content and always encourage me to film and create. My mom in particular tells everyone about my TikTok videos.

While enrolled at John Jay College, Jay founded the first West Indian student organization called “West Indies Massive.” She captained the dance team, taught dance classes and won the talent show multiple times while pursuing her Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice with a minor in law and police studies.

Any advice for creators who may not have the support of family?

Do not let this discourage you. If content creation is something you truly want to do, stay consistent and eventually your family will support you for doing what you love. Social media is still new to some and the idea of it being someone’s career or business is new as well. I say be patient. Also, talk to them about your social media goals, as perhaps they do not understand the full picture.

What is your dream partnership and why?

My dream partnership would involve acting. I’ve always wanted to be an actress, preferably a Bollywood actress because I know I would kill those dance numbers (haha!). Also, I would love to partner with Sandals Resorts and bring that Caribbean flavor they should be promoting.

Jay has collaborated with major brands like Samsung Mobile, Norwegian Cruise Line, AC Hotels, Disney Music Group, and Dunkin which is paramount for the Indo Caribbean community.

“I am the first Indo Caribbean woman to work with Norwegian Cruise Line as a content creator. Cruise travel is a huge part of my content journey. I love cruising and creating unique experiences and content. While cruising, I connected with the crew while most people typically do not. I treat everyone with respect,” Jay said 

@iamnancyjay It’s not a cruise unless I dance with the Norwegian Prima crew ??? Drip Too Hard (1er Gaou Mix) – Thejokestation0 • Following

“I started a fun series called ‘Cruise Dances with the Crew’ back in August of 2021. There’s a playlist on TikTok with all of the fun dances. Prior to my first video, I had not seen anyone dancing on cruise ships with the crew. I guess you could say I started that trend.”

Nancy intertwined this partnership with her content and further put herself on the map.

Another pivotal partnership for Jay occurred in March 2021 when Dunkin chose her as one of 10 from a nationwide competition to feature her signature drink on the local menu.

@iamnancyjay I love ordering “The Nancy Jay” @dunkin ?? #dunkin #coffee #icedcoffee #dunkinmenucontest #thenancyjay #BiggerIsBetter #EnvisionGreatness #viral #bx ? original sound – iamnancyjay

How has content creation changed in the past two years?

Within the past two years, my content and style has grown tremendously. My gear list has also grown tremendously. I’ve been a content creator full time for a little over a year now. I have had more time to focus on the presentation and editing of my content.

What else do you want your viewers to not know about you or your work?

I stay true to who I am. Supporters who I’ve met in person can attest that I am the same, in-person and online. I like to keep things relatable, fun and authentic. I am working with a lot of big brands. I try to incorporate dance in all my content to capture my passion, diversity and culture.

I started teaching Caribbean Dance Fitness classes and private dance lessons officially in 2016. Since Covid, I moved everything online. Not only have I helped many learn how to dance but I have also helped build their confidence through dance and expression.

Lastly, I love traveling and encouraging others to live their best life.

Jay is more than a dancer; she is unapologetically herself. She maximizes opportunities and is building a brand that highlights her Indo Caribbean roots – a culture often not highlighted in mainstream media. 

You can stay updated on Jay and the community she’s created by following her on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.

Featured image courtesy: Nancy Jay

By Ashley Ramcharan

Ashley Ramcharan is Indo-Guyanese and the assistant editor for the Indo-Caribbean team here at Brown Girl Magazine. She developed a … Read more ›

The Poetry Film Breaking Genres and National Borders

“After so Long” is a poetry film created for Simha’s EP, which is streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. The poem was collaboratively written by Simha, a U.S. native, and Jae, who is based in India, during the 2020 lockdown. “After so Long” was recited by Simha and their parents. In 2022, I directed and produced the film through my studio, Star Hopper. “After so Long” premiered on Nowness Asia in March 2022.

This film is a worldwide collaboration among trans and queer south-Asian artists from the United States, India and Canada. It was recorded, shot and filmed during the lockdown of 2020 and 2021.

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After So Long (English Translation)

Jae:
Awake at 10 am but out of bed at noon,
I want to be here where I lose myself in these sheets
Glancing through half-shut eyes
At the gold pressing past my window
The glimmer remarks on the ledge of my bed
But the voices are so loud
Like dust collecting in the corner of my room
I am unaware to why I’m still here
With the chilling doubt of the breeze…
I’m swept into lucidity After so long

Dad:
Mil rahi hoon mein aaj iske saang barso baad,
(Today, I’ll be meeting them after so long)
Koi paata nahi diya tune
(But with no destination sight,)
Kya karu?
(What should I do?)
Kaha jau?
(Where should I go?)
Shayad agar mein chalne lagoon,
(Perhaps, if I keep walking)
Inn yaadon ki safar mein
(Down this road of memories)
Mujhe samajh mein ayega,
(I will find out)
Yeh rasta kahaan jayega,
(Where this road leads)
Inn aari tedhi pakadandiyon pe baarte hi jaana hai,
(Through the twists and turns of this winding roads, I must keep going on)
Mujhe mil na hain aaj uske saath,
(I wish to meet them today)
Barso baad.
(After so long)

Simha:
I feel like I’m retracing my footsteps
From these concrete stretches
To broken cement walls
Chips and cracks forge their way for new designs
I see the old abandoned buildings
That once held the warmth of bodies
Now just hold memories
Supporting the nature’s resilience
In vines and moss
After so long

Mom:
Dhoondli shishe mein jaaga leli hai
(These isty mirrors have offered refuge)
Bikhri hui laatao ne,
(To these scattered vines)
Zameen pe uchi ghaas pe
(Amidst the tall grass stretching from the ground)
Lehrati kamsan kaliyaa
(The swaying little buds)
Bheeni bheeni khushboo bikhereti
(Spreading honeysuckle scent through the air)
Phir wahi mausam,
(I lose myself in reminiscing, the same season)
Wahi dil,
(The same heart)
Baarso baad.
(After so long)
Phir bhi mein chal rahi hoon aaj
(Still, I keep carrying on today)
Khudko khudse milane ke liye
(In the pursuit of my higher self)
Inn galiyo se guzarna hain aaj
(I must pass through these streets today)
Chaalte chaale jaana hai aaj
(I must keep going on today)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor paar
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor pe
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)

[Read Related: How to Follow Your Heart, Even When it’s Hard]

Credits

Poem by Simha & Jae
Produced by Star Hopper Studios
Directed by Varsha Panikar
Cinematography and grading by Tanmay Chowdhary
Editing by Asawari Jagushte
Featuring Vaishakh Sudhakaran
Music Production by Simha
Hindi editing by Rama Garimella
Recited by Simha, Rama Garimella, Annaji Garimella
English Translation by Nhylar


The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Varsha Panikar

Varsha Panikar (they/he) is a filmmaker, writer and multi-disciplinary artist from India. They are the co-founder of Star Hopper, a … Read more ›