Last week I wrote this song over the weekend, recorded it in my bedroom in a day, and mixed it on an airplane. It’s rough around the edges, but it felt important to get this out right now. 1,900 Palestinians have been killed in the last few weeks — something Israeli leaders call “self-defense.” This song reflects much of what I’ve been thinking and feeling of late. Please give it a listen, and feel free to share.
185 Palestinians have been killed and thousands left homeless in Israel’s latest military aggression in Gaza in the last week. It is a sobering situation to say the least. I wrote a piece for The Langar Hall a few days ago about my concern with the possibility of a Sikh-Israel alliance.
I know there are Sikhs who look at Israel as a source of inspiration, a successful model for Sikh nationalists who see no hopes for freedom or sovereignty in the state of India. I will leave the question of Sikh nationalism itself aside for now but must at least assert that following in Israel’s footsteps would likely be the worst thing that could happen to the Sikh quom today. One’s freedom cannot be based on the subjugation of another. Therein lies the heart of the contradiction of the state of Israel. To Israel, Palestinians are a demographic problem, not human beings. What philosophy could be farther from Sikhi? What could be more antithetical to the ideology and practice of sarbat da bhala?
You can read the full piece here.
Now more than ever, Gaza needs us. Palestine needs us. Attend a demonstration in your city. Reach out to your elected officials. Educate yourselves and others on the situation. This is not some historical “conflict” between two equal parties. This is a colonial occupation. This is ethnic cleansing. This is a human rights crisis. Below are some links where you can learn more about the situation and take action. Check out the video below for a useful and accessible intro to Israel/Palestine, and share with your friends and family.
We Sikhs are celebrating Vaisakhi this week, the 315th birthday of the Khalsa, a body of revolutionaries given the responsibility to tear down tyranny and oppression in all its forms. Hundreds of years ago, Sikhs had an intersectional analysis of oppression, recognizing that all forms of injustice were equally deplorable, whether based on caste, gender, economic class, or religion.
The last few days, I have been re-reading a bunch of feminist writing on the ways all forms of oppression are deeply interlocked in preparation for a workshop I am facilitating next weekend (If you or your organization/school are interested in anti-oppression or organizing trainings, get in touch!). I have long been inspired by women of color and Third World feminism and suddenly realized how related this all is to Vaisakhi — a moment when our ancestors formalized their commitment to Sikhi, to bridging the spiritual and political, to becoming freedom fighters, to initiating the Khalsa.
What follows is a passage from Marilyn Frye’s timeless 1983 essay, “Oppression,” which I find especially compelling when thinking about the necessity of understanding and challenging all forms of domination. This Vaisakhi, I am thinking about how these words connect to our collective struggles in the Sikh community and far beyond. Happy Vaisakhi, Happy Passover, Happy Spring!
The experience of oppressed people is that the living of one’s life is confined and shaped by forces and barriers which are not accidental or occasional and hence avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict or penalize motion in any direction. It is the experience of being caged in: all avenues, in every direction, are blocked or booby trapped.
Cages. Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would have trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon.
Thank you for all the support in 2013! It was a great year musically and otherwise, thanks to you. Looking forward to an exciting 2014. You can check out my first writing of the year about the Sikh response to India’s criminalization of homosexuality right here and the first show of the year this Friday in NYC – Red Baraat + the Dirty Dozen Brass Band! I’ll be recording a new (third!) studio album with Red Baraat in the next few months and touring from New Orleans to New Zealand in the spring. Hope to see you very soon!
From 2007 to 2012, I was followed around by a camera quite a bit — during shows I was playing, workshops I was facilitating, social events, protests, and more. I am one of five protagonists in a forthcoming documentary film called with WINGS and ROOTS. Set in New York City and Berlin, the film tells the stories of children of immigrants who challenge boundaries and reimagine belonging through their artwork and/or activism.
The filming for this exciting project is all done, and now the team is reaching out for support so post-production can be completed. Given the political climate of record deportations, growing Islamophobic backlash, and a real opportunity for immigration reform in US, the time for this film to be completed and distributed is now. We need your support to raise $23,000 in the next month. Check out the Kickstarter video below, and consider making a donation and spreading the word! Thanks!
It’s been an intense week in Boston and beyond. I wrote a piece for The Langar Hall and the Huffington Post last Monday after the tragic Boston Marathon bombing. You can read it in full here, and an excerpt is below.
As something as horrifying as this afternoon in Boston is literally unfolding, as we are worrying about loved ones who may be affected, we already have to worry about the consequences of backlash violence. We have to worry about the sensationalism in the media. We have to worry about being attacked because of the color of skins, the turbans or hijabs on our heads, the beards on our faces. I pray that people in the United States and beyond have learned something in the last 11 and a half years. I pray that the collective response to today will be drastically different from the knee-jerk racism that pervaded the days, weeks, months, and years after 9/11/01.
A few weeks back, I was asked to participate in a discussion on cultural appropriation in fashion on Al Jazeera English’s program, The Stream, after recent outrage — yet again — about appropriation at Urban Outfitters. You can watch the program right here.
2013 is off to a great start with the recent release of Red Baraat’s new album Shruggy Ji. Believe it or not (I don’t quite believe it yet), the album has been #1 on the Billboard World Music charts for the last week and also debuted at #1 on the itunes world music charts. We are overwhelmed by all the support and love. Thank you! You can pick up the album on itunes here or a physical CD here.
We’re in the midst of our album-releasing US tour right now, which is off to a great start. See all the dates here and a new live video from our show at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC last weekend. Thanks for the continued support, and see you soon!
It’s been quite a year of globe-trotting adventures with Red Baraat. I’m happy to have a little time back home in Brooklyn to regroup before we release our 2nd studio album Shruggy Ji in January (NPR recently premiered the title track to the album). We’ll be doing a bunch of touring to support the album around the US in the early spring. You can see all the confirmed dates here.
But before the year is over, we will be joining forces with our Brooklyn-based friends Antibalas for a hometown (and neighborhood in my case) show on December 14th. Get your tickets soon before they’re gone. This is going to be a memorable night!
First of all, Happy Birthday to Occupy Wall Street! Here is a clip of some members of Red Baraat playing at Liberty Square last year.
Touring season doesn’t seem to be slowing down this September with Red Baraat. We just returned from our our first tour of the UK, which was sponsored by the Asian Arts Agency. It was a memorable one. We even played in Trafalgar Square as a part of the London 2012 Festival and Paralympics. Lots more happening this fall, from Virginia and DC to California and back to Europe. Below is a show we did for BBC Radio 3 in London.
It’s been a tough week to say the least. Thanks to everyone who has expressed their support, solidarity, and love since last Sunday and to all those who have been contributing to the conversations, analysis, and interventions that are sorely needed in the US (and beyond) right now. As you may know, attacks on the Muslim community have been raging wild since Oak Creek. We have a lot of work to do. It’s overwhelming. I want to share a few of my own thoughts and reflections with you as well as some of my favorite writings since the tragedy:
Soul Searching for the Roots of White Supremacist Terror in the United States by me
Is the radical right wing on the rise in the US: Inside Story Americans
Discussion on Al Jazeera English with Vijay Prashad, Arsalan Iftikhar, and I, 8/8
When someone shoots our aunties and uncles
Interview on “Let’s Talk About It” radio with Subhash Kateel, Deepa Kumar and I (also check out Subhash’s piece Our Aunties and Uncles in this Culture of Violence)
Hate Crimes Always Have A Logic: On The Oak Creek Gurudwara Shootings by Harsha Walia
Michael Page Didn’t Choose the Wrong Address to Hit: Interview with Vijay Prashad
International Businss Times, 8/11
Why Oak Creek Isn’t Being Treated as a Tragedy for All Americans by Naunihal Singh
The New Yorker, 8/13
There’s a lot of great discussion happening within the Sikh community on The Langar Hall as well, a blog that I write for regularly, and so many other wonderful pieces being put out in the mainstream and independent media.
Making music feels more important (and necessary) than ever in times like these. Fortunately Red Baraat will be spreading the joy and love in a bunch of different places in the next month, starting this Friday in Mississauga, Ontario, then around the northeastern US, and our first tour of the UK in September. All the details on the shows page. Thanks for your ongoing support. See you soon.