Vaisakhi Intersectional Inspiration

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.

Happy 2014!

Red Baraat w/ Peter Gabriel at the Witness Focus for Change Benefit in December

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!

with WINGS and ROOTS

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!

Cultural Appropriation, Boston, & Racist Backlash

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.

Shruggy Ji drops at #1

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!

Brooklyn Bhangra Afrobeat Brass Bash

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!

Red Baraat on BBC Radio, in Zuccotti Park

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.

Reflections on Oak Creek, Pushing Forward with Music

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
Jadaliyya, 8/10

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
Racialicious, 8/6

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.

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

Bonsoir! That’s about all the French I learned on tour in May with Red Baraat in Europe, but it was nevertheless a memorable and successful whirlwind.  We recently released our album Chaal Baby in Europe (Jaro Records) and did our debut tour out there with stops in France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and Poland. We played 10 shows over 4200 miles in the tour bus in 11 days! True story. Despite the grueling schedule, it was an amazing tour overall, and we’ll be bringing the bhangra funk to Europe pretty regularly in the coming months it seems.

I also just returned from Bonnaroo down in Tennessee with Red Baraat (and 85,000 people?!).  It was hot, dusty, then muddy after some rain, and quite an experience.  Many thanks to Bill Bragin and globalFEST for bringing us down there and Rolling Stone for this shout out!

The summer touring is continuing in full force from West Virginia to California and back to Europe.  You can see all the upcoming dates here.   See you soon!

Spring Touring in Full Effect

I just returned from a great 2 week run in the Midwest and South with Red Baraat.   From squeeky cheese curds in Wisconsin to avoiding the Colonel in Kentucky, we had a beautiful tour all in all.  The diversity of the audiences that seem to be moved by our music never ceases to amaze me.

Here’s a fun clip from a live performance we did on WGN TV in Chicago:

And a clip of “Baraat to Nowhere” from our performance at the amazing Kentucky Center in Louisville:

A review of our show at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI stated:

The end result of the ensemble in concert was something like a small explosion, leaving no one unaffected. Their sound blasts across cultural borders, creating simultaneously inclusive and anarchic music which calls to all human beings to get up, and get down. Red Baraat reminds us that music doesn’t have to be simple or tepid to appeal to a wide variety of people. Their big, bold, brassy and complex sound powerfully and triumphantly sweeps you off your feet.

I’m back home in Brooklyn now, but not for long.  Our Spring tour continues in a couple of weeks at the LEAF Festival in North Carolina and Lilac Festival in Rochester, and then we head to Europe for a two week bhangra adventure.  Oh, and we’ll be playing at Bonnaroo on June 9th!  What?!

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