A taste of Lahir via music and poetry (part 2)

As promised, here is my follow-up to Monday’s post about the Inquilab hip hop workshop in New York.

This past Saturday night brought together hundreds of Sikhs (and others) for the fourth annual Lahir: Move the Movement. I always seemed to have a conflict the last several years, but finally made it out to New Brunswick, New Jersey this year for my first Lahir. I am grateful for it.

Again, I’ll keep my words short as the video below speaks for itself. But a couple of things that were especially noteworthy to me about the experience.

The audience was really multi-generational. It was much more like a typical gurdwara sangat than I had expected, crying babies, hyper adolescents, and plenty of elders included. The energy was positive and empowering, and the high school and college-aged youth, in particular, were fired up.

The performances were extremely diverse and full of raw talent and passion. As you’ll see below, the performances (only a few of which I captured) went far beyond the spoken word and hip hop that I was expecting.

A friend of mine leaned towards me while a pre-pubescent high school student with a patka was rapping passionately about post-9/11 racism and said, “I am so excited about this new generation.” Indeed, I share her sentiment. These young people are indeed moving the movement, and in doing so, in the words of the event’s organizers, perhaps they are also “bringing Sikhi back.”

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30 Responses to “A taste of Lahir via music and poetry (part 2)”

  1. Anonymous says:

    While I appreciated everything that the event was about and do think that it brought a great energy and tremendous talent, I am a bit wary of whether or not Lahir's message was strongly received. I do agree that many of the artists themselves align with the progressive tones of Sikhi and the motive of "Bringing Sikhi Back" but I was a bit disappointed when I could not even hear the name of the scholar that the MCs brought up to the stage midway through the show to discuss the roots and implications of what "Bringing Sikhi Back" really means. That being said, I wonder what the follow-up to this type of event would look like to ensure that these pertinent central messages do get through to folks.

  2. Parminder Singh says:

    Lahir was great overall. My 7-yr old daughter was there and asked me a question, that was interesting. When Selena Dhillon sang, she asked me how's she's a Sikh when she cuts her hair. Then a Singh at the end, while singing removed his head scarf and threw it down. Then again she asked it doesn't look right.

    What do you think about that? Do you think, we should be a little more careful in getting the performers?

  3. Anonymous says:

    With all do respect, isn't a big part of Sikhism accepting differences and realizing that we are all really equal. I think it would have been a really important conversation for you sir, to have with your daughter, that it is in-fact alright to be an individual and express yourself. Just because someone cuts their hair or has an unconventional way of keeping it does not make them any more or any less Sikh than someone that does. I understand that it may be hard for a child to understand this but again, there is a bigger lesson to be learned here.

  4. Mohr says:

    @Anonymous, while we shouldn’t judge individuals on where they are on their journey as Sikhs, let’s be clear – the 5Ks are important elements of the panth – so yes, whether you decide to keep your external identity does matter. I don’t care if one keeps it or not – even I’m not 100% there – BUT I’m not going to pretend like those things don’t matter.

    Parminder Singh – I appreciate your honesty and strongly support the fact that young girls (whether Sikh or not) need strong, confident Sikh role models who are comfortable in their own skin but also have a gratitude for Sikhi.

  5. Sundari says:

    Love the glowing faces of the youth at the end of the video – they look inspired and empowered!

  6. Singh says:

    Its like when you go to Gurdwara (if you go) there are all kinds of people in all different stages of their lives and I am sure kids ask the same questions there as well and I hope parents have some sort of a default answer to that.

  7. Harbhajan says:

    The question that comes to mind as I read the thoughtful dialogue above is if it's okay for us to consider not inviting exceptional performers like Selena Dhillon because they do not keep kes. What I mean is, by excluding Selena from performing at these events because she is NOT kes-dhari, we would be discriminating against our own community members.

    Of course kes matters (and the 5ks matter). We all understand that. But we cannot judge Sikhs solely on keeping kes or not. There are many people who keep their 5Ks and are in full bana who do not follow the values of Sikhi. We see this at our Gurdwaras many times over. I think we need to celebrate all who are spreading the message of love, respect and unity.

    Lastly, there are very few women who are participating in artistic expression in the way Selena or other Sikh artists have. It'd be great to see women in addition to Selena come through. Parminder Singh – perhaps your daughter will be up there one day, with full kes :)

  8. Hunny says:

    Kes or Not, we must continue to Decolonize our own identity, a challenge in front of many indigenous communities.

    We all are facing different challenges(consistent with Sikh history). The Sikh communities in Punjab continue to face challenges in finding ways to resist against an adversarial government and colonial/imperial forces. Diasporic communities are faced with world wide xenophobia, specifically the ill effects of islamophobia.

    Proactive action will help us continue strengthening our connections with the core teachings of Sikhi within a global community context. Artistic expression that comes from within our communities are empowering, yet will always offer some analysis, critique, and criticism. Events like Lahir continue to amplify the Sikh voice, and offer discussions around our internal and external dynamics.

    Which leads me into a small sharing around the "The Kes Discussion"

    I had first cut my hair at 8 years old to escape severe bullying at a public school in Queens, where my braids and patka were targets. Ever since I turned 15 my kes has been such a source of internal struggle/strength while also a source of severe tension in my nuclear family. As a teen and young adult I cherished the Guru's teaching yet I didn't feel "Sikh" enough. My family post-1984 (we were in New Delhi and suffered major trauma as a result) & post-9/11 were and continue to be disagreeable to any move towards keeping my kes. It is a personal choice, and that's the only firm conclusion I have come to date. May my thoughts, feelings, and actions continue to face the Guru every day.

    I wonder if someone can offer some history if the "Kes discussion" has been happening since 1699? I know there was a big push early 20th century with some movements around preservation of sovereign identity (and rightfully so in my mind).

    I hope we can continue to inspire our sisters and brothers.

    Appreciating the langar hall discussion forum, and glad you are sharing Sonny.

  9. is there kantay says:

    It seems to me that one of the attractions here is that Sikhs with kes are doing X.

    Should it be considered an amazing event if simply the fact of a Sikh rapping, or playing an instrument?

    What does that say about the expectations we have of ourselves? How far do you we have to come if its a challenge simply to play an instrument while being Sikh?


  10. is there kantay says:

    if simply = if it's simply

  11. is there kantay says:

    Its also discouraging that simply saying that its wrong to harm someone is an applause line. Is that because Sikhs as a community are at such a level that its a challenge to be able to make this statement?

  12. hunny singh says:

    Striving for more (or something different) comes from your own statement “what does that say as the expectations we have for ourselves”. This statement suggest the expectation should be different or higher, does it not. Either way I would hope your more would be different than my more and this discussion between us highlights that.
    I too have serious issues with identity politics but I am confused as to what u said in the paragraph

  13. hunny singh says:

    I will discuss hip hop below but to my knowledge Lahir isn’t just hip hop/rapping…aren’t there performers who play music and share in other ways? Perhaps the moderator can elaborate.

    As for hip hop it needs more dissection. Flow might be the same regardless of culture but the message will always be different. Rapping is story telling and includes Sikh world views and isn’t just about a “Sikh rapping”. So yes u will have Sikh rappers in it for the money, the notoriety, etc…. But there are those who love the poetry and expression. If u want others to learn more about this world view that Sikhi do not discount hip hop as a tool to do so. On that note what other specific ways do u suggest the community engage with a bigger group?

    I am truly worried about the hypermasculinized tone that some if not most hip hop takes and the correlation it has with bhangra. Yet I don’t want to discount it is a powerful way to express a Sikh spirit.

    I wrote this from a cell sorry for spelling or grammar errors.

  14. RenegadeSingh says:

    What I found most appalling was that one of the performers TOOK OFF HIS PATKA and THREW it on the ground on stage. Regardless of what these artists do in their personal lives, whether they follow Sikhi or not keep their hair or not they should atleast respect the Turban/Patka. I lost respect for this event after that and immediately went for the exit.