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composer + artist • she/her • loves drums • advocate for emotional literacy in music • meep • EN/FR OK

Annette Singh @Troisnyx

30, Female

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Lancashire, UK

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On ethnicity, music and ethnic music

Posted by Troisnyx - June 21st, 2014


I felt I needed to get this out of my chest as a sort of unburdening to the musicians among us, for this has been on my mind over the past few days.

From my pictures and videos here on NG as well as on YouTube, I think you can all deduce that I am at least "ambiguously brown," and certainly not white. That's fine by me. : ) I happen to be of Indian descent.

Now, let me make it clear that I'm not the least bit bothered about ethnicities, or even taking pride in ethnic origins. I was raised a second (possibly third?) culture kid, partly by the choice of my parents and partly by my own preference. I have next to no attachment to my ancestry... I've long seen myself as my own person.

Some of you will have at least heard or seen me play the bodhrán -- that Irish frame drum -- and at least attempt to play it well. I'll still admit this is my favourite drum, and trad music from along this side of the world tends to really beckon to me.

Okay, you may say, no problem! We've had unlikely people playing unlikely instruments. We've had taiko drummers of all ethnicities. We've had Norah Jones, the daughter of Ravi Shankar, excel as a jazz singer. Where's the problem in that?

Well I recently had someone remind me to take pride in being Indian, like how he took pride in his own cultural heritage. He asked (probably out of curiosity) if I never took interest in traditional Indian music.

I said no, I never did (and truth be told, I never will. It's just not my thing, at all.) My heart isn't in it at all. My mother once asked out of curiosity if I would be interested in this kind of stuff; I said no.

To which he replied, just because you study one music form in your childhood doesn't mean you would wind up in it forever.

Honestly speaking, if I had not received the musical education I had received -- which was classical piano under the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music -- I wouldn't even have the musical skill I have today, let alone the style or the ethereal vocals. I wanted music that could be practical for me at all times. I sing in church, and I am an organist and percussionist whenever needed -- which basically doubles as the reason why I would want a classical education. As for my leaning towards British and Irish folk music... well, that comes with the territory, really. Plus the rules of tonality are almost similar, if not completely similar, to that which I had been taught. I picked up the bodhrán because a close friend of mine encouraged me to pick it up, in response to my complaints that I had urges to beat out a rhythm, but had no access to a drum.

As an artist, one expresses what is in one's heart. Yes, I'm probably going to raise a number of eyebrows coming out there with a bodhrán in a trad session in a pub, or a céilidh (a dance gathering), or somewhere else, just by being who I am. But I cannot let that hold me down. I'll never be English or Scottish or Irish or Breton by descent -- but in many ways I have gone against the grain of what I am expected to be, both musically and with regards to my ethnicity. Heaven knows if there are any dark-skinned bodhrán players out there. There are none on YouTube, at least none that I can see, apart from myself. Correct me if I'm wrong. But if I am correct, then let me be the first: there always has to be a first for everything.

Fact still remains that in my heart, I will always know that I'm not doing it for brownie points (pardon the pun!), or to attract people along the lines of "OH HEY LOOK AT HER SHE'S NOT IRISH BUT SHE CAN CERTAINLY ROCK IT" -- no, none of that. I do it because it's my passion, I love the mere sound of it, and I've been able to play and/or record personal stuff with it -- improvisations, hymns etc. A musician has to be passionate about what he plays in order to reach out to others in the deepest possible manner. This is my passion; I lean towards musical forms which are in no way associated with my presumed native culture at all.

I once confided in @Krash17 about the fact that I'm an unlikely bodhrán player, as well as my influences.

His response was simply: "Fight the power. Music is for everyone."


Comments

Whoever asked you to take pride in your family's past culture probably doesn't know you very well. Probably wasn't meant to be politically correct or anything, maybe the guy just likes Indian instruments. Doesn't mean you're obligated to learn something you don't wanna learn.

Plus you're quite an attractive young woman, its sure to make some people say or do stupid things, just to keep the conversation going :)

To be honest, I think even people who know me well would ask me questions like these, if the thought ever crossed their mind. My mum, who knew me reasonably well by virtue of being perpetually there with me when I grew up, asked me this question when it came to my passion for drums. She was curious as to whether I would take up the tabla. I wasn't into it -- completely different learning style to mine, for starters. To a non-musician, or one who is still in his early stages of learning, or one who doesn't share the same end goal, it's difficult to explain -- and you and I both know how imperfect words can be as a means of communication.

Reason why I threw it out there is so I could see if there would perhaps be anyone who could relate.

My Pop was a full blooded Polish person, and he expected me to like Polish cuisine. I don't really, but I tried all of it at least once, I still like decent kielbasi and beet soup. He was a mechanical engineer, but anything I did he took issue with, mainly to prevent me making mistakes, but it got to the point where I knew my stuff, but took a different (but not wrong) approach than he would have.

I see.

I'll never know the motivation behind the questions asked of me in the context of this post, so I can't say I understand...

We're all slaves to our past, it would seem. Plus, having a father who spoke Polish, really screwed up the way I convey and compose ideas... since the language transposes nouns and verbs in a very anti-English way.

I wish not to be. The talents I have, I yearn to use them to the full.

I am also brown. Snap! The 'Singh' kind of gave away your Indian descent, haha.

I'm kind of alright with traditional Indian music (not Indian though), though the stuff I find unbearable is that Bollywood-style stuff that's blasted at every Asian function I turn up to.

I think that video where you unbox the bodhrán and your eyes sort of light up afterwards speaks volumes as to how passionate you are for that instrument. Or perhaps it was because you finally broke through all that packaging.

To be a fan of the (possible) pioneer of dark-skinned bodhrán players! Isn't that incredible? Brings tears to mine eyes!

Do keep up the music, art, writing and many other talents.

-Potent

Ugh, Bollyfreakingwood. Don't get me started on that. There are very, very few exceptions to this, and I don't even remember their titles.

My eyes light up, my heart skips a beat, when I come across drums in general -- particularly those I'm attuned to. That bodhrán was one example; I'm playing the timpani again later at Mass today and I'm super stoked ^_^

At any rate, I'll do my best. The NG Audio Deathmatch is coming up soon, so I'm looking to be a part of it. We'll see what happens.

People sometimes think I am a jew because my last name is Kots. So they expect me to be jealous, or exceptionally smart. Neither is true. But they make me wonder about where do my ancestors actually come from, and I do not know. I can't say that I am not 100% jew. But do all those stereotypes apply to me? I think not, neither am I obliged to follow any traditions at all. Through my life I had to make my own decisions concerning my world view, religion and things that I enjoy doing. I was not entangled by any roots. However, on the subconscious level, does my heritage affect my decisions and my state of mind?..

I'm inclined to think that, if heritage were to affect our decisions and stateof mine, some of us wouldn't act the way we do. For my part, no one in my immediate family has shown a profoundly musical side apart from my mother and me, but I manifest this stronger. And she herself went against the grain, to a degree, having been asked similar questions in her younger years.

Like you, my choice of world view and religion and influence is my own. I can say there have been times where I have been coaxed or coerced to do things that I wouldn't do, wear things that I wouldn't wear, and go to places that I wouldn't go to of my own accord. That is all in the past now.

To a great extent, my own struggles against myself are not due to heritage, but to upbringing.... kind words and actions can make a whole lot of difference, and so can abusive words and gestures.

My Response is so long it exceeds the Character Limit by quite a Lot, so, rather than pasting it across several Comments, I shall make a Dumping Link with a .TXT File containing it.

Link: http://www.newgrounds.com/dump/item/6d2aeb20929e8ad6e769bcb0364a5732

I hope that all makes Sense, and I also hope to hear from you soon about certain Things, and to talk to you about a few other Ideas and Happenings I've not yet shared. No Hurry, but when you have Time.

Read and acknowledged.

While I am glad to have put forward this post with the hopes that I'd be reached by fellow creators like you and me, I feel as if I've done untold damage by writing it. Yet anyone can sense my passion for what I represent, and feel more than just uneasy. Any world view, even the one I hold, will be subject to prejudice of some kind, or on a lesser extent, misunderstanding of some kind.

I'll talk about it and other things with you in greater detail on Skype.

It's great to be supportive of one's own heritage, but a green apple doesn't belong on a lime tree. (Ha! I just said something weird.) Art at its best is self expression. Besides, the world could use more brown-skinned bodhrán players!

I think I have more of a problem with people just not caring about my music than people expecting something. My parents and siblings are supportive, though, and I have some great musical friends too.

I don't really like, though, how my relatives do act like it's wrong to stray too far from the family/cultural center. I'm different, and I'm just finding a place that I can thrive in. I've made lots of new family: close friends that aren't blood-related.

Family and culture seem to be related according to some, but sometimes it could mean an ancestral thing, far from the way it was presented by family. Still, I never tied myself to ancestry, given how some groups, even of my own ethnicity, go on and on and on about it.

The person who asked me this question is very dear to me, but I didn't want to mention names. Sometimes even near and dear ones cold ask these questions, not understanding the full consequences of what a world view like ours would entail. Or they could indeed understand, but words are insufficient to get across what our hearts truly mean.

Perhaps I'm being petulant by posting this or even seeing if there are people out there, particularly artists, who relate to me. But at that time my heart decided to take a leap into the dark and try.

"I've long seen myself as my own person" As should everyone. Everyone has their own opinions, and you should never use anything as an excuse to take away other people's opinions, even if it's to defend your own opinions (often religions, which is often the cause of conflict; no offence intended). You are entirely of your own mind, and I of mine.

Music speaks with the soul, not the mind nor the person. That's why I can relate to music like a lot of other people can, because it's not speaking to you - it is speaking to your soul. When I hear music, I hear the person who composed it. Music is like a connection between one soul to another in possibly the best way to communicate emotionally (if you don't count love as an emotion).

As far as I am concerned, just keep doing what you do. If I have anything to say, I have learned many things particularly from Buddhism lately, and wish to share with you this one simple, yet powerful quote:

“Hard times build determination and inner strength. Through them we can also come to appreciate the uselessness of anger. Instead of getting angry nurture a deep caring and respect for troublemakers because by creating such trying circumstances they provide us with invaluable opportunities to practice tolerance and patience.” - Dalai Lama