Solo artist, former member of Ohbijou, PhD student, host of CBCs The Doc Project. Toronto is filled with many different.
Solo artist, former member of Ohbijou, PhD student, host of CBCs The Doc Project.
Toronto is filled with many different people playing different genres of music, spread over different neighbourhoods, and people have different investments in the industry and public performance.
I could speak to the music scene that would fall under the label indie, but even that term is still risky. So when I was thinking about this question of whether or not the music scene Im part of is racist, I would say that definitely its filled with racism.
But let me clarify what I mean by racism, because sometimes that gets reduced to name-calling. We need to think of racism as a structure that perpetuates and rarely questions codes of white supremacy in our daily lives. It makes me think of moments like [with the band] Viet Cong, where their use of that name showed a blatant disregard for the history of violence that has marked the lives of the Vietnamese diaspora in Toronto and abroad. This insistence that somehow its okay to use such a loaded name is a consequence of the white supremacy that Im talking about.
And there are more insidious ways that racism and white supremacy have operated, as when Ohbijou was called a multiculti band or our music was referred to as world music, which was obviously a conflation of how our bodies look and not what our music actually sounds like. Or we were told our song title Balikbayan was too difficult to pronounce, and maybe we should change it to make it easier for radio and media.
[At the time I wrote my blog post in 2013 about Ohbijou] and because we were coming to an end there are a lot of emotions tied up in the idea of an ending anyway I was pushed into a state of reflection and a desire not to romanticize the experience.
We had many successes, and we had support institutionally and from our audiences in so many ways, but it was also a complex experience. Like when we were on tour and people would say they could hear the Asian in our music audiences are well-intentioned, but those slippages still have an impact, a visceral reminder of that our world is still very much structured by white supremacy, and that just felt important for me to talk about and share. I had no expectations of who would read, or even care, but it felt like an important conversation to be had.
White people are often scared of feeling uncomfortable. Were rushing to find solutions that cant deal with the fact that racism makes people feel bad. So I think this is a difficult and messy issue. We can definitely make things more tolerable, but Im hoping this conversation is consumed by the public in a way that might effect change at a personal level. More long-term, our cultural institutions need to be hiring racialized bodies, we need more racialized people in positions of power, we need to be at the table where decisions that affect our lives and the consumption of our music are made.
At the Art Gallery of Ontarios First Thursdays (317 Dundas West) on February 4. Listen to Casey Mecija here.
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