Beyond Bollywood Indian Americans Shape the Nation

…And that’s the Beauty of the Open Mic


by Priya Chhaya

It is a chilly Monday evening and I step inside a room on the second floor of a building along U Street in Washington, DC.  I am, as usual, casually late, thirty minutes to be specific which is really on time, if you think about Indian Standard Time (IST). As I walk up the stage the strumming of the guitar fills the air and I realize that the audience inside is rapt and at attention. The silent observance is for a few seconds a tad unnerving. Where am I? I am at my very first Subcontinental Drift, an open mic event directed towards South Asians of every persuasion.

In the next two hours I heard a cross-section of a very creative group. Some sang, some spoke–some made me laugh, and others made me (if it wasn’t a public place) want to cry.  At one point a flautist played a melody in a minor key that resonated, vibrations giving me that awesome creepy crawly feeling from a song that, while sung in English, felt like a haunting foreign language.

There was one performer who sang Tagore (the infamous Bengali poet) in Bengali–and I couldn’t help be impressed. Open mics take guts, they take gumption–and to stand up in front of a bunch of your peers and sing in a different language–that is courage. I’m a bit handicapped in this area–while I understand Hindi and Gujarati, I don’t speak either fluently (one of my yearly resolutions that is never fully realized), and so I am always really proud and impressed when someone else shows mastery beyond a conversation.

The mission of Sub Drift on their webpage is “to foster and provide a supportive and collaborative South Asian American community for creative expression, encourage the sharing and involvement of community events, and expose ourselves to new mind food.” And everyone is beyond encouraging–at one point, one performer named Sundeep gave us a little spoken word that included call and response–  the response being, of course “and that’s the beauty of the open mic.”

…and it’s true. The beauty of the open mic, especially at Subcontinental Drift, is to bring together a community who has so much in common to listen, to hear, to see, and to feel the myriad of opinions that make up our South Asian cultural mosaic. Since every piece counts, we’ll see if I can find a way to add to the conversation.

Check out the link above for information on Subcontinental Drift.


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    January 14, 2011
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