By Erica Veal
[Twitter: @Indigo_Grio | FB: facebook.com/erica.veal.7 | Instagram: Indigo_Grio]
Charleston is losing a dedicated community organizer and a talented musician. Anjali Naik, known by the stage name Diaspoura, is about to graduate from the College of Charleston and finished off her last live show as a local to a standing ovation at the Charleston Music Hall.
I heard Diaspoura for the first time at the Charlestown Sounds Music Festival where I was asked to be a vendor selling my handmade soaps. I was immediately mesmerized by her melancholy, calming, synth pop tones. That night I found out it was her birthday and offered her soap. She thanked me with a copy of her album Demonstrations, which I listened to on repeat for the next several days. I related to her story so much.
Released in June 2016, in Demonstrations Diaspoura describes her evolution as a non-black, queer women of color growing up on the “side of the highway” in her family’s hotel. She describes coming to terms with her identity as a diasporan Indian with tracks like Migrations. She also uses the artful simplicity of Demonstrations to highlight key issues like police violence, white apathy and climate change, with songs like Forget You, Stay and Blue. The visuals and e-zine that accompany the album are essential to understanding this.
Growing up in rural, conservative South Carolina, Diaspoura learned to play instruments as a way to heal from the pain of constantly feeling “othered,” forced to reject her heritage and assimilate. She credits the internet with awakening her political consciousness in high school. However, it was in Charleston where she began to put her waking consciousness into action.
Diaspoura began volunteering with Girls Rock Charleston as a freshman at the college. She later became a lead organizer with the group whose mission is to use “music as a vehicle for social changes and builds power among girls and transgender youth in Charleston.” This past year she helped launch an alternative to youth incarceration program through Girls Rock and credits her involvement in the organization with helping her develop the courage to express both her personal story and politics through her music while finding footing as an activist.
When she first moved to Charleston she fell in love instantly, but her outlook soon turned from “glistening to gray. There’s a lot of shit to be done [here] and there’s no time for racism.” Diaspoura was at the forefront of calling out a racially insensitive and offensive Instagram post, publicly demanding accountability from the individuals (a local artist and record label owner) responsible. She facilitated conversations around the incident so those on all sides of it could have a safe space to reach an understanding and hopefully move forward in solidarity.
In response to the election of President Trump she released the track GTF featuring Contour (another amazing local artist) on Inauguration Day. Currently, Diaspoura’s finishing her senior project, “a new media piece covering the local school-to-prison pipeline” and despite her heavy work load she also managed to plan a rally for trans women of color for the day after her last concert.
When asked what advice she’d give to up and coming artists she said “don’t be afraid to ask questions” and share your experiences for better or for worse. Take ownership of your life, she said, and “put some glitter on it.” Use your story to “build solidarity.” To community organizers she said, self-care is important. “Find ways to take care of yourself and try new things. Identify your boundaries,” she said and retreat when necessary, “but keep going” because there’s too much work to be done.
Regarding the future of her music Diaspoura said she shared a lot of herself in Demonstrations in order to hopefully normalize her story and to build empathy “so the feeling of otherness isn’t there.” Moving forward she speculates she may not get as personal in her music. Lately she’s been listening to inspirational songs and could see her music moving in that direction, but is open to different possibilities.
After graduation Diaspoura’s heading to North Carolina to be closer to her partner, but hopes to continue playing shows in the Charleston area. Diaspoura has left an indelible mark on the activist scene in Charleston. As for her music, if she keeps it up, in my opinion, she’ll go down in history alongside the likes of Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu.
Diaspoura’s story reminded me that being ones’ authentic self in our society is in itself an act of resistance—a demonstration—and for that I’m grateful.