We’ve read the headlines all too often — people of colour being victims of unending racial abuse and violence. Racism is still well and alive in the 21st century, but one Australian Sikh man’s work is helping educate entire nations about just how real the problem is and how we can tackle it, and he’s doing it in a way future generations may relate to — music.
“I started writing hip hop music when I was 14. I was in high school at the time. Because hip hop spoke to me; it was so raw and emotional. The stories were powerful and the sounds drew me in. I’ve always been a creative person, so I eventually tried my hand at writing some lyrics and making some beats. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.”
Australia’s been a popular immigrant destination since the time of the British Empire, but has also seen more than its fair share of race-based violence. And growing up in Sydney, Sukhdeep’s exposure to negativity helped shape the theme of his writing and lyrics. Take, for instance, the song Survive. “I recognise my people by face before I know the name / Smile when we greet because we understand the same / Share the same sight through eyes watered with pain / Yet we hold tightly onto our faith and maintain,” he raps.
Fusing his earlier influences in Sikh kirtans with inspiration from rappers like Tupac Shakur, KRS-One, Common and Mos Def, Sukhdeep Singh has been an active musician and activist, using both his careers to spread awareness about race and equality under the moniker L-FRESH The LION. He explains, “FRESH stands for Forever Rising Exceeding Sudden Hardships. L and The LION are one and the same. They come from my name “Singh”, which means lion. To me, the LION symbol is significant. It is a reminder of my ancestral history and the values of courage and power.”
While his music may not have reached Indian shores as yet, Sukhdeep’s own brand of ‘Sikh hop’ seems to have become the voice of thousands of not just Sikhs and Indians, but all minorities in Australia and around the world. “People are generally ignorant about whatever is foreign to them. Music is a great leveller. It brings together people from all walks of life, regardless of religion, culture, race or socio-economic status... I enjoy sharing stories and having fun through music. It’s about bringing people together regardless of our differences.”
An ambassador for the Australian non-profit All Together Now, Sukhdeep believes that working with racial issues is not just important, but necessary. “Australia has politicised the plight of asylum seekers and refugees, so I’ve been working in that space to try and assist those in need and also change the attitude of the general Australian public to a more positive and receptive one.” He also works to raise awareness about male violence against women with White Ribbon Australia. It’s an issue, he says, that the Indian community isn’t immune from.
“We are living in the times of globalisation, where we are more connected than ever. So we need to put aside the differences and barriers that often divide us and work together to create the kind of world we want not just for ourselves, but for our children.”