The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) has become one of Brampton’s most important cultural events. We spoke with artist and Brampton-born Noyz about hip-hop, growing up in Brampton, community organizing and what the festival means for him. You can find Noyz on May 5th at the Spoken Word performance and on May 6th at the Poet’s Gallery.
Schedule and session details can be found on the festival website.
What inspired you to start making music?
I had a lot of older cousins and when I was younger they would always be buying the latest music. I would listen to whatever they were listening to, so they were a big part of influencing what I liked and wanted to create. I felt that hip-hop in particular, was the only place where you could hear voices of young, racialized people, too. You’d hear Black artists, Latino artists and you wouldn’t really get such honest perspectives in other forms of music. Hip-hop was the most honest and raw representation of the voices of the people you don’t always hear in the mainstream.
You have a forthcoming release called “LoFi Glory”. What can listeners expect and where can they find the finished product for purchase.
It’s my next solo album, available near the end of 2017. The project represents a dichotomy of where we’re coming from versus where we want to go; The LoFi is representing the hard times and dark times whereas the Glory is how we utilize those dark times and create something far greater than we could’ve imagined. I’m trying to channel a lot of difficult experiences whether it be mental health, passing of close family members or personal struggles that we all face and through art and music, translate that into art that people can listen to and see a part of themselves in.
How have your experiences in Brampton shaped your art?
Brampton is the microcosm of what we like to say about Canada being this great place that celebrates diversity and welcomes people from all places. I feel like Brampton is the best representation of that diversity. I grew up with not only people from the South Asian subcontinent but who were also East Asian, African, European and other people who have lived in Canada for multiple generations so it was really a mix of people from all over the world. You’re not socialized with just one group of people growing up, but some people tend to stick with people who have similar experiences as them. The great thing about growing up in Brampton is that you’re surrounded by people from everywhere. I try to put that into my music and it definitely comes out in some of the lyrics.
How has your art given you a way to talk about socio-political issues?
Within the Sikh and Punjabi identities, fighting for equality and speaking up about political issues is really ingrained. My parents are very well versed on Sikh history and Sikh scripture and I’ve always grown up in that environment and that left an impression on me and I try to carry it through my music. I connected more to artists like Tupac and Mos Def, who had this huge platform, but they were using it to say something important. Hip-Hop came from marginalized people living in poverty and ghettos in New York. They made such a point to have a message in the music, I feel like it’s only right that I try to carry on that element as well.
Your bio says that “Noyz understands the feeling of being part of a society while at the same time standing out, and due to his unique upbringing, wholeheartedly embraces his sense of otherness.” How does that show up in your creative process?
Some of it comes down to just accepting who we are as people. For example, for a lot of Punjabi kids coming up in the school system, teachers and classmates can’t say their names right. Then we start referring to ourselves with these altered pronunciations and lose our mother tongue, our names and the pronunciation of our own words, too. I feel like in recent years that’s something I’ve stopped because I feel like names and words matter. It’s necessary that we try to uphold elements of our culture and who we are.
I’ve had someone ask me, “How do you resist in this world where it becomes me against you. How can we build bridges between communities?” It’s especially important now, in the time of Trump where it’s more common and people openly discriminate. I’m going to try to embrace my culture because in trying to stay quiet and hide my culture, I’m doing myself a disservice.
There is this sense of otherness and if we’re going to be boxed into that, I want to try to embrace the elements they try to tell us to suppress, and live more openly. Punjabi kids might not want to keep the turban or might want to change their names but I feel like it’s more important for us to embrace these elements of our culture that we’ve been told for so long aren’t viable, or won’t be accepted within the mainstream.
Especially with events like the FOLD, these different narratives are important. You grow up in places like Canada and Brampton, among different people, but you don’t get to really hear who they are, where they’re from and what their stories are. I feel like it’s so important to embrace our culture and not in the sense of, “This is my culture and I’m not willing to adjust for anybody,” but moreso that, “This is my culture. It’s beautiful and it holds value just as much as any other culture here in Canada.”
What would you say to those who don’t see much of themselves in mainstream art, who may hold back because they aren’t reflected?
The fact that it doesn’t exist is more reason why it is necessary. Growing up there wasn’t any South Asian artists, comedians or anybody I could point to like that to say, “This person speaks for me.” The motivation behind my music was to tell a story that people haven’t heard before. If there is a young person out there who feels like there’s nobody they can shadow or follow their blueprint I would say- If it doesn’t exist it just means you have to be the spark and energy that puts that into the universe.
Tell me more about your community work and why it’s important to you.
It comes back to my Sikh and Punjabi upbringing, though it’s mostly based on the Sikh concept of sangat, which means your community. Growing up and learning more about Sikhism and Punjabi history, a lot of the people around me were in the same age groups so it was a sort of collective awakening of conscience. We were all learning, getting involved at the same time and there were so many young people coming of age together, understanding the importance of providing something for the younger generation.
When we were growing up we didn’t have events we could go to, or artists in the community that we could interact with and see perform. We wanted to create an environment that didn’t exist for us so we organize events based on visual art, hip hop, spoken word, traditional forms of dance and causes that were important to us. For example, we had a doctor come in to talk about the female feticide crisis going on in India who works with orphaned girls. We tried to bring different causes like that to light because it was important to us and it also didn’t exist.
One of the causes I’ve recently taken on is mental health. Depression is something I’ve been dealing with for over a decade now. I wanted to raise awareness about it and I felt like the best way to do it would be to incorporate it into art. I put together a workshop where I talk about my own story, discovering what I was going through, how I got help, and the tools I use to keep myself in check.
Many of the people who come to the workshops have never engaged in writing, spoken word or hip hop, so I try to present them with a new skill they can use on their own. The workshop goes over my own story and the basics of how to write to a beat and how to put together a verse within a rap context, then I give a couple of themes and writing exercises. People then share what they’ve written at the end of the workshop. The first one we did was in November and we had about 40 people come which was amazing and so humbling at the same time.
The feedback I’ve gotten is that people want these spaces. They want spaces where they can talk openly about mental health with other people that understand it and get it. When they’re trying to talk to teachers and family, they’re unsure about whether they’ll be accepted. The workshops are about creating space where we can talk about mental health in a creative way while putting my story out there and letting people know help is available. It’s also been helpful for other people to build camaraderie with others experiencing similar struggles.
How would someone find and attend the workshops you do?
We did one in November for the first time at Lab B in downtown Brampton. If someone’s interested in having me host a workshop they can send me an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Why the FOLD, and what makes it so important to you?
Growing up you’re not really presented with art and literature from people in other communities. Everything we’ve been presented with is through more of a European-Canadian lens and it didn’t really reflect the faces in the classroom. The FOLD is so important because now we finally get to hear those stories that we’ve always wanted to know about but never really had the opportunity. You’re able to engage with authors and artists to really understand their experiences. It can be daunting to approach someone and ask them about their experience and navigate that in social contexts, so at the FOLD you’re able to hear those stories openly and ask questions. It’s a necessary way to present alternative narratives, stories and perspectives that we didn’t have access to before.