For this project, electronic music isn’t just a sound, but a rallying cry. And you can answer that call from all around the world.
Organizers in the Netherlands are building on years of work in immigration advocacy and support on behalf of queer communities to deepen the connection between dance music and change. The latest efforts promise to bring together a host of key players and issues in a way that could be a model for other communities.
Racial discrimination can make people feel like outsiders in their own home, and can stand in the way of displaced people trying to make a new home. This time of year in the Netherlands and Belgium, that reality is as stark as ever, in a country that still celebrates Christmas with blackface and racial caricatures. (See reporting on Zwarte Piet from just last week, if you’re not already familiar with the phenomenon.)
Here’s where music comes in – it’s an expressive response, an organizing tool, a way of bringing people in to learning more and interacting on the issues, and can even support people working to create solutions on the ground. Music can have a role even without being explicitly containing a political text – the musical album around this effort is just a fantastic compilation.
And that seems to open the door not only to directly support our friends and colleagues in Amsterdam here, but also to see a model for music making a tangible difference. Okay, so before moving on, let’s get a soundtrack:
This story starts with that compilation – place: the netherlands is the latest in a series from New York’s Air Texture label, pairing musical compilations with local social causes. The Dutch edition is the work of Axmed Maxamed, self-described “queer diasporic Somali activist, organizer, and music nerd,” and DJ and radio host Jasmin Hoek (“Jasmín”), host of shows on Utrecht’s Stranded FM and Red Light Radio in Amsterdam.
The music already tells some story, but where this goes further is that the music is becoming a jumping-off point to activism. That means tackling twin issues – dealing with the worst aspects of Dutch immigration for its most vulnerable entrants, right as the country ramps up a tradition that mocks people for their skin color.
Axmed and Jasmin talk to CDM about what that means.
CDM: Since this is a club music response – apart from the compilation and this activism, is there interaction now between the club scene and some inbound refugees? Is there a way that there could be more space in the club environment for that interaction?
Axmed/Jasmin: It’s important not to only welcome refugees, but go the extra mile to make sure they feel comfortable being in the space and to have people available at the club who they can approach if necessary. In addition to that, it’s important to make spaces available for refugees or people from other marginalized communities to host their own events.
Zwarte Piet is a literal face of racism in the NL, and maybe one that’s tough for outsiders to come to terms with, too. What would you want people from the international community to know? What can we do to respond?
Axmed: The Netherlands and Belgium are inherently racist countries, and during this period – which goes on for about two months – it really comes to the surface. It is important to amplify the voices of people who are fighting this racist anti-black tradition called Sinterklaas. Ask your white Dutch and Belgian friends what they are doing to speak up against this racist tradition, especially those that have a platform, whether they be a DJ, label, venue, promoter, etc. Even in a city like Amsterdam, there are still a lot of stores decorated with racist imagery, so it is on white people living in the Netherlands who say that they care about change, to talk to shop owners. White people in the Netherlands and Belgium chose to make this into racist tradition in 1850, so it is now their responsibility to get rid of it. As a Black person, I do not want to be confronted with it anymore.
Reforming how immigration works could build better and fairer societies; refugees occupy this especially difficult situation where they’re unable to work because of how the law is set up. Is there a way for us in creative industries to find some solutions there and work together? Definitely, reach out to initiatives such as Open Closet [ Open Closet LGBT Netherlands] that are for and by newcomers and set something up together with them, such as workshops, parties, dinners, and so on. Offer structural support and involvement within the work you’re doing, not something that’s just one-off.
Ed.: This is obviously a deeper issue than we can cover here, as the situations vary country to country and have different organizations for responding, but – now with this out there, I hope we’ll hear from some of those specifics from our international audience.
What’s next; what you can do
The easiest thing for readers of this site to do is to go buy the compilation, which supports active work on helping LGBTQIA+ refugees navigate a hostile immigration system – and gets you some great music, too:
For the minority of readers in the Netherlands, there’s a launch party running daytime to nighttime on December 21. (Hey, maybe you lucked out and even have a transfer at Schiphol then.)
That event is itself a compelling model. Of course, local contributing artists play (Accuraat, Blusher, Cuboid Kiss, Dim Garden, DJ Bone, DutchAfro, Jarlentji, Loradeniz, Global Mind Surveillance, Pasiphae, Raj, Ranie Ribeiro, Rural Juror, and Zohar). But there’s also discourse, film, and food – a chance for interested music lovers to better understand the issues and get involved. (In addition to the organizers of place, the event involves community organization The Hang-Out 070, and films from the International Queer & Migrant Film Festival.)
You can attend virtually and lend more support by buying a ticket:
For any criticism of club culture simply criticizing from the sidelines in a filter bubble/echo chamber, here are people getting out and doing something concrete, making a difference in the lives of refugees.
What these challenges can mean: essential reading
Axmed is a great example of how someone can be both a figure in the music scene and in activism, simultaneously. That energy he shares in bringing people together in nightlife he has channeled into rallying people behind making an impact on the larger community. A refugee of the Somali civil war at a young age, he says he’s now connecting with LGBTQIA+ refugees as he works in that community as they go through the asylum procedure.
As with so many people working on immigration worldwide, though, his stories about the system can be infuriating and heartbreaking. As he tells Glamcult:
In my work as an interpreter and translator, I have first-hand knowledge of how refugees in general are treated in the Netherlands, which is mostly from a starting point of not believing refugees. And in addition to that, LGBTQIA+ refugees have a specific burden of proof—together with having to prove that they are from their home country, they also have to prove their sexual and/or gender identity to the interviewer from the IND (Immigration Office). This process has been criticized as being too invasive and lacking important sensitivities needed to ask such personal and sometimes traumatizing questions.
Yeah, you read that right – for anyone who has dealt with immigration, imagine having to prove who you are sexually or what your gender is. (Heck, it’s unpleasant enough doing that outside an immigration process.) More on this topic:
By connecting with Open Closet, the music scene here supports volunteers dealing with that, but also a great deal more. As Sherwyn from Open Closet LGBT Netherlands told Glamcult:
Open Closet not only ensures that incoming LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers are properly registered, but also provides help with food, support towards the procedures required, counseling and a family where everybody is welcome. They provide a place to come together and cover for traveling costs if needed. By organising meetings regularly, they create a sense of community and belonging for queer asylum seekers in the Netherlands. Open Closet also ensures that asylum seekers are properly informed of their rights and options.
This isn’t just another compilation to raise awareness – by connecting to an in-person event, Axmed and Jasmin are also bringing more people in to engage with the organization itself.
But clubland does network people. In the same Glamcult piece, there’s also a checklist for how clubs (and clubgoers) could better include refugees in our community. You should read the whole piece, but here’s a summary of what Axmed and Jasmin advise, for quick reference (to paste on your wall or whatever you like):
- Hire and empower the people affected to make decisions about dealing with unsafe spaces and exclusion.
- Have an awareness team people can go to directly.
- Make gathering spaces outside of clubs, too.
See the full story:
Music is an art built around listening. So we can use that power to listen to queer activists and – well, electronic music is all about amplification, so we can make that sound louder. For a place to start, Axmed keeps a running list of links of great reading:
By the way, to look beyond the Netherlands – artists like Meklit are bringing together activism and music practice, both on immigration and even water issues (with some data sonification thrown in so – some of your CDM reader bingo cards just got filled). Meklit has also worked with the excellent Bay Area activist group Women’s Audio Mission.
And just in the past few days, artists have pulled music from Amazon to protest that company’s work with discriminatory US immigration practices.
Local efforts in your area? Questions? We would love to hear them.