I am only 22, but I was raised with little to no television.
Instead, I grew up in a world full of music.
It was everywhere, surrounding me. It shaped the way I viewed the world. Everything I know of culture originates from music.
My father brags that I could sing every famous Johnny Cash song by the age of two. I slept with the cover of the first Dion & The Belmonts (1950s crooners from the Bronx) CD under my pillow instead of a safety blanket.
I was 16 when I fell in love with a boy who had immigrated from Colombia. He was only 10 when he immigrated, but he spoke perfect English. I would never have known his culture if he had not welcomed me into his family.
His family spoke mostly Spanish but, despite the barrier, they cared for me with unconditional love; feeding me lots of food, and being so patient when I attempted to speak Spanish.
I spent my next year attending church with them, singing hymns that I did not understand, all for the love of him (and them). He introduced me to hip hop and taught me the brilliant spoken-word of rap music. The world beyond my small New England town began to take shape. I could hear his soul and culture in the music that surrounded us. I will forever be grateful for what he gave me.
Music opens the floodgates to compassion and understanding: I will sing your song even if I do not know the words, because it is so beautiful. It holds the same love.
Music is found in every part of the universe: We hear the birds in the stillness of the morning hours as the sun rises. We hear the sounds of gale force winds rushing through the trees. The scrape and grind and blur of the city has a kind of music in it.
We make music. We make it to communicate something that cannot be said, but only imagined—something so deep that it cannot be spoken. We raise our voices in prayer in times of hardship, and in times of happiness. We soothe our children’s cries.
We revel in its happiness: Standing in the kitchen on a Sunday morning, with loving arms wrapped around our bodies, we sway to Sam Cooke while the eggs burn.
Music has the power to unify the hearts of people: It brings them together in mosques, in churches, in kirtan and in the ritual dances of far-away tribes. When we raise our voices with others, we become a part of something so much greater than ourselves. Music blesses us with the ability to cross cultures and oceans, to join into a world where we understand nothing of the language.
I hear your soul in your lifted voice. I hear your love. I hear your sorrow and the sorrow of your children. I feel your passion. That is all I need to know of you—for now.
In your song, I can hear the trees growing, the oceans roaring, the flowers blooming.
In your song, I see the courage of your ancestors, I see the loss you feel.
I want nothing more than to sit and listen to every song that you have ever loved, just so that I may know your soul as you know mine.
Like the pure, beautiful child I was, singing “I Walk the Line” at two years old, while running around the kitchen table, I hear your lifted voice.
I want to sing your song as I did the Spanish church hymns. I want to sing about love and grief. I want to sing about how we can learn to change.
Give me your hip hop straight off the streets of Compton, give me your soul music risen from oppressed voices, give me your Latin flair, your electronic beats, your metal clashing, your reggae vibes, your spiritual chants, your fingers rough from the strings of the guitar and your heart full of love. Give it all to me.
I sing my song in English. You sing in Spanish, in Hebrew, in Russian, in Arabic, in French, or German. We sing the same song, the same joy and sorrow. Though the instruments are different, we are all searching for harmony. Our songs ring out with that same love.
So, let us raise our voices together in song, unified against hardship, pain, and suffering. Let us sing to unify our souls and ourselves against racism, sexism, and xenophobia.
Let us sing a collective hymn. All races and all religions under one sky.
Author: Olivia Wade
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren