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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Subdrift Boston spotlights South Asian voices

Subdrift Boston is a community organization focused on providing open mic nights that center South Asian voices. It is a part of a larger grassroots movement that focuses on the South Asian diaspora.

The sound of music sweeps through the crowd. Poets, singers and dancers step up to the open mic for the first time. Families, friends and people who will no longer be strangers after the performances have ended talk, laugh and chat to get to know one another.

Subdrift Boston is a community organization located in Boston and is part of a larger grassroots movement that has spread across the United States that provides open mic nights centered around, but not exclusively, the South Asian diaspora. Subdrift Boston has a wide variety of members and performers and helps to strengthen the South Asian community while supporting artists on their journeys.

Subdrift Boston began in 2012, and was originally organized by Alykhan Mohamed and his friends, who were all local to Boston. Since its conception in Washington D.C., Subdrift has had events in large cities such as New York, Boston, Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco.

“There’s no formal affiliation, but we all are sort of inspired by each other and chat once in a while. As we’ve evolved and grown, we’ve become a platform for artists, a space for the community,” Mohamed said. “We want to provide a space for all the different facets of the South Asian community and diaspora, and that means supporting people who come from different regions, different languages and different perspectives.”

Subdrift Boston is rooted in a desire to understand and learn about oneself and one’s identity, especially being a young person living in the United States, while balancing and growing a connection with South Asian heritage and culture. Subdrift offers this path of self-discovery and community building through artistic expression.

“I think that was part of our struggle or experiences-what is our identity? We grew up in Boston, but from our families and experiences, we also had another side. It was our way as a group of friends in a community to process that and have conversations around connecting the experience of growing up in Boston. What does diaspora mean? What is our connection to South Asia?” Mohamed said.

Mohamed said that there is a lot of fusion in terms of the type of people who attend Subdrift, and the acts they perform.

“There’s rarely anything that is completely South Asian, or completely American, but people will try out different instruments, different genres. There’s a lot of fusion and experimentation going on. The whole journey has just really been about exploring what it means to be a diaspora and have different identities,” Mohamed said.

Subdrift Boston currently hosts open mic nights on the third Friday of each month, which are held at The Democracy Center in Harvard Square. Mohamed said this is unique compared to the typical bar or restaurant settings for open mics, as The Democracy Center is a community-focused space.

Subdrift is officially run by a four-person organization team, and there are separate roles within the team, such as being a Master of Ceremonies or running technology for the events.

Payal Kumar is the Master of Ceremonies and has been a member of the Subdrift Boston organization team since 2017. He also helps to run the Subdrift Boston social media.

“I would say that the four of us work really closely together and have our hands in a lot of different pots when we’re working,” Kumar said.

In recent years, Subdrift Boston has done regular programming with the Museum of Fine Arts, as well as curating showcases and events for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and collaborating with Dunamis for events such as Jamaica Plain Porchfest. Kumar said that these collaborations have given Subdrift performers an opportunity to build their own artistic development.

To both Mohamed and Kumar, first-time performers provide an especially meaningful experience.

“I think for me, the most moving performers are the ones who come for the first time, get up on stage and they’re just amazing. There are countless times where somebody has come up, they’ve been a little nervous, and they’ve just blown everyone away,” Mohamed said.

Kumar said that performing for the first time takes a great deal of bravery and that it’s touching that Subdrift Boston is a community in which performers can feel vulnerable.

“It takes a lot of courage, a lot of vulnerability, a lot of honesty, and I’m always really touched when folks choose to share that with us. I’m grateful that we’re able to cultivate a space where folks feel comfortable being honest and showing up as their fullest selves,” Kumar said.

Kumar describes the Subdrift Boston audiences as warm and welcoming and encourages those interested in Subdrift to attend.

“We have monthly open mics, we are always excited to chat about new ideas, ways to connect, and whether you’re on stage or in the audience it’s a great space to meet people and build connections,” Kumar said. “We center the South Asian diaspora, but we’re open to everyone who’s interested in respecting building community with us.”

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