Read on for an exclusive new song from the accompanying soundtrack to Keep Moving On.
Back in 2012, when I was a bright-eyed young event organizer, I was lucky enough to have Amrit Singh (better known by his emcee name 'Noyz') perform at my first social justice arts event. At the time, I was just beginning my journey as a poet, but Noyz was a seasoned rapper, captivating the audience with his hard-hitting political lyrics, alongside rapper B Magic. Since then, it has been an honour to witness Amrit's creative evolution, as he's moved from the mic to paper.
This month, Amrit releases his highly anticipated autobiographical family memoir, Keep Moving On. In 2017, Amrit Singh experienced the deaths of his grandmother and uncle. Soon after, his mother was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. "Raised in a family that lacked open communication", Amrit yearned to break down barriers and talk to his dad about experiences he'd never openly shared. What followed were eye-opening and life-changing conversations about his father's immigration story, family secrets and countless life lessons. I sat down with him to discuss the journey.
How did you know you needed to write a family memoir? Was there a single moment when it hit you?
My grandmother and my uncle passed away just a few months apart. My uncle lived in the UK, and local news outlets in his town wrote beautiful articles about his contributions to the community. Those articles made me realize that even though I loved my uncle, there was so much about him that I didn't know. Longing for that feeling of connection and having longstanding questions about the family made me start the project of sitting down with my dad and other relatives to finally uncover and preserve our history.
What were your greatest apprehensions when it came to writing a book?
At first, it was that I wasn't going to be a good writer. I was making a pretty big jump from writing music to writing a book, and the processes for each are so different that I didn't know if I would be able to adjust to the new medium. I also struggled with thoughts of "what right do I have to write a book?" or "what do I have to say that's so important that it needs to be put in a book?" throughout the entire process. Impostor syndrome hit me hard in the early goings (and still does). As I learned more about my dad's story and understood that he travelled through many countries using means that weren't always legal, my fear was that I would be putting him in harm's way by sharing his story publicly. I almost had to scrap the entire project until I spoke with a lawyer who explained to me that there was a very low chance of any legal risk.
The title Keep Moving On was inspired by Noyz's song of the same name, released as part of his 2012 album Degrees of Freedom.
How have you changed as a writer since you began writing this memoir?
I no longer operate from a place of scarcity. Writing a book can be daunting when you're thinking about the end product and how many pages you're trying to complete. In the beginning, each new piece was such a struggle to get done and I felt like I had to keep everything I wrote. The further I got in the process, the more discriminating I could be with my editing. I developed trust within myself that more words would always flow and the story would be strengthened with each revision. In writing an autobiographical family memoir, were there any tough storytelling decisions that you had to make?
As kids, we're often shielded from certain situations and behaviors. When speaking to my dad about how he grew up, I learned about domestic violence involving certain family members that I wasn't previously aware of. I wrestled with how this new information changed my perception of the people who carried out that violence, and whether or not to include those details in the book. In the end, I decided to keep it in because experiencing and being witness to that violence had an impact on how my dad chose to raise me and shield me from having to live through the same abuse. To better understand my father and everything he had been through, I had to acknowledge both the good and the bad that made him who he is.
Very fittingly, you chose to record an accompanying album for the book—and invited me to record a track with you! Can you walk us through the creative process for a unique soundtrack like this? The idea to make a soundtrack was almost like a security blanket for me. I was worried how my audience would respond to me pivoting away from music and writing a book, so the soundtrack was initially made to satisfy the parts of my fanbase who I felt only wanted music from me. The book was new and uncomfortable for me too, so concurrently working on music felt familiar and reassuring. Writing a book is solitary work, so to make the soundtrack special, I decided to reach out to friends who have very different talents than mine to make the music a fun and collaborative process. The soundtrack covers themes that mirror some of the major topics covered in the book like migration, mental health, racism, classism, and intergenerational family dynamics, and it mixes rap with R&B and spoken word. The music was done by Vancouver-based producer EMPWER, and he provided me with some beautiful beats that really pushed me out of my comfort zone as a writer. Who do you hope that Keep Moving On reaches?
I hope this book reaches the children of immigrants and encourages them to explore the richness of their own histories. There is so much that we can gain from spending time with and listening to our elders, and if we don't take the time to learn, we run the risk of losing touch with our roots. I also hope that this book reaches those who have already travelled and settled, and that it helps them see the value of their own experiences to younger generations. My dad didn't think his past meant much, but when he did finally share it, I learned about the ways in which the political intersects with the personal, that leaving home is never an easy choice, and that the connection to what we call "back home" never goes away.
Listen to an exclusive new track from the Keep Moving On album, here:
Amrit Singh is an author, rapper, spoken word artist, and community organizer from Brampton, Ontario. Some of his verses discussing themes of migration, identity, and belonging have been published in the academic journal Sikh Formations, and in the book The Precarious Diasporas of Sikh and Ahmadiyya Generations: Violence, Memory, and Agency. Amrit studied psychology and neuroscience at McMaster University, and went on to complete his Master's in cognitive psychology at York University.
You can preorder the accompanying soundtrack at BandCamp.