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  • Writer's pictureBarrio's Living Library

Creating safe spaces through bad singing

I grew up in The Bronx where there was a constant mix of Rap, R&B, and Latin music playing. If you wanted to listen to your own music, you needed to either get headphones or make sure your music is louder than your neighbors. I did both.

I learned to love all music. To listen to the lyrics and appreciate the beats. There’s very little I don’t like in the way of music. When I arrived in the United States I remember how amazing it was to hear different types of genres. Ask my mom and she’ll tell you two things. (1) I really felt the lyrics when I sang and (2) I shouldn’t be singing. It was discouraging to hear my family asking me to be quiet because my singing voice wasn’t pleasing but that never stopped me. I love singing. Like stories, it’s a way to live another’s life for a short time. My friends made fun of me too but I rationalized that even if I sucked, I was enjoying myself so who cares.

When mp3 players became a thing it was a game changer. One Christmas my mother was able to splurge on me and got me Zune. I remember asking for it weeks in advance and my mother told me it was way too expensive. And it was so when I opened my gift and I saw cute socks I was disappointed but not surprised. After all, as a child you always hold out hope. But THEN! In the socks guess what I FOUND! A Zune! I burst into tears. I was so happy. I immediately named it Zuneleny and my world was complete. Now I was able to add all my favorite illegally downloaded music and distance myself to all the other sounds on my block and subway. Apparently, this was an even bigger problem because although I was still able to hear the music, everyone around me only heard me.

It wasn’t until I got to college and my musician friends made me into an experiment because they couldn’t believe I was so bad. The results: I’m tone deaf. I needed practice to be able to hit the right notes. Well, that sounded like a lot of work to me when I was already enjoying what I was doing. So what did I do? I went back to my tried and true philosophy, if I was enjoying myself, who cares?

Fast forward a few years and I’m at Barrio Alegría where someone (could have been me, no one really knows) suggested we do karaoke. Can you guess who lit right up at the suggestion? That’s right- I did. Because two decades of people telling me I couldn’t sing finally got me to stop singing in public. But the early 2018 Barrio offered something new: a safe space.

Of course, they had no idea what was coming.

Four years later and here we are, in the post COVID-19 era, about to start a brand new season of monthly Karaoke nights. Although Karaoke nights had to be moved outside starting last year and we had to use phones, hairbrushes, and even sticks as mics, it’s okay as long as we’re together. This year, it’s still outside but it’s back to real mics.

I hope to see all my friends again at the next Karaoke night!

Karaoke nights is the best attended EAF because it embodies what EAFs are supposed to be. EAFs are free Friday night events that allow you to express yourself in a safe environment. Barrio doesn't care if you can’t sing or dance or “do” art. We just want you to help us create safe spaces to be yourself and find happiness. Because happiness isn’t something that just arrives at your doorstep, it’s something you create. And safe spaces aren’t something that you declare, it’s something you must continuously work on. I do that through really, really bad singing.

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