Good Indian Girl, Definitely Sort Of: Joti Singh
CULTURAL WARRIOR, BHANGRA BADASS, AMERI-DESI-GUINEAN
I currently reside in: San Francisco
What’s your favorite hangout in SF: Little Baobab African restaurant/club/dance studio. And on a sunny day, definitely Dolores Park.
I currently work as: I’m the Artistic Director of Duniya Dance and Drum Company, which I founded in 2007. Duniya performs and teaches traditional and innovative performance pieces from Guinea, West Africa and Punjab, India, to cultivate respect for traditional forms, foster cultural exchange, effect social justice and engage in community building. We did a show called “Half and Halves” about the Punjabi-Mexican communities of California. In a few weeks we’re premiering a performance about Sekou Touré, the first president of Guinea, and in August we’re doing a show about the Ghadar party, of which my great-grandfather was president. And recently I got a grant from the American India Foundation to travel to Punjab and collaborate with their students working on art and activism. Along with my husband Bongo Sidibe, and some other amazing folks, we recently built the Duniya Center for Arts and Education in Conakry, Guinea. The school helps artists to gain skills to help them make a living from their art, and also has a space for concerts and events, a cafe, and a general store.
I do this because: I got my M.A. in South Asian Studies at UC Berkeley. I was on track to do a PhD, but decided that instead of studying other people’s dance companies, I would start my own. It allows me to be creative, be my own boss, and create work that is meaningful to me and hopefully to others. My work is pretty much never boring and each day is completely different from the day before. I also get to travel to cool places and meet a ton of people.
What are some Indian traditions you still follow? A big part of my job is teaching Bhangra and Bollywood dances, so those are the traditions I follow most. Other traditions I follow are: valuing family, always welcoming guests, and taking my shoes off in the house, although those aren’t only specific to India. Plus, I got married in a Gurdwara which I think counts for a lot.
Bollywood or Hollywood, and why? Bollywood for the dancing. Hollywood if I want to actually watch an entire movie
Favorite movie? Anything with Daniel Day-Lewis.
What’s your favorite thing about Indian culture? Is it too superficial to say the food? A close second would be the dancing and music.
What’s one piece of advice your parents have given you that should probably be or are abiding by? Have a retirement plan. As a self-employed artist, I haven’t exactly gotten around to it. I know I know, I need to.