Christmas is fast approaching, and along with it the traditional busyness of organising gifts, food and get-togethers. In the busy yet joyful “Christmas rush”, it can sometimes be easy to forget the people for whom Christmas is a challenging time, especially those who are part of a cultural minority, who are marginalised for who they are, or who are physically separated from family and community.
This Christmas, these people have been remembered in a particularly special way with the Sounds of Christmas from Asia Pacific album. The album, which was produced during Sydney’s recent lockdown and launched over Zoom on November 26 by the Carnival of the Bold and Equal Voices, features eight familiar Christmas tunes, sung in languages of the Asia Pacific region. It combines cultures and languages in a beautiful expression of the diversity and creativity of the many multicultural and multilingual communities in Sydney. As a not-for-profit community project, proceeds from the album sales go towards funding of a subsequent project, and support Mudgin-gal Women’s Place, an Aboriginal women-led organisation supporting vulnerable women and our own Diocese’s House of Welcome that shelters, welcomes and empowers people seeking asylum and refuge.
At the launch of the album, those present were privileged to hear not only the beautiful Christmas songs, but also moving testimonies from each of the singers, musicians, and the album’s producers, Kevin Bathman & Benjamin Oh. In his welcome to those present, Benjamin said that the album is dedicated to “our brothers and sisters on the margins, reminding them and ourselves that we must care…that regardless of who you are, you matter.” Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, echoed Benjamin’s words in saying that this album is a reminder “of the many nations who have made their home here, and the contributions they have made to our city”.
Each singer and musician shared a little of what their chosen carol or music meant for them. Catholic Outlook spent some time in conversation with Cynthia Su, who performed Yǒu yì dì jiǔ tiān chánga, the Mandarin translation of the traditional Scottish melody, Auld Lang Syne. When she heard about the Sounds of Christmas project, Cynthia felt excited. “I was really excited about the opportunity to be part of something different, something about the diversity of the community and spreading love and positive energy”, she says.
Singing has been a lifelong passion for Cynthia. Involved in music and singing since the age of five, she has been nominated for the Australian Independent Music Awards (“Best Urban Song”, 2013), she continues to compose her own material, and is working on an album scheduled for release in 2022. She describes singing as “my way to express myself and to escape into another world” and says that this project gave her the opportunity to feel that again.
Auld Lang Syne has special meaning for Cynthia. “I’ve always loved the melody, and how it’s quite reflective”, she says “It’s a bit different from other Christmas songs, as it’s meant to be sung at midnight at New Year’s Eve. It’s about friendship and how it can transcend time or distance.”
This theme of lasting connection and friendship is at the heart of the album project, and of the Christmas season itself. For Cynthia, Christmas is a time of coming together with her family, friends, and people she cares about. “It’s all about gathering and eating food”, she says. “We laugh and catch up and it’s always fun. There are a few gift-giving moments too.”
With some uncertainty still around regarding the pandemic, this Christmas will look a little different to those in the past. When asked what Christmas might mean for her this year, Cynthia talks about gratitude. “Christmas this year will be all about feeling grateful for everything we have, and not taking the things we have for granted”, she says. Acknowledging that there are many individuals and families struggling this Christmas, for many different reasons, Cynthia left us with some words of encouragement for them. “Keep going and stick together and positive things will happen”, she says.
The Sounds of Christmas from Asia Pacific is certainly one positive thing to come out of this challenging year. It is a powerful, poignant reminder of the beauty of our diverse and multicultural community, and of the importance of reaching out to and welcoming those who are alienated or marginalised. It is an affirmation that all people matter, regardless of their background or culture. Through its unifying initiative, this ground-breaking Christmas project is sure to welcome with joy those who are feeling disconnected or living life on the margins.
You can learn more about the Sounds of Christmas album and purchase a copy here. As this is a community project, there are only limited editions of the album available.