Wendy Hsu

Wendy Hsu received her PhD in Critical and Comparative Studies in the Music Department at the University of Virginia. She is now a Mellon Postdoctoral Digital Scholarship Fellow at the Center of Digital Learning & Research at Occidental College. She is the singer/keyboardist of Dzian!, a vintage pan-Asian garage rock band.



"Transforming Diaspora: The Kominas's Translocal Socio-musical Geography"

The Kominas is a Pakistani-American rock band known for its iconic role within the punk-inspired Muslim-affiliated grassroots music culture self-labeled as “Taqwacore.” Since its national tour in 2006, The Kominas has been vigorously creating a radically translocal social geography comprised of musicians, listeners, artists, filmmakers, and bloggers. Opposing a consumerist version of U.S. multiculturalism, The Kominas’s socio-musical geography embraces a multiplicity of racial, ethnic, and geographical signifiers—such as South Asian, brown, Muslim, Pakistani, and Latino. This multiplicity has created a polymorphous social space for its fans and friends and promotes a minoritarian social inclusion. The Kominas mobilizes this discursive complex in order to unify a conglomerate of fringe social groups. In doing so, the band forges polyculturalist solidarity with those who fall outside of the white norms (and the US American black-white racial binary) in rock music-culture and by extension, in the U.S. and global society.

In this paper, I will examine The Kominas’s discursive transformation of the notion of diaspora by focusing on how it deploys a “brown” ethno-racial identity. This paper investigates the band’s D.I.Y. production of social and musical media to look at how it discursively moves seamlessly between a conventional notion of diaspora—migration of people away from an ancestral homeland—and a minority-centered, multi-diasporic space. Following the traditional notion of diaspora, The Kominas’s brown identification enables an alliance with musicians of Pakistani descent and origins in various cities of U.S. and Pakistan. This brownness racial identification encompasses pan-ethnic affiliation with those who identify with South Asia as a site of heritage. This identification is brought into relief by the band’s transnational connections with urban-based artists and promoters of South Asian descent in the United Kingdom. Crossing racial boundaries, the band’s brown-identified fraternity extends beyond the South Asian terrain to an Afro-Caribbean and Latino contingent. I will offer close song readings to illustrate this unique multi-diasporic musical place. Finally, I argue that The Kominas’s translocal brown identifications challenge the black and white racial binary that has organized the discourses of rock and punk music.