In her album REASPORA, Dutch singer-songwriter Anne-Fay explored her familial roots and followed the diaspora of her family. Anne-Fay has white skin and was born to a Black mother. Growing up in the Netherlands, she acknowledged her white-passing privilege but felt compelled to further understand her family’s history and their ties to the diaspora. Says Anne-Fay, “the brutal colonial past of the Netherlands has ensured that I live here in a privileged country, with beautiful people around me. My work is about acknowledging the past, recognizing the present, and creating a beautiful future together.”
We spoke with Anne-Fay about the journey that REASPORA took her on, including the lessons she learned, what she hopes others will take away from it, and her connection to various songs on the album.
What does REASPORA mean to you?
For the last three years Reaspora has been my whole world. I traveled the diaspora of my family to Aruba, Curacao, Surinam, and Ghana. China got canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve spent the last three years researching, meeting family members I had never met before, and learning and creating together with my brother Felix Kops.
To me, Reaspora means knowing and understanding. Knowing and understanding myself, my roots, my mother and my family. Understanding why society is shaped the way it is, why we act the way we do, and why mixing cultures is beautiful and difficult at the same time. Reaspora, to me, means an inner battle but also inner peace, pride and joy.
What were some of the lessons you learned from creating this album?
In creating the album I learned to trust my own honesty and intuition more and more. The process of making a song is a fight at times, and sometimes the song just appears in a split second.
Each song also asks something else of my voice. Learning where I can go and what it communicates has been both a beautiful and frustrating process. To accept and embrace that process and see the beauty in it has been a big lesson.
What was important to convey to listeners during this process? What messages, ideas, and stories did you want listeners to take away?
I hope the listeners get to think about the impact of colonial history and how it is intertwined in every vessel of society. An impact that is still so big on humanity and on its individuals. I ask the listener to make room for different perspectives, my own perspective, and doubts in particular. The perspective from a woman with white privilege, but also with African and Asian roots.
You mix a combination of genres and sounds. How do these sounds reflect the story you’re portraying?
To me, it’s very logical that the album became a mosaic of different genres and sounds. The journey has so many different sounds, colors, and tastes. All these different layers are part of Reaspora. I’ll share some of them…
In Surinam, an uncle took us to a man who knew a lot about the traditional drum sounds coming from Africa. We spoke for hours, then he started drumming and singing, and all the kids in the neighborhood joined in. A young boy asked me to dance. It was a beautiful afternoon and all of a sudden so much emotion hit me. I started crying and I couldn’t stop. I’m actually tearing up again as I am writing this… I still don’t know if it was the love, the recognition, the gratitude, the spiritual journey, or all of it together, it hit me so hard.
On Plantation Peperpot in Surinam, I gave homage to my ancestors. My mother’s name comes from that plantation. I played my music with a pianist in honor of them. For the first time, I felt their presence. Which was strong and beautiful. Also, a lot of family members I had never met came to be there and even sang with me.
A very dark moment was in Fort Elmina Ghana, the door of no return. This is where about 12 million African people were forcefully shipped to the Americas, where I learned about the cruelties of humanity. I hated white people when I listened to the stories of all that has happened there. A very confusing feeling because I am white passing.
The whole album-making process was together with my brother Felix, which is special in itself. We have the same parents and grew up together, yet how we experienced everything, and our views on things could be different. I spoke a lot with my mom and we got closer during the whole Reaspora journey. Along the way, I understood more and more of who she is.
Your bio includes the following question when referencing what went into the album – how would you answer it? How do you relate to today’s society, cultural appropriation and the colonial past of the Netherlands, when you have Black roots but also white privilege?
When it comes to the colonial past of the Netherlands, or of the world actually, I’m still learning every day. I feel like I only scratched the surface when it comes to knowledge. You have to learn about the past first and then connect the dots to the present. Why did my mom like my straight hair structure, but didn’t like her own mixed hair? Where does it come from? The wealthy Holland, where I live and profit from, is partly built with the blood of people from the African diaspora. These stories haven’t been told or haven’t been told enough.
For me, my view on white privilege at this point is to be aware and mindful of it. I can’t ‘help’ being white and I did not choose to be privileged. I can, however, be aware of the fact that I am privileged and recognize that there are differences in the world that are incredibly unfair. There is so much of a difference in how people see and treat my mother because she is Black versus how they see and treat me because I am white.
I search for ways to use my privilege in a constructive manner. For me, Reaspora is using my privilege in a constructive way. Because of my white skin tone, hair structure and non exotic name I could easily not research my roots, not learn about racism and not face my own white privilege. I don’t have to deal with prejudices and racism every day. Therefore I feel the urge to make what I make, I feel a big responsibility.
Cultural Appropriation is difficult. I decided a while ago not to braid my hair anymore as I used to. In solidarity with my Black sisters who are discriminated against for how they wear their hair. This feels like the right way for me, I want to be sensitive to how different society sees me with braids or how it sees my mother with braids. My Black mother and Black boyfriend however think it’s total nonsense that I don’t braid my hair anymore. Them telling me that does make I think about cultural appropriation in the future.
How will the ‘rules’ of cultural appropriation work out in the future? For instance, hip-hop music is the music genre most listened to in the world, which automatically makes it pop culture. Pop culture has a huge influence on fashion and trends. How can those ‘rules’ realistically work out in the future?
To you, how are storytelling and music intertwined?
For me, each song is a story. Sometimes the song starts with a feeling or something that happened that day. Sometimes the song just writes itself and I realise weeks or months later what I really meant by it. That discovery brings me a lot of joy. Unconsciously you already know or feel something, you just haven’t wrapped your head around it. It’s weird and beautiful if you think of it. My brother Felix and me wrote the whole album together, he brings different feels and he brings up other angles than I do which makes our collaboration rich and the storytelling diverse
What did you learn about yourself in your journey as you wrote each song?
Everything I achieved in my life so far, I achieved through strength and working incredibly hard. Reaspora has taught or actually forced me to trust the process and work smarter, to not produce, overthink and direct every step I take. Or actually Reaspora taught me that perspective, haha, I haven’t mastered it. I have to trust myself and my perspective and that there is power in my perspective! Letting go can be liberating.
Which songs do you feel are most powerful and why?
I have difficulty choosing haha. The Reaspora album is the best I have made so far. “I Am Racist” and “Fragile” feel very powerful, in honesty and vulnerability. The day before I first performed “I Am Racist” live, I decided to tell the story as an introduction: I walked home late at night, about 7 years ago. A white man passed me, I noticed him. Ten minutes later a Black man passed me and I became watchful. After he passed, I realized what had just happened. I got home and cried my eyes out. So ashamed. I have Black friends, I have a Black boyfriend, Black family, a Black mom. No one ever taught me this, why did I think like this?
Years later I saw a documentary where they did a social experiment with kids. They showed drawings of kids in different colors, and asked them, who are the good, smart and sweet kids? And who are the bad and dumb kids? All the kids had been raised ‘colorblind’ but choose the Black kids as bad, dumb and naughty, and the white kids as smart, sweet and good. I realized how society, media and so on, teaches you unconsciously to be racist. That’s why I wrote the song. I have to realize I am racist, so if it happens my ego will never oppose it and I can truly change myself for the better.
“Minefield” feels powerful because it’s about my own courage. “My Me” feels powerful because it’s about my perspective. All the songs make me feel powerful in such different ways – I can’t choose!
What does “change” look like to you? What do you want your role to be in making societal change?
I think change starts with knowledge and empathy for different perspectives. By educating myself and sharing my perspective, I want to contribute to change.