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Joe Kye is a violinist-looper and vocalist who is motivated by a deep desire to be a steward of culture.

We’re asking this question in Volume I of More Devotedly—Who belongs here?

There are many intersecting ways to think about belonging, but because of my guest Joe Kye’s personal history as an immigrant, that’s the lens through which we’ll examine this question in this episode. I’ve become friends with Joe in the last year and have been so impressed with his musical skill and sensibility, and his genuine, kind personality. Enjoy this interview!

Links to media mentioned in the episode.

Joe’s 2018 album Migrants is available here.

You can hear him talk about the making of this album on PRI’s The World with Marco Werman here:

Joe refers to a book called Culture Care, by Makoto Fujimura, which you can find here.

Introduction

The United States of America has never been a completely welcoming place for immigrants. But, despite the many barriers to their doing so, immigrants have made so many incredible contributions to our arts, our culture, and our society. Without them and how they’ve changed us, we wouldn’t recognize the America that we’d have. It wouldn’t be the America that we have now, the America that despite all its faults, I love.

President Trump has been attacking immigrants, among many other groups, as a political strategy since he began his campaign in 2015. He has called them “criminals,” “rapists,” and more recently “invaders.” It’s clear that, to this president, these people aren’t true Americans, that they don’t belong.

That enrages me, but fortunately, artists are doing incredible work to insist just the opposite is true—their art shows what we have in common, and how our lives are made more vibrant by all of us working together.

In Volume I of this podcast, I wanted to see how some artists are making work that addresses the idea of belonging. How they define what it means to belong? What are the different ways we can belong? To what and how many groups can we belong, and still belong to the broader society of the United States? How do they reinforce that idea with their work, and, most importantly, why is it important that they do?

My guest this episode is Joe Kye, a violinist-looper and vocalist whose music unites his background in classical violin with hip-hop, songwriting, and electronic music. Motivated by a deep desire to be a steward of culture, he shares stories about his own background as the son of Korean immigrants and finding his way in his adopted country. Joe makes music to heal his own traumas and to find joy, but sees his music as a generative, restorative force.

Joe Kye

In other words, the heart of his music is to nourish others as he seeks to nourish himself. Joe was taking a break from caring for twin newborns, so if you hear some fatigue in his voice, that’s probably the reason why. We talked about how he arrived at making the music he makes, how Makoto Fujimura’s book Culture Care influences his approach to his career, and how he was inspired to create the same space for reflection and caring for adults as Fred Rogers created for children.

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