Radio story

Queens community singers voice their diversity and spirit at Gemini’s Lounge

By Yasmeen Persaud 

In the heart of the uproar that is Queens stands Liberty Avenue — a neighborhood which advertises a long stretch of halal carts, roti shops and West-Indian restaurants. Upon the walls on the sides of the buildings, and within the counters of mini pastry shops rests flyers that advertise local singers in the West-Indian dominated neighborhood. 

Every Monday night at Gemini’s Lounge, three international singers perform, showcasing their voice to the local community, and wearing proud hats of an ethnic enclave. Their performances represent the epitome of breaking cultural barriers and the diversity of the Queen’s community. 

Upon walking into the disco-themed and still-lively atmosphere of Gemini’s Lounge, it’s 4:30 a.m. and karaoke night is only just starting to wind down. Technically, it was supposed to be over a half an hour ago. Pakistani singer Mohammad Javed is singing in Hindi to a mostly West-Indian crowd.

“I am really inspired by the Guyanese people who really really love music, they love music and I just always mingle with them, so I’m inspired by them actually,” Javed said.

Javed credits his Guyanese friends and fellow singers around the neighborhood for his proficiency in singing. Oftentimes, singers of West-Indian descent who sing in languages they didn’t grow up speaking, like Hindi, Punjabi or Bengali, can struggle to find acceptance among audiences around here. But Javed says that shouldn’t be held against them.

“Singing is of talent, you either have it or don’t have it, that doesn’t mean Pakistanis can sing, I know millions who can’t even hold the mic, don’t judge the [Guyanese] people because they’re not from Pakistan. They’re more talented. Even they don’t even do rehearsals, or learn to go somewhere to learn the music, but they’re still so good,” he added.

Guyanese-born singer Mala R. has run into this kind of criticism herself, but she says she feels connected to the music. After all, West-Indian is still fundamentally, Indian.

“Our heritage is in India, our great grandfathers came from India and we still have that culture within us, tradition within us and that language within us, it just comes to some of us naturally,” R. stated. 

She describes that Guyanese singers sometimes don’t know the lyrics, and even make up their own pronunciation but still sing because its their passion. She takes pride in her own abilities, and even says that singing catapulted her into other forms of arts. 

“We do well in it, like about 50 percent of us do well and the other 50 just for the love of it just sing, they sing the wrong stuff, but they sing for enjoyment and feel alive. There’s so much more you can put to singing, and go higher to the level like the people in India, where we all came from anyway,” she said. 

Kalvin Eno is the third international singer who takes the stage at Gemini’s every Monday night. Eno says if West-Indian singers face resistance, it’s nothing to the reaction he gets as a Nigerian-born person singing Bollywood-style music.  

“It doesn’t really matter with the color, it’s about interest, if you have interest in something and you believe in something, I’m pretty sure you can do it, I’ve been singing here and a lot of people come out here seeing a black man seeing Indian songs, and secondly I’m not from Guyana, Trinidad, The West-Indies, they’re surprised with seeing someone of my color, and you know, they love it,” Eno stated.   

As the night drifts into the calm hours of 5 a.m., the performers allow for audience members and club goers to sing with them as the performance ends, a TV screen in the corner showing lyrics to the latest hits of Bollywood. Despite being from three different backgrounds, the three Queens community singers bring their own spirit to Gemini’s lounge and to the hearts of the world that is Queens. 

“I never miss a day here, Even if it’s snowing I’m here, even if it’s raining, I’m here, it’s all about the love, that’s it,” Eno added. 

Singer Mohammad Javed smiles as he prepares for his next performance, which is his favorite — “Ve Maahi,” from the Bollywood film, Kesari.