Photo illustration by Joelle McKenna
Mar 8, 2021
The Resistance Revival Chorus is bringing joy to the fight
Zakiyah Ansari, an activist and singer with the Resistance Revival Chorus, on sisterhood, faith, joy in resistance and the RRC's new album
The Resistance Revival Chorus is a collective of more than 60 women and non-binary singers who sing songs of resistance and uplift, born in the fraught and upsetting months following the 2016 election of Donald Trump.
The group carries on the tradition of the civil rights protest song—at scale: Over the past four years, the RRC or its individual members have performed at Black Lives Matter demonstrations, women’s marches, LGBTQ+ rallies and more. The chorus and its members have performed on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon with Jim James, on Saturday Night Live, at Carnegie Hall with Phillip Glass, Carly Simon, and Patti Smith, at SummerStage with Angelique Kidjo, at Babefest with Ani DiFranco.
“We quote Toi Dericotte who says, ‘Joy is an act of resistance’,” says chorus member and activist Zakiyah Ansari. “It is so true. Everything we’ve experienced through the last four years, the chorus has sung through them all. We’ve sung through joy, through grief, through the pandemic, inside and outside.”
Ansari is this week’s guest on “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast.” She discusses the work she and her resistance sisters have been doing over the past four years—and what comes next. The Resistance Revival Chorus’ members include professional entertainers, recording artists, gospel singers, actors and Broadway performers, yes.. But beyond that the choir includes political activists and educators like Ansari.
“If we do not have joy in resistance, then it’s hard to get up the next day to fight,” she says. “If we don’t remember what it feels like, then we won’t fight hard to get there again.”
Now the Resistance Revival Chorus has an album of their own, “This Joy” a collection of historic traditional protest songs, covers and originals with a who’s who of guest artists released in October. It was recorded in New York City over several months, working within Covid constrictions.
“As we define ourselves, we are activists who have found our voice and musicians who have found our activism,” says Ansari, who, when she isn’t singing, is a parent organizer and advocacy director for the New York State Alliance for Quality Education, a statewide organization working on educational justice issues. “Lots of women do not have a safe space, especially an intergenerational, diverse set of women. They don’t have a safe space they can just [say] ‘I’m going to share this and be vulnerable in this space and pray that someone catches me.’ Someone gets caught all the time” in the chorus.
Ansari, who is a mother of eight, also shares how her perspective as a Black Muslim woman adds its own texture to the group.
“My faith is what guides me in everything I do,” she says. “The resisters, our sisters in this moment, are really powerful because they allow me to be myself. They embrace me and we embrace each other. At the core of Islam is peace and connection and caring and seeing folks in their full humanity. And this space does that for me and it does that for so many of us.”
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