• Joelle Charan

The Sound of Healing

Born and raised in Amsterdam to a Catholic mother and Hindu father, Joelle Charan celebrates her Hindustani roots with her identity and sound by infusing her dreamy pop songs with classical Indian instruments. She strives to contribute to the healing of Indian-Surinamese collective trauma by fusing east and west within her musical style. Her beautiful new EP Ashira, with the new single Man In A Town Car, is grounded in a message of forgiveness and empowerment against hate and injustice.


My mother is Catholic, my father is Hindu, and I was born and raised in Amsterdam. My father is a descendant of indentured labourers from northwest India who worked under Suriname's harsh conditions following the abolition of slavery. They were called 'koelies' by the colonial oppressor: unschooled wage slaves who lived an inhuman existence.

Throughout my life, I have been called a 'koelie' by different people I have met. Perhaps they were ignorant of the word's origins and how it could affect me. Or maybe they were curious to see if they could provoke a response with such an insult. Even an ex-boyfriend once thought it was funny to call me a 'koelie' - I broke up with him, obviously.


I was raised in an open-minded home, and I will always admire my parents for that. Neither of them imposed their faith on me. Instead, they taught me to educate myself and form my own opinion through visits to museums, churches, and Hindu temples. As a child, we not only took trips to the Vatican and Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome but also to the Hindu temple Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London. My parents read Christian stories to me as well as tales about baby Krishna. In our house, the same candle was lit for both beliefs, and mutual respect and empathy existed for each other.


Yet outside of my home, I can remember being bullied by my classmates who thought my skin had been painted on and mocked me for not eating beef. I was the only child in my school with 'weird' skin colour, and the other children were even frightened of my dad once when he came to pick me up from school. One day I received an official letter in front of my mostly white peers, which informed me of my allochtoon status due to my father having been born in Suriname, outside of the Netherlands. Since then, the Dutch government has stopped using this term because it carries negative connotations of lower status, poor education, and crime involvement, but its legacy lives on. The other children stared at me for days. It was strange.


Back then, I didn't understand. I thought it was cruel and unfair to treat me differently, but now I know it was just the system.


At public high school, we all had to read the same book for Philosophy of Life. 90% of the pages were about Christianity with a little Judaism entwined into the stories. One page was devoted to Buddhism and one page to 'other beliefs': Islam and Hinduism. My mum thought that was so ridiculous and insisted on buying several books for me to read more about all the world's intriguing beliefs.


In our house, the same candle was lit for both beliefs