How we made the YMAD Album
Peter Breinholt (Operation Shaktishali, November 2014)
A year ago this week I was in India with YMAD. We had spent months prepping for the trip, but it seemed I was just beginning to realize something about the kids in our group: they were creative. In fact, I started to wonder if there was something about YMAD in general that attracts supremely creative teenagers to it's program.
Sitting around a bonfire in Chamba our first week, a guitar and a ukulele got passed around and the kids took turns playing songs to each other. Some of the songs were familiar and got everyone singing, but others were quiet songs, written by the kids themselves. They wrote vivid and heartbreaking blog entries about what they saw in India, designed and painted murals on rotting school walls, spit out raps they made up on the bus, performed their own dance for nearly 1,000 people in the town, told hilarious stories like stand-up comedians, and broke into song wherever they went. Yes, they are creative.
The thing about trying to be creative is you can't always be inspiring. Sometimes the well runs dry and you have to just be inspired by someone else for a while. India inspired me, but watching 23 teenagers step into that colorful country for the first time and have all of their senses get hit at once, and then to watch how deeply and articulately they were able to process, and then express it - that inspired me too.
A few weeks after we got home, we held what is called a Homecoming Celebration where the newly-returned travelers share talks and videos about their trip for an audience made up of family and friends. One of the girls from our group, Nell Stevens, shared a glimpse of what India looked like through her eyes:
"India is where I learned that I am lucky. I am lucky and you are lucky. We are so incredibly lucky . We are lucky for warm water when we shower. We are lucky for shoes and for more than one outfit and dentists who can cure toothaches in a day and trained amazing teachers and for houses. We are lucky but they are strong. They are strong and beautiful and I have done nothing to deserve to be born into my lovely life instead of theirs. But I also know that they have been blessed with strength and grace and resilience and deep gratitude to endure their situation far better than I ever could. I also learned that poverty is not sadness, and sadness is not darkness. I saw no burdens on their bony little shoulders or bitterness in their giant smiles and no desperation in their bright eyes. I saw happiness more genuine, more frequent, and more authentic than what often exists among the world’s most wealthy”.
When she finished, we asked Nell if she would try turning her talk into a song (which she did in about two days). We then asked nine other Ymad’ers from seven different expeditions over ten years to do the same. One by one they came over to my studio and sang their experiences into a microphone. We then turned them into fully produced songs, posted them to iTunes, and pressed CD's. The result is The YMAD Album . . . and it's beautiful.
One thing about Ymad’ers is that when they return home, they often express a desire to not completely return. They have been changed and they want to stay that way. To be a little less controlling, a little more vulnerable; a little less structured, a little more present; a little less striving, a little more content. These songs are about that. They are reminders of how we changed. And now that they are recorded and released, they're permanent. Our hope is that they will always be able to take us back to India, even if only in our minds.