2018 Excellence in Audio Digital Storytelling, Small Newsroom winner

The New American Songbook

About the Project

The GroundTruth podcast season, “The New American Songbook,” is a five-part series about immigrants and music.

These audio documentaries explore how immigration continues to define our nation’s musical culture, and how music can help us understand the lives of today’s immigrants.

As journalists and storytellers, we believe that now more than ever it is important to find new narratives and perspectives for considering the most divisive issues of our times. These five stories are an attempt to do just that — to consider immigration in terms of the songs that bridge generational divides, the dreams that move people across borders, and the sounds that refuse to be left behind.

In Episode One, “Cambodia Reincarnate,” A 9-year old boy helps care for his grandmother, a Cambodian American genocide survivor with PTSD. An incredibly gifted dancer, he makes a surprising discovery about a secret family legacy. Across town, the lead musician of a Cambodian wedding band reveals how music saved him from the genocide.

In Episode Two, “For My Ayeeyo,” two young Somali American women start writing poetry together on a commuter train, only to discover that both their grandmothers, or ‘ayeeyo,’ are also poets. The two women have become determined to carry on this family tradition, even though their grandmothers live thousands of miles away.

In Episode Three, “Making It In The HMI,” a Haitian immigrant works as a security guard in Boston, while his rap videos make him a star online. But to really make it big in the Haitian Music Industry, he needs to return home.

In Episode Four, “Rhythms from Cyprus,” a Cypriot percussionist puts everything on the line to follow in the footsteps of the American jazz masters — only to fall in love with the music he grew up with. This while he learns to navigate the American immigration system.

In Episode Five, “Nuevo Mariachi,” a descendant of Mexican farmworkers in California’s Central Valley faces an identity crisis. Omar Naré was a child mariachi singer. But as an adult, he wants to create mariachi that speaks to his experience as a Californian, not a Mexican. Can he still call it mariachi?

In an effort to reach communities featured in the podcast episodes, and reach beyond our podcast audience, versions of these stories these stories aired on PRI’s The World, PRI’s Afropop Worldwide, WGBH News (Boston NPR), WBCA (low-power Boston community radio), KVPR (Fresno, Calif. NPR), and Radio Energy (low-power Haitian-operated station in Boston).

There were also three community events as part of the project. These provided an opportunity to reach new audiences, and to spark conversations that led to concrete actions.