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Behind the music of Black Lives Matter: Jayanthi Kyle’s ‘Hand in Hand’

MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
“Hand in Hand” by Jayanthi Kyle, above right, has become the unofficial anthem for Black Lives Matter Minneapolis.

You kinda have to wonder how Jayanthi Kyle finds the time. “I have a two year old, I have a five year old, I have a six year old,” she said. “I’m in over eight bands. I’m in multiple projects. I can barely tell you what bands I’m in.”

Kyle has been singing since she was little, belting gospel songs while cleaning her mom’s home in south Chicago, or harmonizing hymns at her father’s church in Maple Grove. But if you live in the Twin Cities, you’re probably more likely to hear Kyle’s voice at a protest rather than a church or music venue.

Her song “Hand in Hand” has become the unofficial anthem for Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, with Kyle performing it at most BLM events.

“I hoped it would be something that people could keep continuing to use,” Kyle said. “I’m glad that the song is getting out there.”

“Hand in Hand” was a collaborative effort between Kyle and Wes Burdine, the guitarist in her indie-R&B group, Gospel Machine. The two wrote the song last December for the Million Artist Movement, a collective of local artists fighting for black equality and racial justice.

Kyle first performed the piece at the Million March MN rally as part of a national commemoration of black Americans killed at the hands of police. Recently, she sang the number at Heart of the Beast’s annual MayDay performance to a crowd of over a thousand — many onlookers singing along from memory.

The song was inspired by high-profile killings like Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Kyle said, which comes through with lines like “My sister ain’t equal and my brother can’t breathe.”

But ultimately, the song is about connectivity, Kyle said. “I only want to sing positive songs. I want to sing something that makes me feel good when I walk away. I want people to be connecting.”

Kyle said that positivity is at the crux of all of her songs, despite them often covering topics of struggle.

BLM Minneapolis co-founder Mica Grimm said Kyle’s song gives their demonstrations an element of healing, and helps people feel they’re participating in something bigger than themselves. “It’s in the spirit of songs from the civil rights movement,” she said. “It really evokes old spirituals that slaves used to sing on plantations.”

The song also resonates with people involved with BLM, Grimm said, because it reminds people that the goal is to reach a point where protesting isn’t necessary. “We would much rather be living our lives and not having to stop what we’re doing in order to call out injustice,” she said. “One day we’re not going to need to do this anymore because one day we’ll be okay.”

BLM Minneapolis approached Kyle to sing her song for their events after seeing her perform at the Million March MN rally, she said.

Wes Burdine said he hopes their song can cut through building racial tensions in Minnesota and nationwide by drawing inspiration from old slave work songs and by humanizing the pain and frustration those tensions can cause. “It’s really healing during a period when things feel dangerous and things feel tense all the time,” he said. “Her music is really reaching out to people and getting them to connect with one another.”

Kyle’s father is Indian and her mother black and Native American, she said, so bridging cultural divides has always been a part of her life. But it’s important that people have hope in their struggles, she said, rather than giving in to despair. “We need people to be working on it,” she said. “It’s better to hope … than complain. So, I’d rather come out there and give everybody that hope.”

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