Mon 6 Jul 2020 to Mon 3 Aug 2020

Ajak Kwai has only recently joined the PBS grid with her show Come Together, throwing herself into the world of community radio with a show that focuses on music that promotes love and acceptance and on bringing her community into the radio realm.

Ajak hails from the town of Bor on the Upper Nile in South Sudan. As a child she found it difficult to speak, getting her words jumbled up and not in the right order, but when she sang, she had no problems at all. Music helped her to speak.

Her passion for song carried her to church choirs that sang gospel music in the traditional South Sudanese, Dinka style. When conflict broke out in her area Ajak moved with her uncle to the capital, Khartoum, feeling lucky that they were not A statue of a person</p>
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Ajak found a new church choir in Khartoum and yet another one in Cairo, Egypt when conflict forced them out of South Sudan for good. As well as the church choir, Ajak and her three cousins formed the Bor Girls Band, performing original Dinka songs with an Egyptian twist. 

The Bor Girls Band parted ways as Ajak’s cousins made the move to the USA and Ajak headed to her new home in Hobart, Australia. In Hobart, Ajak dedicated herself to studying English and tourism and put her hand up when asked by classmates if anyone could sing at an event they were organising. 

Since that performance, Ajak has gone on to release three albums, develop long term collaborations with excellent musicians such as Martin Tucker, Kumar Shome, Matt Erickson and percussionist Kofi Kunkpe, and perform at festivals such as WOMAD and the Melbourne International Arts Festival. She sings in Dinka, Arabic and English and comments that it’s a shame that many people don’t understand all that she sings in her songs as she conveys important stories of her life as a refugee and of her community.

Ajak heard of PBS for the first time when she was interviewed by Roger Holsworth on Global Village. She delved deeper over the years, listening to a bit more Global Village and discovering Flight 1067 to Africa with Stani Goma and The Gospel Show with Peter Miles. When revered presenter, author and advocate for women of colour in the media, Namila Benson, encouraged Ajak to join PBS, she jumped right in. 

Ajak has brought to radio what her songs bring to music; a mix of her heritage, a wide range of genres from around the world and her advocacy for people of colour and refugees.

The title of her latest album and her PBS show, Come Together, embodies this perfectly. For Ajak this evokes the challenges that people of colour and refugees like her have faced and how they have pushed back against these challenges by forming strong bonds. Ajak is inherently trusting and is disappointed when people have a poor attitude towards people of colour. She recognises the emotion and defensiveness that the word racism provokes - she wants people to develop strong and healthy dialogue so that they can cultivate empathy towards marginalised people. Anger is harmful and Ajak believes that many problems stem from the anger that her community and other marginalised communities are forced to hold. Anger must be released, biases and assumptions in all people must be overthrown and barriers must be broken down.

Ajak hopes that her journey into PBS and community radio will break down some of these barriers and inspire young people from Melbourne’s African diaspora to be brave and confront the daily battles they face and therefore pave the way for more people of colour in the media. She wants to show Melbourne the beautiful contributions she and her community can make and combat the stereotype of the refugee as a burden.

On Monday mornings Ajak wakes up excited because she loves the people and community at PBS and how supportive everyone has been during her first few months of broadcasting. She can’t wait for the office to fill up again and for live performances to start back up once lockdown 2.0 eases. She would like to thank General Manager, Adrian Basso, Program manager, Owen McKern and all the PBS staff for working so hard to keep PBS running at the moment.  

You can hear Ajak on Come Together every Monday from 1pm until 3pm and if you want to support Ajak and the station, become a member to Come Together here.

Thanks to Eve Fraser for this article.