Activist Songbook (2020)


Activist Songbook is an ongoing performance project creating 53 new songs and raps to counteract hate and energize movements. Composer Byron Au Yong and lyricist Aaron Jafferis interview Asian American activists, immigrants and refugees, asking: What are the sounds your movement needs that do not yet exist? How can we work together to create these songs?

Activist Songbook will be composed of an “Illuminated Manuscript” that contains all 53 songs written over the course of the project, workshops with New Haven songwriters to compose “the 53rd song” in the series, Virtual Choir performances of songs from the repertoire, and a small series of “live engagements.”

The interplay and interaction of these components are geared to connect the New Haven activist community with the larger national conversations surrounding activism, as well as building a platform for awareness of both the work and the issues in play.


Raise your voice with the Activist Songbook Virtual Choir!

Activist Songbook honors organizers and organizing through collective music-making. Material emerges from interviews with individual organizers to engage communities. Activist Songbook Virtual Choirs, made up of musicians and non-musicians, record songs from the songbook repertoire and perform together from the safety of their own homes, led by Activist Songbook Chorus Director Stephanie Tubiolo (Associate Director of Choirs at Princeton University).

A total of five videos will be created, and singers of every level are welcome. With a single Zoom rehearsal under their belts, performers use guide tracks to record their parts separately, singing along and improvising.

Want to get involved? Join our next Virtual Choir by registering below. Questions? Email



Byron Au Yong
Composer and Musician 

Byron Au Yong was born to Chinese immigrants in Pittsburgh and raised in the Pacific Northwest; his upbringing informs his dedication to creating events where the American Dream and sustainability play vital roles. Au Yong holds degrees from NYU, UCLA and the University of Washington; he has been artist-in-residence with numerous organizations, including the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. He is the recipient of a Creative Capital Award and Time Warner Foundation Fellowship. He teaches in Performing Arts and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.


Aaron Jafferis 
Hip-Hop Poet and Playwright 

Aaron Jafferis' musicals include TRIGGER and STUCK ELEVATOR with Byron Au Yong, and others, and his work has been produced by numerous theaters, including The Old Globe, American Conservatory Theater, and Sundance. He is the recipient of a Creative Capital Award, Richard Rodgers Award, Sundance Institute/Time Warner Fellowship, NEA Art Works Grant, NEFA National Theatre Project Grant, two MacDowell Fellowships, Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award, and a San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award. A former Open Rap Slam champion at the National Poetry Slam Championships, Aaron is the founding artistic director of The Word hip-hop and poetry program in his hometown of New Haven.


Funded in part by the New England States Touring program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Touring Program and the six New England state arts agencies.

Activist Songbook was created as a part of (ex)CHANGE: History Place Presence, a project of Asian Arts Initiative, Original support for (ex)CHANGE: History Place Presence was provided by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Philadelphia. Additional support from Montalvo Arts Center Lucas Artists Residency Program.


Songwriting as Radical Imagination: An Activist Songbook Discussion

Joined by Activist Songbook Composer Byron Au Yong and Lyricist Aaron Jafferis, a panel of artists/activists will discuss music and its role in activism and democracy.


Virtual Choir #1: "We Will Break Free"

Inspired by Susan Hayase, Tom Izu, Masaru Edmund Nakawatase, and Mike Ishii. By Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis

Based on the true story of Masaru Edmund Nakawatase, this song emerges from the freedom work of Japanese Americans who were born in WWII incarceration, came of age in the Civil Rights Movement, and are fighting to end migrant detention and incarceration today.



Activist Songbook Online is an online resource documenting the process and material compiled through the Activist Songbook Project process. Currently consisting of a collection of 11 songs, interviews with organizers, and illustrations, and 100% free, Activist Songbook Online is a toolkit for you in your own drive for social change.


Virtual Choir #2: Survival Is Resistance

Inspired by Kao Kue, Boone Nguyen, and Carol Zou. By Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis

SURVIVAL IS RESISTANCE springs from the words of Philadelphia-based Hmong artist and activist Kao Kue, with additional inspiration from Boone Nguyen and Carol Zou. Their work speaks of the infinitely creative ways individuals, families and peoples survive in the face of oppression, and how culture--especially song--carries life and resistance through generations.


Virtual Choir #3: There Will be Joy

Inspired by PJ and Roy Hirabayashi By Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis Featuring Ali Ewoldt and Francis Jue

There Will Be Joy is inspired by the words and actions of PJ and Roy Hirabayashi, pioneers of North American taiko and founders of San José Taiko. The song pays tribute to the Asian American activists who inspired PJ and Roy, and celebrates the intersection of movement, liberation and joy that infuses their organizing and their music.

Watch Video

Virtual Choir #4: We Are Leaders

Inspired by Wei Chen, Mary Yee, and Allison Budschalow By Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis Featuring Jason Chu and Z Bell

We Are Leaders is inspired by Wei Chen and the students of South Philadelphia High School, who took a stand against anti-Asian violence, working with Chinese, Vietnamese, and Black student leaders to create lasting change in the system. By refusing to stay silent, these student leaders demonstrated that every time we come together, we win.
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Virtual Choir #5: This is a Beginning

Prompted by Lily and Vincent Chin, inspired by Helen Zia and other organizers. By Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis. Featuring Christine Toy Johnson and Tobias Wong.

This Is A Beginning is inspired by the work of Lily Chin, who started a movement in response to her son's murder by white Detroit auto workers. Vincent Chin’s murder in June of 1982 was a turning point for the Asian-American community. By refusing to let her son’s death be invisible, Lily Chin sparked a movement that inspired civil rights protests and organizing across the country.

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Shaping Our Voices Into Movements, Action and Allyship

An Activist Songbook Discussion

Join the Activist Songbook team as fellow artists and activists discuss how we can raise our voices to become agents for social change and what People of the Global Majority (PGM) allyship looks like.

watch video

THERE WILL BE JOY: Songs for the Revolution

An Activist Songbook Event

Raise Your Voice! Join Activist Songbook and One Village Healing for a virtual and freely offered community gathering for folx looking to enhance their activism and resilience with the practice of collective song and mindfulness. This collaborative gathering will be a special feature as part of OVH’s Sunday Circle.