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Spotlight

Storyteller with a Story: Harpo Mander

Naina Grewal Darpan, 18 May, 2023
  • Storyteller with a Story: Harpo Mander

Meet visionary, thought leader, community builder, cultural producer, and storyteller, Harpo Mander. Simply put, she is a brown girl who adores being a brown girl. 

Harpo’s journey began with a desire to be vulnerable and raw, and her exploration of various mediums, which led to a love for podcasting. Brown Girl Guilt was born, a podcast through which Harpo provides language to the shared experiences of brown girls and unpacks her brown girl guilt, while continuously exploring what a world without that guilt looks like. In 2022 alone, Harpo released 28 Brown Girl Guilt episodes, which were listened to across 79 countries, with 684 minutes streamed and an 865% increase in followers. 

Undoubtedly, Harpo is passionate about conversations, creating space, taking space, and cultivating space. Her tagline for life is building the world she wants to live in, and her role as General Manager of 5X is a tool for doing just that. 5X is a digital community elevating South Asian youth culture with the flagship event of a multi-day, multi-venue festival covering music, visual art, fashion, and culture — a perfect fit for Harpo. Having landed the role through what she describes as divine intervention, the dedicated changemaker aspires to grow 5X as a channel for South Asian expression. 

For Harpo, the mission is to make 5X the home for hybrid identities, breathing life into a space where bicultural identities thrive and survive. Much of Harpo’s understanding of hybrid identities comes from her Master of Arts in Education & Society: Gender and Women Studies from McGill University, which she pursued following a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology & Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies from Simon Fraser University. Education has played a significant role in the community activist’s journey, giving her perspective on the world and helping her understand how factors like identity disconnect impact bicultural individuals. 

Harpo reveals, “At the time, no one around me was doing such an arts-based degree. Moreover, many parents understand ‘lawyer’, ‘doctor’, and ‘engineer’, but they can’t really comprehend ‘sociology’. It was a bit of a challenge not going the family business route and getting buy-in for gender studies, but I was determined to follow my dreams.” 

Evidently a trendsetter and trailblazer, Harpo now works towards becoming a proactive catalyst in the global rise in Punjabi music and its cultural imprint. Although an explosion of Punjabi music is unquestionably coming out of Surrey and beyond, Harpo acknowledges that colored artists still struggle to get programmed, largely due to systematic racism. As a low-barrier, accessible platform, 5X champions and encourages such artists by giving them a space to perform and build skills. 

Harpo's work is a testament to her commitment to providing platforms for people to share experiences, to be seen, and to be heard. Through her storytelling, the local superstar is making a real difference in the lives of many people. As Harpo continues to shine, she preaches and practices the concept that you can’t become what you can’t see, “What I’m doing is showing people what they can do — especially other brown girls. We deserve to take up space in any room we want, and we deserve to be in those rooms. The key? Just be authentically you!”

 

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