Voices of Celebration & Freedom: 2020 World Falun Dafa Day Virtual Concert

Icons Unite will Facebook livestream a concert with singer-songwriters from around the world
May 11, 2020 Updated: May 30, 2020

This Wednesday, May 13 is World Falun Dafa Day. It’s a special day, especially for me. I probably wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t started practicing Falun Dafa two decades ago. 

I had just been kicked out of college and was battling drug and alcohol addiction. It was a war I wasn’t winning. On the verge of being homeless, I came across someone teaching the Falun Dafa qigong exercises for free at a gym on Capitol Hill, where I worked. 

The first time I practiced the slow Tai chi-like movements, I could feel energy between my palms and navel, like a magnetic pulse. I had studied other types of yoga and meditation, but this practice was different: The invisible energy was somehow tangible—I could actually feel it. I also liked how there was no money involved in the practice; it’s always taught for free and donations aren’t ever accepted. To me, that spoke to its purity. 

I continued to practice and eventually got sober. I’ll be celebrating 19 years of sobriety in September.

Two years after learning the Falun Dafa qigong exercises, I returned to the same college and graduated with honors. Then I moved to Los Angeles. 

In LA, I started meeting other Falun Dafa practitioners and learned about the ongoing, brutal persecution in China that began in 1999. I learned about mass arrests, torture, and killing of Falun Dafa practitioners, who hadn’t committed any crimes. 

In the early 2000s, I learned about forced organ harvesting, where Falun Dafa practitioners and other prisoners of conscience are executed on demand for the sale of their organs.

Taking Action Through Music

Strangely enough, this Chinese meditation practice made me feel more American. For the first time in my life, I appreciated freedom—real freedom. I had never thought about my First Amendment Rights, such as the freedom of religion, expression, speech, and assembly. 

The persecution of Falun Dafa also introduced me into the dark world of human trafficking in all its iterations, from sex slavery to child soldiers to forced labor. I met Chinese practitioners in Los Angeles, for example, who had been in forced labor camps for years, making Homer Simpson slippers and Beijing Olympics dolls for the 2008 Games. 

I wanted to do something to help raise awareness for these human rights abuses in China and around the world. So, I started a music community called Icons Unite. The idea was to discover and promote artists who wanted to make music to raise awareness for human rights issues, such as freedom of religion, expression, speech, and the abolishment of human trafficking. We held a couple small concerts and began to build our social media profiles. 

The concept of Icons Unite has broadened recently, and we’re going through a rebranding; our sole focus is no longer just activism in music. 

While raising awareness for human rights abuses is as essential today as ever, we also believe people need time for soul-searching and healing. Like the ancients from both the East and the West, we too believe music is medicine. We now also promote music imbued with those virtues.

2020 World Falun Dafa Day Virtual Concert

To honor this special day, we reached out to our talented musical friends who practice Falun Dafa and asked them to perform on Wednesday to celebrate World Falun Dafa Day. Eight amazing talented men and women joined us.

We dedicate this concert to the Falun Dafa practitioners in China who still can’t practice freely and who risk their lives to live by Falun Dafa’s universal principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. 

We hope you will join us on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/iconsunite) for our first live virtual concert to celebrate World Falun Dafa Day this Wednesday, May 13, from 47 p.m. EST. 

World Falun Dafa Day
Celebrate World Falun Dafa Day this Wednesday, May 13, from 4–7 p.m. EST with a virtual concert.

The Artists

So that you can learn a bit more about the artists performing, here are some quotes they sent us about how Falun Dafa has impacted their lives and shaped their music.

What does World Falun Dafa Day mean to you? 

This day is something I look forward to celebrating every year because Dafa has been such a positive force in my life and for everyone around me. My family is really happy and healthy thanks to this practice. Celebrating Truth, Compassion, and Tolerance, the very things that could save this world. If I’m going to celebrate something, it’s this!

There’s another side to it though. We all celebrate to show the world that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are unscrupulous liars, hell-bent on destroying anyone who practices Dafa in China. They’ve lied and brainwashed the Chinese people, slandering Dafa ceaselessly, and have tortured and killed countless thousands. We prove they are wrong, loud and clear, on the world stage. Falun Dafa is actually excellent; the CCP has lied and so many people have died. What has everyone been saying since the virus pandemic spread from China? “China lied. People died.” Finally, the world is waking up to that. The CCP are global gangsters, gaslighting the world with lies and cheap little rewards. 

  • Katy Mantyk / Indie Folk Pop / Mount Hope, New York 

World Falun Dafa Day to me means taking time to recognize the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance and also remembering those who have been persecuted by the Communist regime in China for their belief in those principles. 

It’s a celebration of life, joy, and wisdom that is inherent in all of us. It’s a celebration of self-improvement and the improvement of the whole universe. It’s cherishing a mission of every human being, which is to constantly improve one’s character and become more selfless; that then positively influences everyone and everything around us. This is the immense power of Falun Dafa and it’s boundless wisdom.

World Falun Dafa Day is such a beautiful day as normally I get to gather with all of my Falun Dafa friends and celebrate the practice that has transformed my life!

Even though this year is a unique one with COVID-19,  I love that I will still get to celebrate by performing via an online platform. 

Well, most every day is a Falun Dafa Day for me personally. But World Falun Dafa Day is an opportunity to share the love in an outward expression — like the turning of the Falun [an energetic mechanism] — inward and outward in it’s rotation.  It’s also a special acknowledgement of the founder of Falun Dafa Teacher Li’s birthday—with much gratitude and respect. 

How has Falun Dafa changed your life? 

Falun Dafa has changed my life in countless ways, but the most simple illustration is that I used to be someone who would steal $20 from my own mother and now I won’t even pick up $20 if I see it on the street. 

  • Courtney Dowe 

Besides the amazing health benefits, Falun Dafa has given me hope for myself and for humanity. It has taught me to truly have compassion for people, regardless of their past or history and to truly care for people from the bottom of my heart. 

Ever since starting the practice, my health and immunity system have been very good. As an artist, I also have an “artist’s mind,” which means I sense things very strongly and it’s been sometimes hard for me to calm down. The practice has helped me balance things and see them in the right perspective.

My health has been perfect for over a decade, and I don’t stress out anymore. If a hardship comes, I try my best to follow the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance and learn something from it. Sometimes it is not easy and it takes a lot of willpower to overcome those negative thoughts that sometimes arise in my mind. However, an amazing thing is that when one cherishes hardship, it is really hard to be stressed out and feel down. If you can look at anything you come across positively and as an opportunity to improve your character, nothing can stop you.

For instance, this year, while I was on tour as a sound engineer, one venue we came to had a very cranky union crew. The guys were constantly complaining and it took them quite some time to get things going. We have a very tight schedule; we have to set up, do a show the same day and our production is big and mighty. My mind started to react with some negative thoughts, and I was thinking how we should be more strict with the union and make them honor the contract more, etc. 

Later on, I started reflecting on my attitude. I realized that I didn’t follow compassion and tolerance that afternoon and therefore the workers’ attitude was not good and it didn’t improve. Also, one of my friends from the orchestra told me that the guys had to work until 3 a.m. the night before which explained one of the reasons why they were acting a bit cranky. This also made me feel more understanding towards them, and I felt I should have treated them with more tolerance and compassion.

We had a few more shows at the same venue two weeks after that. I came in with a changed attitude and guess what? Their attitude also changed completely. One guy who was particularly unfriendly towards me last time completely changed his attitude and was very helpful and friendly. It was truly miraculous.

I have many stories like this to share. Falun Dafa is truly great.

  • Nemanja Rebic

I have been practicing Falun Dafa for 15 years, and it changed the entire trajectory of my life. It opened me up to a very wholesome, spiritual way of living, even though at times I find the principles very challenging, particularly practicing forbearance and compassion for others.  It’s hard to express in words the gratitude I have for this practice!

  • Kate Heart

I started practicing Falun Dafa 15 years ago. Before I struggled with anxiety, but Dafa has helped me find a way through that and has led me to a more meaningful life. 

  • Ben Trenerry from Prince Bishops / Folk Rock / Durham, England 

The ways are numerable and bountiful.  An obvious change is my health. Previously, I suffered from lifelong chronic back issues and typical colds and flus; I no longer do, which is a truly profound improvement.  Less quantifiable but perhaps even more poignant is the gain of inner peace and placement within myself, within society, and within a universal and cosmic context. 

  • Jesse Laine

What is the purpose of music and why do you create music? 

Music is divine. I feel like everything I want to say and share with people I can say best with my songs. Creating and playing my music heals me too and puts me in a wonderful state of mind. I write music that sort of nurtures you and takes you to a place where you can find your inner strength and hope. I need that, we all need to connect to that. 

  • Katy Mantyk

I believe that the purpose of music is to remind humanity of its higher nature. I make music to help give that reminder to myself and to others. 

  • Courtney Dowe

Music has the ability to inspire, to heal, to motivate, and to move people at a soul level, also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

  • Richard Woodman

I might not be a good speaker, so music is a way for me to express my thoughts. As we know, the right kind of music can have a good benefit for people’s mental and physical health. In the Chinese language, the words music and medicine are even connected. My wish is to bring something good for people with my songs. Actually, many people have told me that they feel comfort and good energy in my songs.

  • Anna Kokkonen

The purpose of music and art in general is to glorify the divinity from without and within; to get inspired and learn from it. Throughout history, before the late 19th and 20th centuries, it was believed that one has to have a lot of virtue to become a great artist. One needs to have a pure and devoted heart. The first concerts of ancient classical forms of music, like in India, were played in temples. There are many stories of artists in ancient China and India who could make everyone, both people and animals become still and listen, they could even move mountains with their voices.

I hope to show people the beauty of Falun Dafa through music which will hopefully inspire them towards goodness. I feel music has been a gift to me; it is not something I take credit for.

  • Nemanja Rebic

I’ve been singing since I was 5 years old; I studied music at university and singing has always been a part of my life. I don’t feel right if I’m not creating in some way musically. The first songs I wrote were more for others; I really wanted to send a message of hope and love through my songs. I love writing music that is uplifting. More recently though, I have been writing more as a cathartic process; I think authenticity is everything when it comes to creativity.  It’s a constant process of finding my true self and bringing that into my songs. 

  • Kate Heart

I think music can connect people with the divine. Music has always been a source of great consolation for me, and I aspire to create music that can console others.

  • Ben Trenerry

Why does the sun shine, the trees grow and the birds sing? It just seems to be the thing to do, intrinsically and essentially. If I were to analyze it, music is an epitome of real-time “co-creation,” if existence is, in fact, largely built of frequencies and vibrations. As an art form, music literally permeates and shakes our very being. Whether a professional, a connoisseur, a lay person, or a baby—everyone is affected; and wonderfully, most can usually offer a valid opinion—“I like that,” or “I don’t like that”; no formal training is required. Yet the study and exploration of music and music making are seemingly limitless. A lot can be said of sound and music alone, but combined with poetry and lyrics, it’s an entire and endlessly formidable art form in and of itself. It’s powerful stuff. 

  • Jesse Laine

How has Falun Dafa inspired and shaped your music? 

An artist only creates good art when their inner world is good. Good art is art that positively affects the viewer and artist creating it, just like the best food nourishes the body. Our mind is consuming all the ideas and energy given by the artist, and it becomes a part of us, physically. I tend to be extremely picky about what music I listen to for that reason. The philosophy and wisdom I’ve learned from Falun Dafa really have enlightened me to these concepts profoundly. Falun Dafa shaped my approach to music; you hear it in my lyrics and feel it in the calm and hopeful mood of my style. 

  • Katy Mantyk

Falun Dafa has inspired me to sing less from a place of competition and more from a place of compassion for all, including myself. 

  • Courtney Dowe

I have gained courage to write music that I truly enjoy. In the past, I used to join bands because I just wanted to sing and play, even though I might not even like the music that was played. But now it’s important for me to truly stand behind my songs; I want to have a positive and hopeful message in my music. I think that artists have a great responsibility in what kind of music they offer for their audience. I like traditional elements, and you might even be able to sense a bit of classical music in my arrangements.

  • Anna Kokkonen

Falun Dafa has changed my music in every way. Before, I was using music mostly to express my personal feelings. Now, I look at it more as telling stories about life and our purpose here. The old tradition of troubadours and bards was based on storytelling through music. Some of my music pieces are inspired by my experiences in cultivation in Falun Dafa. Others are powerful stories of the incredible courage and perseverance of practitioners in China who are risking their lives to compassionately explain the truth about the cruel persecution Falun Dafa practitioners have experienced since July 1999 until this day.

  • Nemanja Rebic

Falun Dafa has deeply inspired me to create art that is full of beauty, goodness, and love. I have had some incredible opportunities performing in the capital cities of Australia, from Melbourne to Brisbane, during World Falun Dafa Day activities.  

  • Kate Heart

Firstly, in my interaction with musical collaborators and the people I am involved with: Before I started the practice I took; now, I try to give. 

Secondly, perfecting the art of songwriting is a lifelong pursuit. I feel that through my meditation and practice, I have gained greater insight and understanding of the power of song. 

  • Ben Trenerry

Essentially Falun Dafa is cultivation practice, and as such, I find life situations and scenarios that I’m cultivating ultimately come through in the music. It’s funny, we might like to think of “spiritual practice” as beautiful, sublime, and orderly, but it’s not always pretty. In fact, it’s often even messy and chaotic as the things we’re sorting out or cultivating are necessarily trying, thus the cultivation. 

One thing I try to adhere to is Zhen or Truth in this regard, and capture honest,  even if gritty, experiences. I also find Shan (Compassion) and Ren (Tolerance) are a framing that resolve many of my stories. So even if it is a tragedy versus comedy, there is often some sort of benevolent resolution, or at least a learning, in the end.

  • Jesse Laine

What is the story behind one of the songs you will be performing for the 2020 World Falun Dafa Day Virtual Concert? 

The story behind “Accomplice” is that a fellow practitioner suggested to me that I try to write a song about organ transplant abuse. I was insecure and answered that I didn’t know if I could. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Do it.” In that moment, I knew that I had to stop making excuses and try. As I was leaving the study group where we had that conversation, I stepped onto the street and started asking myself why I was having trouble writing the song. I realized that if I did not at least try my best to expose this atrocity, then I would be an accomplice to it. I basically wrote the words to try to reach myself and help myself understand the importance of speaking out in the face of evil and injustice. 

  • Courtney Dowe

I will perform one song in my native language Finnish. The song is called “Kultainen Maa” (“The Golden Land”). It was inspired by the courage of Falun Dafa practitioners who are being persecuted in China. Even when being tortured in prison, they refuse to give up their faith; they even try to help their persecutors realize that they shouldn’t do such things. 

This song also depicts a candlelight vigil arranged to commemorate the victims of persecution. On one hand, the song’s name, “The Golden Land,” refers to ancient China and its glorious traditional culture. It’s also a metaphor for when people, one by one, choose to light a candle and stand for justice, then the whole land will shine brightly like gold, and it won’t be dark anymore.

  • Anna Kokkonen

One of the songs, called “All Lead Me Back to You,” is a bit biographical. It talks about a journey we embark on throughout our lives. All the good and bad things, all the joys and sorrows have a deeper meaning; all are precious and are designed for us to take a step forward and ascend higher in our understanding of life and the universe. Here, one travels through time, walks the forests and cities, crosses the mountains and oceans, and experiences all the wonders of life. Then in the end, one finds the Way, a path to one’s true self, a path to one’s true home. That path is found by looking within ourselves and aligning with the Way of the universe, which is Dafa of Zhen Shan Ren, the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance.

One realizes that all the things that happened over the course of time were meant to lead one back to this ultimate destination, this ultimate purpose of our life here on Earth.

  • Nemanja Rebic

I wrote the song “Stand Up” as a call to people to open their eyes and not only see the persecution that is happening to Falun Dafa practitioners in China but to stand against it.  No matter where I play this song, someone will always come and comment about it afterwards, saying they were really moved by the melody and lyrics.  

  • Kate Heart

I will be playing a song called “All is Due,” which is about the nature of karma and accepting one’s fate. I will also be playing a song called “Why,” which is about the persecution of Falun Dafa by the Chinese Communist Party. This is a great crime that more people ought to know about.

  • Ben Trenerry 

J.H. White is an arts, culture, and men’s fashion journalist living in New York.