Friday, February 29, 2008

Where Did the Filipino Go? Here!

In a recent post regarding the lack of Filipino representation on the Kaba Modern team on the MTV show "America's Best Dance Crew," we had a nice, civil, yet critical debate (in blog comments, in person, IM, or through email) about the cultural ramifications involved in representing "Kaba" without reference to Filipinoness. (Thanks Da!)

We asked: where did the Filipino go? Well we found them! On the the BRAVO Channel's "Step It Up & Dance" show (premieres April)! Two contestants, Michelle and Miguel, are alums of UCI and came out of the Kaba/Kaba Modern scene. You can check out their bios in the links above. It's true, as we see from these tv shows, that Kaba Modern is a major resource for young people to train for the dance industry. You think Michelle or Miguel are gonna bust out balancin candles?

We look forward to seeing these pin@y alums on TV in April!

Keep on! Can't stop the shinin'!

(Note: this case is different from the Kaba Modern one because these dancers are not projecting the Kaba name, just in case we get in a tussle about these dancers connection with Kaba, their Filipinoness, etc.)

(Note 2: on second thought, can anyone verify if Miguel identifies as Filipino? Michelle is a "Filipino firecracker" in her bio. Miguel may have a Filipino name, but we know that people with all kinds of ethnic identifications roll with Kaba Modern).

Monday, February 25, 2008

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: De-Coding the Scholar: "Opening Salvo"

Geologic of the Seattle Hip Hop Duo Blue Scholars, sportin a fresh LBC-born tat

I've been listening to the Blue Scholars album "Bayani" over and over, and I have to say my favorite verse is at the end of "Opening Salvo" below. I wanted to de-code it for people who are puzzled. If anyone has any other interpretations, feel free to comment.

"Right now I want to thank god for being me
My soul won't rest until the colony is free
1896 Revolution incomplete
Silence is defeat, my solution is to speak
Resurrect the legacy of martyrs I beseech
Time to choose a side: It's the mighty verse the meek
My big brother Free brought the word from the East
We're the bullet in the middle of the belly of the beast."

"Right now I want to thank god for being me"
Five Percenter Nation of Islam language referring to the original man (I guess in this case the brown-skinned Filipino man) as "god," who bestows knowledge and truth upon the "uncivilized." If you still don't get it, re-listen to your Wu-Tang, Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, PRT, Brand Nubian albums.

"My soul won't rest until the colony is free"
The Philippines as a subject of neocolonial domination is still under U.S. and first-world global power: militarily, economically, culturally, and politically. Where do millions of U.S. citizens' tax money for the U.S. War on Terrorism in the Philippines go? Let's just say the the poor are not feeling any safer and the rich are not getting any leaner. And yeah, protesters and dissidents of the U.S.-supported political elite in the Philippines are getting killed. On top of that, the U.S. profits greatly from the aggressive recruitment of Filipin@ nurses and other professionals to the States, at the expense of the Philippine nation state. This export of a country's human resources is sometimes called a "brain drain." For the Philippines, its more like a brain comatose. If the Philippine president declares the "new national heroes" ("bagong bayani") the overseas workers, then something's twisted. Can a nation truly be sovereign if another country's boots are on its soil, its most critical and vocal citizens are being murdered, its political leaders are in the pockets of international banks and first world powers, and its best and brightest people are exported for the benefit of those same first world powers? The colony is choking, and those with the capacity to resuscitate it are leaving or getting killed.

"1896 Revolution incomplete"

1896 began a moment the Philippines could have achieved real sovereignty with its successful overthrow of the Spanish Empire. In fact, the islands had a Declaration of Independence, drafted a Philippine Constitution, and formed a Philippine Congress. If it weren't for U.S. intervention, essentially the stealing of the Philippines by the U.S. for $20 million under the Treaty of Paris, and the subsequent Philippine-American War (or Filipino "insurgency" as the U.S. public heard it), maybe the Philippines could have been a much freer nation. Today, in many parts of the islands (especially in the south), the struggle for democracy and sovereignty continues. The "protracted struggle" against imperialism, as some would call it.

"Silence is defeat, my solution is to speak"

Well, if Geo is silent about these pressing issues, then he would be considered defeated. Duh. He came up with a solution, and it wasn't scribbling random notes on a pad for no one to hear. In the tradition of isangmahal arts kollective, I Was Born with Two Tongues, 8th Wonder, and the many great Fil Am/Asian Am poets from the scene in the late 90s/early 00s (the precursor to the vibrant Fil Am arts scene today), Geo spoketh.

"Resurrect the legacy of martyrs I beseech"

The struggle is not only ours, but the legacy of many that came before us. Just as we are indebted to the many unsung heroes/heroines who suffered and died in the protests and strikes that gave us minimum wage, the 40 hour work week, and child labor laws here in the U.S., we are also indebted to those many people who remain unnamed who fought for true freedom in the Philippines.

"Time to choose a side: It's the mighty verse the meek"
If you don't identify with the struggle, and choose to consume the devil's pie without serious critique, then it is what it is. But for those who can see thru the rose-colored lens and choose to align with those who suffer for our freedom and those who challenge the status quo, then the last will be first. "Married to the Hustle," like Eye A Sage would say.

"My big brother Free brought the word from the East
'We're the bullet in the middle of the belly of the beast.'"

The homey Freedom (Fil Am educator and activist from Seattle) uttered these words to Geo after his trip to the Philippines (Five Percenter NOI language again?). The bullet in the belly of the beast are the revolutionary Filipinos living in the U.S. who are engaged in strategic, critical, progressive action at the center of imperial power. BRRRAAT!

What's your favorite Blue Scholars verse?

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Legend": trailer to my short doc on DJ Icy Ice

Check out this lil trailer to my upcoming short documentary "Legend," which highlights DJ Icy Ice and his role in the DJ scene in the Los Angeles Area during the 80s and 90s. "Legend" will show at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific American Film Festival on Wednesday, May 7th for the Armed With a Camera screening (along with the dope projects of my fellow AWC posse).

You can hear Icy Ice on the Rick Dees morning mix on Movin' 93.9 (in LA) FRIDAYS from 9:30-10:00am. You can also listen to him on Divine Forces Radio, KPFK 90.7 (in LA) Fridays from 10:00pm-1:00am (PST). You can listen live on

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A.I.: Un-Hiding the Pinay

Ramiele Malubay tearin' it up on American Idol

In contrast to our dear friend Jasmine Trias (3rd place in American Idol season 3) who on American Idol claimed Hawaiian, Spanish, and Chinese identifications over being a Pinay, Ramiele is boldly displaying her Pinay-ness from day one (Regine Velasquez, what?!). Much love to Ms. Trias for doin the thang and makin' it big especially (and ironically) with a large Filipino (in the Philippines) fan base; she paved the way.

Now, good luck to Ramiele. Prayfully she will be a constructive force to give the mainstream a face for Filipin@ performers, since many Filipin@s in the industry must racially "pass" as East Asian, Latin@, black, or white in order to get their foot in the door. What's up with that? No shame in the name.*

Cold? Pinay Emy Coligado as Native Alaskan (carrying a real heavy burden) on Malcolm in the Middle

Lea Salonga making the ultimate sacrifice in "Miss Saigon"

Put Filipin@s and Florida on that map, girl!
(BTW: Do you think Ramiele is one of those combined names?)

*Note: I'm not "blaming" these artists for disowning their Filipino-ness. Although I'm sure there are Filipino artists who are quick to embrace more recognizable ethnicities/races at the expense of their own. I think the bigger monster to tackle is the public's lack of understanding the dimensions of Filipin@ people (like you know how we are all short, poor, dog-eating prostitutes). This ignorance is compounded and enhanced when it comes to the entertainment biz.

Choking Amnesia

The colony disappears for imperial logic to work;
Ghosts that don't haunt fall beyond forgotten.
But it's beautiful how
The colony reemerges loudly
With intention or not
To mock the flawed project.
We're here. We shine. We're dangerous. Don't act confused.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A (Modest) Collection of Fil Am Hip Hop / R&B

Here's a little collection of Fil Am hip hop and R&B music (DJs, singers, and rappers) that I have gathered in the passed few weeks. Thanks to Boogaleo for gettin' me up to some of these joints. (You can catch him at a Gulf Coast club struttin' as unsuspecting onlookers ogle.) I'm (naively) surprised at the magnitude in which Fil Ams are creating the scene. Thanks to the internets, I guess folks like me (and maybe you?) are able to bring these various artists conveniently together, enjoy them, and learn from them. Definitely hit me up if you think someone needs to be on this little list. Remember, this is just a small collection of some recent finds (no particular order).

Kiwi's video "Imagine," directed by J*. This video is ill, what hip hop and community-building could be at its best.

Heavy Rotation Show:
February 08
January 08
December 07

DJ Ice Water's Lunar Heights / J Dilla mix:

Open Line Media (thanks to Kiwi for gettin me hip to it) with link to the new Intelligent Movement mixtape:

Eye A Sage's "Married to the Hustle" mixtape and interview:

Freddie Joachim (dope music producer out here in LA, don't sleep!):

Lauren Santiago:

DJ Icy Ice's LA Lights Mix:

Diskarte Namin (although I don't think it would be classified as hip hop or R&B, it's music you shouldn't sleep on. Thanks Boogaleo!):

BJ Alisago (RIP), who founded Diskarte Namin:

Nomi of Power Struggle, his newest record and myspace:

And as a treat (thanks to a gem interview in the Philippines with DJ Icy Ice and Magic 89.9), I linked this article about Filipinos reppin' in the "streetwear" fashion industry (featured here is Omar Quiambao of Commonwealth). Interesting take on Filipinos and their "lumping" in the Asian category. Don't really know what the author is gettin' at, but interesting nonetheless. Regarding Fil Ams in the "streetwear" fashion industry: "...our brothers and sisters of Filipino descent have been at the forefront of the movement." Is anyone writing about this scene?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Asian Pride on MTV! But, Where Did the Filipino Go?

Hit 'em! Kaba Modern represents hard on MTV's "America's Best Dance Crew"

Randy Jackson (from American Idol) brings a very interesting (and long overdue) reality competition show on MTV called "America's Best Dance Crew," and Kaba Modern (above) is representing lovely. As you can see from the video above, no one would be surprised if they made it all the way. Kaba Modern is known--especially in California, but also worldwide--for street dance supremacy. They always kill it! And I'm sure it'll be a massacre with Kaba Modern on this MTV show.

Undoubtedly, I give my full support to Kaba Modern in this amazing feat. But, what is concerning is the lack of Filipinos (on this show) for a group bearing the name "Kaba Modern." Kaba Modern, which is in its 16th year, comes out of the bigger Kababayan, which roughly translates to countryman/woman in Filipino. Kababayan is an organization at the University of California at Irvine and has roots to a consciously political movement at UCI dating back to the 1970s. However, Kaba Modern, which is distinct but has origins to the bigger Kababayan, is focused on dance excellence and less concerned with the political and cultural priorities of Kababayan. Here is a description of the troupe from their website:

"Kaba Modern is a street dance group established in 1992 by a group of Kababayans at the University of California in Irvine. Originally put together to perform as "The Modern Suite" at their Pilipino Culture Night, the group has evolved from being a PCN suite to becoming one of the most cutting-edge hip hop troupes in California. Since then, the group's legacy has lived on, first and foremost as a family, embracing different styles and aspects of dance, creating quite a name for themselves as one of Southern California's most cutting edge dance groups."

It's great that this organization is excelling in the choreographed street dance craft (I myself come out of that scene and miss it everyday!). Even more, it is well-known and celebrated that Kaba Modern comes out of the rich legacy of Filipino American dance tradition, and it's wonderful that they are now on MTV (finally some shine!). But, where are the Filipinos? Looking at the clip above and the Kaba Modern member bios on the show's website, the Filipino representation in the group is zero. What does this mean for an organization that proudly bears the name "Kaba"? Or, should it even matter at all?

To spur discussion on the questions above, I have pulled a few comments from the Youtube clip above to further probe the tensions:

"truth is only about half of our team is filipino...the other half is a combination of people from many other ethnicities...our choreographers are of many races as well. it is this diversity and respect for all people that allows us to innovate and display our love for dance =D"

"I'm filipino and it doesnt matter if there is no pinoy on the crew I'm still proud of them as asian and they carry the name kaba modern as the group. KABA mean kababayan right, group of asian country we can call them our kababayan because we are from asia"

"Like ppl said in previous comments majority of the crew is Pinoy but the ones reppin on the show are the not cause the whole crew is a lot bigger and the 2 pinoy that auditioned with them couldn't leave the rest of the crew hanging since their the coordinators for this year I hear."

Here are some analyses:
1. Of course everyone should applaud an organization for their eager efforts to diversify their members. But what does it mean to make a commitment to such diversity, when the origins and brand of the organization is unmistakenly Filipino? The second commenter who tries to justify the lack of Filipino representation by claiming that "Kababayan" is an inclusive term for all Asian countries (if I'm reading their grammar right) is diluting the concept of Filipino Kababayan, a particular concept alluding to the promise of national sovereignty that colonized Filipinos hold dear. And if the reason is to transform the word Kababayan to reference more to the concept of a generic "family" than to a specific Filipino comradeship, that is as problematic as adopting the Hawaiian word "ohana" by Filipinos (or any Asian) to brand their organization. Considering their history of colonization and cultural appropriation, Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in general would deserve more than an utterance of a cute word.

2. What were the 2 Pinoy coordinators who auditioned for the show (but later bailed) thinking? Was it their firm commitment to the larger UCI Kaba Modern that won over MTV stardom? If so, big props! Community before fame, right? But, at what risk? Is it fine to rep Kaba Modern without its proper Filipino representation? Are there no coordinator replacements in the group?

3. If the issue of Filipino representation is moot (because it's about the dance not race!), then why not change the name of the MTV-competing Kaba Modern group to something that does not reference the Filipino organization? And on a bigger issue, why not change the name of Kaba Modern to another name altogether? What purpose is there in paying homage to Kababayan if it is more concerned with dance excellence and diversity, rather than Filipino representation and Filipino cultural production?

4. Even if there is internal homage to the Filipino roots of Kaba among the Kaba Modern folks on MTV (and I am confident there is), is there a more public acknowledgment of the organization's Filipino dance tradition/spaces, especially since the name of the group makes a public gesture to Filipinoness?

Other comments made on Youtube demonstrate the pride people have for Asians having so much rhythm and skill. The pride here is well-deserved, but the veiling of Filipino contribution for an overtly Filipino group is dangerous.

Here is why: The erasure of Filipinos within the broader Asian American community is reminiscent of Fred Cardova's book Filipinos: Forgotten Asian Americans. For an all-Asian American group to rep a Filipino name without a Filipino face is not helping with Filipino recognition, especially in the midst of multiethnic Asian American community-building; the idea of "Asian American" will continue to be represented without a Filipino face. The invisibility and problems of racial ambiguity of Filipinos is further reproduced in this case--meaning the veiling of Filipinoness for Kaba Modern isn't making it easier for Filipinos who want to break through the mainstream even though Filipino Americans have long been invested in the labor of mainstream artistic performance. Filipinos need more opportunities to represent themselves (and also need to go beyond passing as other races).

(As a note, I'm sure these discussions are old news to the good folks in Kababayan and Kaba Modern. It would be neat to continue these discussions, and I hope folks from these groups would comment or at least read this. I'm open to all perspectives. I'm sure we'll all learn a lot together.)