Thursday, July 22, 2010

Guerilla Style: FlipTop gives you raw Philippine rap

Nothingelse battles Abra at FlipTop in Pasig City in May

Check out this interview in the Philippines' FHM magazine highlighting the first Filipino rap battle league, FlipTop:

Interview by Gelo Gonzales and Lola Abrera

The authors give some background of the event, which is inspired by the popular U.S. battle circle, Grind Time: “Fliptop is a rap battle league that puts two people in a match to have them insult each other with the cleverest punch lines and sharpest rhymes.”

"Basically, anything that’s hiphop-related, but still done sort of like guerilla style."- Anygma, FlipTop organizer. Photo and quote from FHM article.

I had the pleasure of attending the latest FlipTop battle in Quezon City at Freedom Bar. Aside from being oppressively crowded and hot, the event was incredibly successful, fueled by the eager energy from a mostly young male crowd. In other pieces I’ve written that Philippine hip hop is not popular and its fans are a small but loyal circle. The magnitude of the intimacy and passion for the culture among the hip hop heads at FlipTop demonstrates that Philippine hip hop is actually more thriving and self-sufficient than I initially gave it credit for.

The FlipTop crowd keeps it hot at Freedom Bar. Photo from FHM article.

And its energy is proving to be contagious. Like Grind Time, FlipTop garners an alternate audience in the cyberworld. “You can say it's one of the biggest youtube sensations of 2010 because it has gone viral with several of their videos hitting a million views in just a couple months,” notes FHM.

Aklas performers before the battle begins. Photo from FHM article.

Hip hop in the Philippines takes on many faces: from the plush and exclusive clubs in Makati to the slums of Tondo, and everywhere in between. A crowd dotted with Pinoys rockin gear ranging from grillz to backpacks, FlipTop represents a space for the raw and grime of Philippine hip hop. There is no material gain at stake here. The winners take with them the pride in their skill (and maybe a t-shirt or a tattoo!). There are no flashy commercial sponsors. Just two emcees, the host, the judges, and the crowd. There isn’t even a mic (I think it’s for recorded audio purposes). This is on some guerilla-style shit, 4real.

The battle reminds me of Balagtasan, the Filipino poetic debates. Like Grind Time, FlipTop doesn’t utilize a beat. It’s completely a cappella and it doesn’t have to conform to a strict rhythm. It’s like Balagtasan cipherin with yo momma joke sessions (and, like any other dozens, toasting, or ciphering session, this space is not immune to homophobic, sexist, or racial punchlines). The cadence and alliteration of the Tagalog language all the more enhances the poetic versatility of the battle.

A young fan requests an autograph from FlipTop heavy-hitter Batas. Photo from FHM article.

All in all, FlipTop offers a space for emcees to build skills, build community, and define themselves. Furthermore, its a place from hip hop fans to geek out. Between battles, local emcees performed songs, many which the crowd knew. One group, Squatter House, commanded the crowd with very-familiar lyrics. FlipTop proves that Philippine hip hop heads are tight fans of one another and offer each other the respect and loyalty needed for a community to grow.

Click here for the FlipTop Facebook page. Become a fan!


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Questioning Kapuso: Re-Thinking Fil Am Culture

Last week, WBO super bantamweight champion Ana "The Hurricane" Julaton made a trip to Manila. In the video above she says that this is her first trip to the Philippines. After watching her eat balut, attempt to utter certain Filipino language tongue twisters, and conscientiously use "po" in her interviews with GMA, I felt an affinity for Julaton, a Fil Am visiting the Philippines. Her U.S.-style speech (perhaps even a Bay Area speech) sounded "off" on a Philippine TV station like GMA. And the attempts to "authenticate" her Pinayness (in an earlier GMA interview she is classified as an "Overseas Filipino") goes to show the initial cultural distancing audiences may have from Julaton. But if she eats balut, calls herself "kapuso" (roughly, "of the same heart"), and recites a Tagalog tongue-twister, she is now "one of us", right?

After interacting with new friends, everyday workers, taxi drivers, and the bureaucracy in the Philippines, my impression is that too many Filipinos in the Philippines don't conceive of an existing Filipino American community. This is strange to me because we are one of the most diasporic people in the world (if not the most dispersed since the 1970s).

I would suggest that Filipinos pick up the book Positively No Filipinos Allowed, edited by my friend Antonio Tiongson. I was surprised to find the book available at Power Books here in the Philippines. The book contains revealing chapters on Fil Am community spaces that might not exist or not be as prominent in the Philippines. The chapter on Freestyle music and turntablism in the Bay Area by Liz Pisares comes to mind. And Lakandiwa De Leon's article on hip hop and gang culture in Los Angeles is also foundational.

Because Filipinos in the U.S. create culture, build community, form vernaculars, and mix with blacks, Latinos, and other Asians (and speak like them), does that make them less "acceptable" Filipinos? If we are seen as "jologs" because we speak and dress in a certain way and listen to a "darker" music, do we have to legitimize our Filipino aptitude? Do we gotta scarf down duck embryos to prove ourselves?

However, identifying a Fil Am community does not mean that the Filipino American community is separated from a Filipino experience. Dylan Rodriguez, whose chapter "A Million Deaths?" in the book mentioned above, disagrees with the term "Filipino American." Yes, "Filipino" and "American" implies a conflation where there really is a relation of genocide and death. I agree. But for now since we do not have a grammar of diaspora, perhaps Fil Am is a useful placeholder for the unique and perhaps disavowed cultural space in the U.S. created among Filipinos. Sometimes "U.S. Filipinos" is used instead of "Filipino American". Fair enough.

What is important is for Filipinos in the Philippines to view Fil Am culture as legitimate and historically rooted. Often, Fil Am culture is just as anchored to black or Chicano culture as it is to Filipino culture (note: America does not equal white). It may be that Fil Ams who "return" to the Philippines are so "different," we don't speak a Philippine language fluently, we carry an accent, among other things (including most of times financial privilege), but its because we affiliate with U.S. cities as much as or more than with locales in the Philippines; San Diego, San Francisco, Virginia Beach, Pensacola, Queens, or Austin sometimes have more symbolic meaning to us than Manila. Fil Ams have been forming community and culture in these areas for generations, and some who are well into their 80s have never been to "back" to the colony yet. Does that make us "less" Filipino?

Regardless of the reciprocated "distancing" Fil Ams may feel from the Philippines, I would recommend all Fil Ams to go to the Philippines and visit family and make new friends. This has been my motivation especially since last year experiencing a piece of the hip hop scene in Metro Manila. Fil Ams need to shed the stereotypes they have of Filipinos...their own kapuso. Fil Ams need to understand that the Philippines as a diverse and transforming nation, not as a "traditional" "culture" frozen in time (as many Pilipino Culture Nights and Barrio Fiestas would like you to believe).

But not all Fil Ams can travel to the Philippines. For one, it's extremely expensive. Coughing up two to three months worth of rent money for a round trip flight is a large commitment. We all wish we can have JabbaWockeez, Happy Slip, or Ana Julatan steez and get sponsored to travel to the Philippines. And, some Fil Ams might even be reluctant to visit. It can be emotionally taxing. To grow up all your life as a Filipino living in the U.S., and then immediately being surrounded by Filipinos in the Philippines sometimes takes a visceral, mental, and spiritual toll.

There are heeellllaa Filipinos in the U.S. who can't speak a Filipino language (majority?). It will be a joy when we can be seen as true kapuso regardless of a championship belt or MTV-approved dance moves.

Yes, we are kapuso. But our kinship embodies much more than a GMA TV marketing campaign. Perhaps we need to understand authenticity as a myth in order to accept the variations in the Filipino diasporic community. When "Filipino" is not simply equated with exotic food or funny Tagalog phrases but understood in broader dimensions will we not need to justify Filipino diasporic differences.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Live and Direct from Manila! Some thoughts...

A "Rap Rap" Jeepney zooms through Taft Ave/Vito Cruz as LRT train looms above.

We are back in Manila! From CA to Manila Bay, Fil Am Funk reports live from the motherland. Here are some initial thoughts on music and culture:

1. Filipinos enjoy good music!

Sa stores, restaurants, laundry shop, jeeps, tricycles...Pinoys always got to have music blaring! Laging! Even just a broke down boombox by the store entrance, got to have music! And good music at that. My impression had always been that Pinoys only love rock and slow jams. I'm surprised to observe that hip hop/rap (U.S. mainstream, of course) is heard just as much as the traditionally popular music.

Even the kids' headphones set on blast, I can hear the boom+snap of today's hip hop taga States.

What I love most about Pinoys' music taste is that they play QUALITY American R&B music on the radio that will never make it to U.S. radiowaves because of the stranglehold the U.S. industry has for short playlists. Aside from the racist-tinged skin commercials (see below) and shallow tsismis, I could listen to the R&B radio stations in Manila all day!!

Usher is currently setting it off in concert tonight!! Lucky whoever is going!

2. Basketball is everywhere!

Currently, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) is having its Playoffs. Even though the NBA is ironically more popular than the PBA, Pinoys own the game in their own way. A random basketball hoop in the middle of a road median, on a dirt lot, wherever! A love affair with the game!

3. The Philippine consumer market is saturated with unabashed pro-whiteness products!

Ok. I always knew about skin-whitening creams and ingestible chemicals. But the shamelessness and boldness has taken me aback on another level. I got this free Pond's "White Beauty: Pinkish White Glow Lightening Cream" when I bought a notebook at National Bookstore. WTF. Radyo commercials on loop talking about "having white skin requires constant work!" And TV shows are not afraid to put on blackface and poke fun at dark skin. (The comedy/drama TV show "Diva" is off the chain with the blackface). Blackness has its own register here, not just with Black Americans but with racially-marked indigenous Filipino groups like Aetas.

This is why hip hop/rap/R&B could play an important role in re-imagining racial valuing (especially in skin color). From White Beauty to Black+Brown Beauty! Let's have it!

4. Filipinos love to play with language on a daily basis!

I talked about this last year, but language-play seems central in Filipino livelihood. The Spanish-Indigenous Filipino-English mix of language makes sign switching easy and achievable. Did you know even with money-counting, certain denominations switch immediately from Tagalog, to Spanish, to English? All that can happen from 1 to 20. Confusing, but it's everyday life here.

Michael V. is brilliant, word-for-word, in irreverently parodying Lady Gaga's iconic "Bad Romance" video. For Tagalog-speakers, how can you not help but roll of the damn floor laughing at this one? He tweeks every word and syllable, but stays faithful to the "sound" of "Bad Romance." "Humihilab (bowel pains). Lab-lab-lab!"

"Gagang Lady"! Nakakatawa! Astig naman!


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sunday Cipher: Going back to Black Eyed Peas

Kim Hill, come back...

I just wanted to post one of my favorite music videos by none other than the most tragically successful (paradox intended) formerly "underground" hip hop groups, the Black Eyed Peas. Before they got all Mickey Mouse-d-out when adding Fergie in 2003 and booting Kim Hill, well... let's just say they have become more "safe" (read: white) and their anti-industry and championing-underground edge was hit with a spiked bat, smashed by a steam-roller driven by an obese elephunk, and punched in the face by Ana "The Hurricane" Julaton. No wonder they got booed at the BET Awards...

Before they were the Peas, they were the Atban Klann and proved to be dope dancers, performing at many Fil Am hip hop events in LA in the early 1990s (when "house" dance was popular, mixed with hip hop jams). Best part of the video, 2:30 onward.

All in all, no matter how Disney they've become, they are still widely successful (read: $$$) and can kill almost any young choreo-dancing cat in a freestyle dance cipher.

Make it rain!