Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jivin' turkey (real) talk: Filipinizing the holiday

"Dear God, are those douche bag heathens crashing our shit again?"

Happy Thanksgiving! Here is a good article, "Thanksgiving: A Native American View", that gives light to a more accurate truth to why we celebrate the holiday.

I love Thanksgiving. Most of all, I love Thanksgiving food: stuffing, sweet potatoes, ham, syrup, gravy, green beans, etc. Yes, its a good excuse to eat carbs and fatty foods.

But I'm writing today not to exalt the holiday. Rather, today is an appropriate opportunity to address the realness the holiday represents, a realness which is masked, erased, and obscured by our glorification of the food, shopping, and gathering with family members you don't want to see (but not MY family. Maybe yours).

I did the lecture for our Asian American History class Tuesday, and I argued that we are able to shop and eat during holidays like Thanksgiving and Columbus Day because we "forget" about U.S. and European colonization and violence that underpin these celebrations. The title of my presentation was "Yes! The Rhythm, The Rebel! Filipino Funky Hybridity and the 'Magic Trick of U.S. Empire." Sadly (and embarrassingly), no one in the 200 student audience caught the reference to Public Enemy's "Rebel Without a Pause" (did you?).

This is the explanation of my weird title:

The Rhythm: The syncretism of "Western" musical rhythmic timing (3/4 and 4/4) in Filipino musicality. But it is also a reference to the "rhythmic" pattern of U.S. colonialism- it's cyclical and even predictable!

The Rebel: The resistance of Filipino and Black Buffalo Soldiers against U.S. violence. I talked about David Fagen and the mythology of Black and Filipino cultural and political coalition.

Filipino Funky Hybridity: The "mixedness" of Filipino culture with U.S. influences. Not only are there "rhythmic" syncretism in Filipino culture, but more important to acknowledge is the political-consciousness alliances Filipinos made with Blacks, and vice versa. Carter G. Woodson, the "Father of Black History", learned about the deceit behind American "tutelage" from his excursion as Supervisor of Schools in the archipelago, and later wrote "The Miseducation of the Negro." Renato Constantino would write "The Miseducation of the Filipino" about 30 years later. Political resonance? Yes.

The "Magic Trick" of U.S. Empire: "If they hit once, they can hit twice" (no one in the audience got that reference either, sigh). Why don't we know about the U.S. war in the Philippines? After watching the film Savage Acts, I asked my class what was most surprising about the film. One student commented on the amount of violence the U.S. inflicted on Filipinos. Why is this so surprising? Why don't we learn/commemorate the Philippine-American War (often called the Spanish-American War)? The "disappearance" of U.S. violence in the Philippines (or against the Indians in the continental U.S. or against Pacific Islanders) allows for the U.S. to do it again...and again.

And so here we are today, Thanksgiving, consuming all those sweets, carbs, and fatty foods (unless you're a tofurky fan). Let us have fun with family and friends. But also, let us remember the historical conditions that allow us to celebrate this day.

Some books on the topic of "invisible" U.S. Empire in the Philippines:
Anarchy of Empire by Amy Kaplan
American Tropics by Allan Punzalan Isaac
Model Minority Imperialism by Victor Bascara

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: "Hear it" from Lauren Santiago

Lauren Santiago is the Pinay you don't want to challenge at karaoke night. I found out about Miss Santiago through DJ Marlino's Heavy Rotation radio show and have been hooked ever since! Lauren gives a soulful quality to her music that many R&B acts today lack. Combined with the fresh tracks by Freddie Joachim and Choice37, her music is appealing to anyone who digs the earthy, gritty, but "lay back" feel of soul music.

Her EP "Sundays" gives you a that feel-good sunny Sunday afternoon vibe- you might cook a breakfast (of eggs and garlic rice?) and clean up your place on a Sunday afternoon with Lauren jammin on your box. Each track is unique- experimental in texture, key, timing, and even pitch.

Sista got pipes. And the fact that she rhymes too? Golden. So don't sleep on her music. Make sure you cop the EP "Sundays" on her myspace or search for her on iTunes. And definitely keep a look out for her album dropping in Spring 2009.

You can peep an interview by Rafu Magazine for more scoop on Lauren. I had the fortune of interviewing her all the way from NYC! Enjoy!

Who is Lauren Santiago?
I'm reppin' So Cal. I'm (like totally) a Valley girl. I never noticed how "Valley" I was until I moved to NY about a year ago. East coasters call me on my lingo all the time, but I love it 'cause it's a nice reminder about where I'm from. I'm living in Bed Stuy (do or die), NY at the moment and am diggin' this Brooklyn energy. I classify my music as Soul, but I'm branching out into variations of the genre. Electro, experimental, hip-hop, but it's Soul at heart.

How did you get involved with music?
I sang in choir in the third grade and people told me I was good, so I kept going. I was actually super into rock back in the day. I'm talking like Guns n Roses and Metalllica. Then I slowly transitioned into R&B and was really into TLC, En Vogue, Xscape (yeah I said it). I would sing their stuff all the time! When I got introduced to Dre and Snoop via my bro, I was in love. Then, lord, Lauryn Hill hit the scene and I REALLY wanted to be her. I wrote rhymes, got pretty good at it and rhymed at parties. It was fun. But I wanted to sing. I revisited singing in college, hooked up with an all-girl a cappella group at USC and from then just kept going.

Who inspires you stylistically?
Right now I'm inspired by Yukimi Nagano, Santogold, Portishead. They are so unique in style and they embody the perfect marriage of vocals/lyrics/track. Sick. Of course, there's Alicia Keys. I love the grittiness in her voice. Leela James is awesome too. That smokey, old soul vibe is fresh. Erykah and her bugged out "I don't give a f*ck" ways. There are so many to name.

What are some of the greatest challenges as you create music?
Finding time to sit down and go at it. I have a day job that is taking over my life. No joke. So what happens is, I go and work a looong ass day, write on the train, come home and work on arrangements and recording. I've been sleeping a lot less lately.

What are some of the greatest rewards?
Some of the greatest rewards are hearing the product and having people say, "Yeah, I'm feelin that. That sh*t is nice." Haha in so many words. Also, when people can relate to the subject. For example, I had a 15 year old kid from Arizona hit me up saying he just broke up with his girl and he posted "It's So Easy" lyrics on his blog cuz he was going through that same situation. That rocks.

One of my favorite songs is "Hear It From You." The song, like many other songs in your EP, have a complex texture, timbre, and unconventional sound timings (like the change of beat and timing in Jacewon's rap "outtro" in the song, or the echoey/haunting yet soulful vocals in "Hope"). Describe the creative process in making "Hear It From You."
That song is produced by Freddie Joachim, and the emcee at the end is Jacewon. Choice37 was the one who offered up his studio to have me lay it down. Freddie hit me up about getting on his album and I was feeling that track, so I laced it. Jacewon was also feeling that track so we collab'd. (Freddie and Choice37 in picture to right)

What inspired the lyrics was at the time I was diggin this cat from NYC while I was still in LA. He had no idea 'cause it was never discussed, and I didn't wanna say anything cuz I assumed it was on that "I'm here, you're there, let's connect when you're in town" type-thing (boo for that. FYI fellas, I can NOT be that casual). So anyway, I was like "Damn! Just tell me you're into me and let's get this poppin' - screw the distance!"

What is your favorite "era" of hip hop?
The 90s! From Dre, Snoop, Quik to Souls of Mischief, Hiero, and Common. I wanted to be like all those guys! Hip hop was real. This crap on the radio nowadays is so beyond me it's like I can't believe the public eats up this crap.

Do you sense a difference in the Filipino American community (hip hop or otherwise) on the West Coast and that on the East Coast?
I don't really see a Fil Am community out here in NYC. Maybe that's the difference! I've been to maybe one party, and it was the same as the West Coast. I actually felt like I was on the West. But, I don't really see a community out here. It could be because I'm outta the loop, who knows. NY is mixed like no other place I've ever been, and the sense of community IN GENERAL is through the roof! I love that. No one judges you. They just let you be who you are, act a fool, dress like a clown, and let you on your merry way. The west coast will ALWAYS be home though.

What should listeners be on the look out for? What new projects are in store?
I'm working on my full-length album. It's taking a while but it's coming! Spring 2009 is the goal. In the meantime I'll be pushing out some free joints, teasers/sampler types mainly for the DJs to throw in the mix. Working on more uptempos too. I love the laid back, relaxing type tracks but I'm trying to break out of that in a major way! Freddie and Choice37 are of course on the bill. I'm throwing in a couple of other producers as well. I'm working with this sick cat from the UK (nex*is) and more TBA...

Is there anything else you would like readers to know before you go?
Yes. I'm on iTunes. Cop that!

Thanks for the interview Lauren Santiago! Stay warm in freezin cold NYC! We're waiting eagerly for that album!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"All You Can!" A Street Fighter II Generation

I've been thinking about Street Fighter II lately. A friend mentioned that Street Fighter II was something that "housers" (who were somehwhat like the breakdancers of the early 90s) were really into. That's strange because I've heard about the houser-SF2 connection before. Why is that?

Anyways, here's a little letter to a personified SF2 to help us reminisce about the days of Ryu, Chun-Li, and Dhalsim.

Dear Street Fighter II:

It's been a while since we've seen each other. Yes, it's been so long since the calloused-thumb days of childhood. Since the days of dirty socks on neighborhood boys' living room carpets. Since the days of "housers" and gangsters. Since the tense standoffs of the Cold War era. Since "In Living Color" and Rodney King. It's been a while.

But recently you've been on my mind. Even in my dreams. Yes, I dream in Street Fighter II. Is that bad? Regardless of whatever pathology you've permanently imprinted in my brain, after hours upon hours and days upon days of play, you've taught me invaluable life lessons.

Through you, I first learned about the complexity of international relations (i.e. Guile's ontologically Western militaristic projections of power. And heck, the other Anglo is a British military girl...wearing tight spandex). What better way to convey the state of world affairs in the late 80s and early 90s than to show a big fat Japanese dude that sits on people, an Indian guy that levitates and spits fire, and a sinister Russian dude who is the final boss, but isn't really too hard to beat? Killed that fool, like Coke killed communism. That's all the worldly knowledge we need. Street Fighter is all teenage boys need for adequate cultural exposure.

Also, through your lessons, I also learned about the stringent and unwavering modes of racial classifications. People from Brazil are green monsters. Yoga really makes you lean and stretchy. I learned that you don't mess with white dudes who throw the first punch:

White dude: "I'll be whoever I want for Halloween!"
Black dude: "OUCH!"

Yes, you prepared me well for a journey through an arduous college career. But, I had a few questions to ask that have never been answered:

Are Ryu and Ken brothers? Why do they have the same exact moves, but one dude rocked Goldilocks' hair? Are you commenting on the myth of racial purity, of the already hybrid forms of culture, of the constructed discourses of authenticity? Or is blonde simply the opposite of "colored"?

Also, why could Vega jump on the fence and attack people, but no one else was able to? (1:14 here) Was the fence reserved only for gorgeous colonizers, and electrocuted the freaks? That's f*cked up.

I heard that "M. Bison" was originally the name for Balrog, but "M. Bison" was too similar to "Mike Tyson", so you transferred the "M. Bison" name to the spinning Russian dude. AND THEN, the spinning Russion dude was originally named Vega. Is this true? Then what was Vega's name? Balrog? That doesn't sound Castillano. Sounds Star Warsy.

Finally, since the Cold War is kind of over, who will be the ultimate villain? An Arab dude who swings from monkey bars? A Korean fool who jumps off of a nuclear warhead to melt you with flaming kimchee? Two gays who want to marry your daughter?

Anyways, it was fun catching up. I just wanted to thank you for introducing me to the world outside of my little town. The world is really made up of electric freaks, ladies with long, kicking legs, and fire-breathing Indians. I've attempted to befriend at least one of each of your racial classification. It hasn't been successful, especially when I pull violently on all my Indian friends' arms (sorry Satish).

All You Can,


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Money-money in my socks, freedom-freedom on my mind

Just when you think you'd get sick of an album. But no, this still be on heavy rotation in my (old and broke) pod. It's kinda hypnotizing. Me need more!

Check out this trailer to Bambu's newest video, "Crooks and Rooks":

Bambu "Crooks & Rooks" Teaser from Xylophone Films on Vimeo
Visit the homeys at Kid Heroes and Xylophone films to see more videos. Nice job fellas!

I had learnt a lot in this hurr interview of Kuya Bam (where that freedom at?):

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Halloween Letter: Dear Dude in Blackface

Dear Dude in Blackface,

It was Halloween night, and I was looking for a dance floor to throw down and maybe even throw up. I was glad I found a party, because this city is lame. So of course I graciously accepted the invitation to this grad student shin dig from a colleague.

After walking into the party, I immediately felt out of place because I didn't have a stupid costume. But also I probably felt uncomfortable because I was one of three non-White revelers. No dancing, no costume. I wanted to leave.

But alas, you caught my gaze. "Another person of color!" I thought. But wait, as you passed by, you began to look like a buried coal miner. You flashed your gold chain with a dollar sign medallion as a testament to your downess. Yes, a down coal miner, I thought.

But wait, as you came closer, I had a sick, sick feeling. You're a white dude, in blackface.

With a warm beer in my hand, I asked my colleague (who is Asian), "So we're gonna have blackface at this party?"

His answer caught me off guard: "At least we're being ironic about it."

"Oh," I thought. "This is a hipster party." If only that was the case.

Aside from the fact that I see no irony in a white guy in blackface at a Halloween party (how cliche is that?), I am surprised my colleague said "we" to include himself in the crowd. By "we," I think he meant nerdy, unsexy grad students (but I guess that encompasses me too).

So I ask you: really? Grad school? Did you lose your way to the frat party?

Barack Obama had not yet been elected, and you still had the gall to celebrate a seemingly neutralized, unpoliticized, deracialized performativity of Blackness? Couldn't you at least wait till next year and say, "Hey, a Black guy's my president. How can this be racist?"

Just remember this: After centuries of being called ugly, savage, evil, unpure by Europeans...Black people don't need you to flaunt your ability to wash that shit off. Plus, you need to do research on the long, disgraceful history of blackface performance. It didn't start with Kramer.

As Bambu says in "Exact Change": "Maybe they associate us all with that--Overlook it just because a presidential candidate is Black--Nevermind the fact prison numbers is ridiculous--Instead we see rappers on TV flashin they necklaces..."

Next year, I recommend dressing up as a White guy. That'd be ironic. Eat hummus and pita, kiss your dog, recycle, shop at organic stores, buy expensive sandwiches...a presidential seal (instead of a dollar-sign) around your neck. Run with it homey.

On second thought, maybe you were really a Black guy, who put on white-colored make-up (even down to your neck and in your ear), then black-colored make-up haphazardly on top of that. If that were the case, you're freakin awesome.

Posted in the cut,

PS: My president is Black. Oh yeeahh...