Friday, January 30, 2009

New flava in ya ear...Pro Brown rips a rhyme and reveals plans for '09

Peep this poetry piece Geologic aka Geo aka Prometheus Brown spits at the "Shirt the Kids" event at San Diego State University in December 2008.

Its worth noting that Geo started out as a poet first before emceeing, rollin with the Isangmahal Arts Kollective circle in Seattle in the late 90s. In the poem, like a time traveler, Geo moves through history and effectively names a few important (but often erased) figures in Philippine history. The bold words are some names you should know. It's a history lesson ya'll. The poem is tight. Aside from solid the content, Geo got some nice rhythmic emphasis in this one. Some of my favorite lines:

"I was both Gabriela and Diego Silang
Lapu Lapu reborn when he talk through the song
I'm Bulosan moving with the tool in my palm
To get the workers and the students and the movement involved
To paraphrase Jose Maria Sison
A hero, serve the people, till the spirit is gone.
I'm Bonifacio
Before Aguinaldo betrayed him
As a child I had beef with both Marcos and Reagan.
I'm like Eman Lacaba
Guerrilla and a poet they will salvage my prose
While my body decomposes.
I'm Viernes, Domingo
From Friday to Sunday I rest
The other days I'm overworked and depressed..

I'm still trippin on the Silme Viernes and Gene Domingo reference--two foundational labor union leaders in Seattle assassinated because of their organizing and their anti-Marcos politics. They are also apparently days of the week. Here is the poem performed live, followed by an interview with Geo regarding Blue Scholars in 2009:

In the interview part of the video above, Geo reveals plans for 2009. Now that all the touring is done, what will be the new surprises for Blue Scholars? Will their new material be as innovative and soulful as Bayani? What kinda freaky beats does Sabzi have fermenting in the petri dish? Can Blue Scholars politics be as resistant and militant with W out and a fresh new brutha in the White House? Of course, dufus. But for everything else, I guess we'll just wait and see...

(With the video editing, I'm experimenting with layout and such. Notice there is no the multicentrality demanded by the Filipino archipelagic condition. Whoa nelly, don't read too much into it...)

Bambu peaks in at the end. Wonder what '09 looks like for him?


Here is another Geo poem. Good stuff, but its in an eerily, sexy candle-lit room. Explanations anyone?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Colonial Funk: America's Best Dance Crew Season 3

For ABDC Season 3, Team Millenia means business

References: Exclusive: America's Best Dance Crew Season 3 Los Angeles Auditions
Step Up! A Night of Pin@y Dancers in Hollywood
Fil Am Famous: Is dance how we'll "get noticed"?
Guest Article: "Filipino America's Best Dance Crew"

America's Best Dance Crew Season 3 looks as crazy as ever. From cloggers from Alabama to circus-style dancers from Brooklyn, this season is probably the wildest yet. Like everyone's been talking about since Season 1, this show is a popular space with which to showcase Filipino talent (is it the "biggest" venue we've had?). Although Filipinos aren't as dominant in representation as in the two other seasons (Fil Am quota?), there still is a noticeable presence. After getting booted in the first episode last season, Team Millenia, which is mostly Fil Am and comes out of the Fil Am college "modern" dance crews, is giving it a second shot. Let's wish them luck so we can get another largely Fil Am team in the ranks of ABDC victories, and hopefully get some sistas as winners for this show since only dudes have won so far.

Now what is interesting about this first episode is the representation from Puerto Rico. Our "colonial cousins" in the PR did really good I think, but unfortunately they were the first to be cut. Who is this team? They are "G.O.P. Dance," a name for a crew that I find tragically hilarious. Are they colonized Republicans with soul?

Anyways, in all seriousness, it is worth highlighting the fact that Puerto Rico, which isn't a "formal" U.S. state, is included in America's Best Dance Crew. The Philippines and PR became colonies of the U.S. after the Spanish-American War (and the subsequent U.S. violence on these island nations), and thus have almost identical Spanish and U.S. colonial patterns. As a colony of the U.S., Puerto Rico has a non-voting delegate in the U.S. Congress, while simultaneously subjected to U.S. militarism and corporatism (peep the pharmaceutical industry's hold on the colony). As "nationals" of the U.S. (Filipinos used to be "nationals" before given independence after WWII), Puerto Ricans can travel freely throughout the U.S. But again, they have no representation in governance. This is why I find that the adoption of the name "G.O.P." to be tragically hilarious.

Before their set, the host Mario Lopez asks the audience, "Will these boys from Puerto Rico become the main attraction of the mainland?" Good question Mr. Lopez. Since they were booted in the first episode, I guess they aren't. The irony here is bountiful. But the fact that PR is represented as constitutive of the U.S. nation-state is profound, especially since U.S. colonies are "invisible" in the public imagination. The U.S. is supposed to be liberal and "exceptional" and without colonizing tendencies like old world Europe. I wonder how the public will react to gazing upon these Puerto Rican brothas as representing one of "America's Best Dance Crew," albeit they got rejected. Not "American" enough? Yes, as abjected bodies, these colonial subjects can never be subsumed within the "pure" body politic of the (white) U.S. nation-state. (Dude, what if the Philippines was able to compete in this shit? Then Guam and Northern Mariana Islands...?)

Another interesting part of the episode was when G.O.P. stripped their Catholic monk vestiges. Is this a gesture of stripping their Spanish colonial heritage in exchange for a U.S. neocolonial affiliation in the form of hip hop dance? I'd like to know the intentions of that moment because shit is rife with all kinds of interpretations. What are the advantages of identifying with the U.S. nation-state? How does an act of "de-Hispanicizing" their group affiliation impact their ascriptions as Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans? I think these questions could come right out of Raquel Rivera's New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone. A very good read.

Finally, big ups to Kid Rainen for holdin down the judging job of much-beloved J.C. Chasez. (Did anyone catch his "Big Booty Hoes" reference after Fly Khicks went on? Sneaky foolishness) Why can't they just hire Rainen to permanently hold that spot? Organic intellectual please! I really appreciated Rainen's recognition of the influence of salsa on b-boy dancing. He gave respect to G.O.P. for giving that salsa flavor and commented on how salsa influenced rockin which influenced b-boying. J.C. can't educate the public like that! Let's advocate for the change yall.

Pinoys and Puerto Ricans...keep up the colonial funk.

On another note, if you're ever in Queens, NY, you should stop by one of my favorite restaurants, Philippu Lounge and Restaurante. Why is it called Philippu? Cuz its Philippine and Puerto Rican-owned, cuz. They used to sell both Filipino and Puerto Rican food, but now it's only Filipino Food (both cuisines are similar anyway). Whether you're just grabbing lunch, going on a date, or watching a Pacquiao fight with the manongs, this is a nice spot to support Filipino (and PR) business.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Beats, Rhymes, and Resistance: A decade later

Before I get to "Beats, Rhymes, and Resistance," I'd first like to address the relationships between culture and politics. In the shadow of a historical transition to power with Barack Obama's presidency (what could be going through Jesse Jackson's mind right now?), there lingers many violent and disturbing acts of injustices. From the killing of Oscar Grant and shooting of Robert Tolan to Israel's grossly disproportionate military aggresion toward Palestinian people (and here), these examples are just a few of the innumerable power struggles that poor, disenfranchised, hungry, and marginalized women, men, and children live through everyday.

Obama, Grant, and Tolan

We will not go through a laundry list of oppression here. But as hip hop "heads" we know well the role culture plays in spaces of oppression and inequality. Where there is injustice there seems to always be a cultural response/expression that challenges injustice: music, dance, storytelling, language, paintings, etc. Hip hop is one mode of expression here in the States and is arguably employed with more political intensity among heads in Cuba, Germany, the Philippines, Kenya, etc.

However, the homey argues in the "Model Minority" blog: "Hip Hop isn't political. A Hip Hop show isn't political. An album isn't political." Please read her entry.

How important does cultural production (art, language, music, poetry, theater, etc.) play in radical/progressive political mobilization?

It's been more than a decade since the making of the documentary film "Beats, Rhymes, and Resistance: Pilipinos and Hip Hop in Los Angeles," which features some influential Fil Am hip hop artists (in their "younger" years!) such as Kiwi, Babu, Faith Santilla, DJ Symphany, and Icy Ice, and many others. It highlights the "cultural liberation" (as Faith Santilla says in the film) that hip hop brings to Fil Ams...the radical expressions that hip hop cultivates. "Hip hop," as DJ Dwenz says in the film, "is the voice of inner city youth." In this sense, hip hop is seen as a motivating "force" in political struggle...hip hop is political.

"Beats, Rhymes, and Resistance" is probably the first work that seriously tackles the topic of Filipinos in hip hop.
Lakandiwa de Leon's "Filipinotown and the DJ Scene" (here) resonates with the film (as Lakan is a co-director) and goes into more depth with gang culture and colonization. For those who have watched "Hip Hop Mestizaje," you can see how much the film influences my own work. It has paved the way for many young folks who are seriously interrogating this subject.

But, how relevant is this film today?
Given the state of hip hop in 2009, is the film's focus on hip hop's political role still applicable?

Or is right, hip hop is really less political than people may think?

Peep the film here (thanks to Lakandiwa de Leon):

For Palestine, for the family of Oscar Grant, for all people looking for justice, in whatever mode we strive for a better society (whether it be hip hop culture or not), may we always move forward to love and justice.