Mar 29, 2007

Kenyan Diaspora and a New Politics of Culture/Identity

I found this 3-part article on African Path to be a good read, especially because while looking at matters of the global Kenyan diaspora, it asks more interesting questions about national identity and the role of nationalism in the shaping of a new cultural/political identity back home. Check it out.

Read More......

Mar 28, 2007

The Bay.

Planning out a trip to the Bay Area for the first time in my life. At first, I didn't really think I'd have a lot to see - I know some folks out there, but not that many. Then I started to think about how so many strands in my life seem to come together on those winding streets, and I can't wait for when I can visit and explore some of it.

For example... my favorite genre of metal - thrash - has many of its standard-holders coming from out of the bay.

Asian America, the movement and the arts scene, were born on the streets of San Francisco. It's hard not to think of Wittman Ah-Sing or his inspiration, Frank Chin or the Kearny Street Workshop when you think "Asian American art," actually. Or the I-Hotel. Or the Ghadar party, for that matter.

The Summer of Love, and so much of the music and hope of that heady time all trace back to San Francisco. When we wish that we lived in the 60s, which so many of the idealistic set do (I guess, thinking that race wouldn't be an issue there, which is of course, stupid), I don't think we're thinking of Chicago, or Boston, or even New York. It's all about the Bay.

I think of the beat generation, of cafes with people reading, writing, thinking. I feel like SF is the logical sibling of NYC, and that the distaste that NY'ers have for LA is probably pretty analogous to what Bay Area folks feel for LA. Though looking at it from a distance, SF seems like it may be a bit more pure than NY, if only because NY has its superstars and Fifth Avenue to match the Sunset Strip and LA's artifice, but I don't know whether that's the case in SF.

My friends have told me that the boho experience that I remember so fondly from mid-90s East Village (still after the real wave in the 70s and 80s), would comport nicely with SF. That there is a good possibility that I wouldn't want to come back, though learning another city that has so much history seems daunting, and at my age, a little unwieldy.

I've heard from others that folks don't let too much phase them, and while I get annoyed sometimes at everyone being on edge in NYC, there's something about the edginess that keeps me awake and vibrant, and I don't know if the activism in the Bay Area is as grounded in hyper-reality. Still, it may be easier to sustain the work if you're not fighting against the neighbors, the weather, and the system as much as you seem to be in NYC.

So with all the art, and community, and history out in the area - with the ability to check out Kearny Street, and Alcatraz, and Angel Island, and a Chinatown that I can finally give some respect to, I'm definitely excited about a prospective trip. Let's see if it all pans out.

Read More......

Mar 27, 2007

Afro-Punk & Metal: A Headbanger's Journey

I've been promising, among other things, a quick take on the really interesting documentary Afro-Punk that I picked up through NetFlix. I've not gotten around to it until now, and in the interim, I checked out Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, which definitely merits some airtime as well.

There are two very different docs, but both take on genres and subcultures that are altogether unknown to the mainstream. Afro-Punk isn't trying to be a retrospective history of punk - it's really looking at the intersection of race and the genre, primarily through a bunch of interviews with a bunch of young and long-time fans, as well as a few punk veterans. For someone like me, who is so new to the genre, and not a convert to punk, though punk elements in the metal that I love definitely appeal to me (early Maiden/NWOBHM, etc), it was an eye-opener.

Also, because the film kept race front-and-center, I found the questions, approach, and gems that they uncovered incredibly interesting. The filmmaker had a light tough, enough so that you didn't feel like he was trying to make some profound statement from the film. It asked a few questions, found a bunch of interesting people, and just gave us a brief introduction to their place in a genre of music that's so often associated with unhappy white kids that you forget that some of the real trailblazers, like Bad Brains, like members of a bunch of groups, were actually black.

My favorite part was when he had a bunch of the interviewees, in rapid succession, saying that they were the only black kid at punk shows growing up. It's just awesome to hear like 10-15 people say the same thing. And you think "I wish I could have them all meet each other!" There's also something refreshing about the do-it-yourself aspect of punk - I was pretty inspired to see/hear folks talk about it - the race didn't really matter - it was the attitude. And finally, one sister was really deep because of the way that she identified the music, and the culture of punk - from the haircuts to the tattoos and piercings, with specific traditions in Africa. It was quite powerful to hear her talk about it, and talk about how much she was mocked or told that she was "acting white" by folks in her neighborhood, when she flipped it and said "actually, I'm getting closer to a culture that we lost."

It's pretty powerful, and I appreciated her take on it. Regardless, the film moved smoothly, there was enough cool stuff that was known and stuff that was unknown (at least to me, a neophyte to the culture), and I have to say, some of it was damn funny. Not to ruin the film, but there's a moment when the guys from TV on the Radio are asked to name all the groups that had black members, and they went through a list, and eventually said "The Clash... because they *had* to be black" and quickly followed it up with, "the whole scene is full of them!" I guess you have to see it.

So with that rave review of Afro-Punk, which was very satisfying as a film, I have to move on the Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, which suddenly found itself high on my Netflix list and in my DVD player quickly thereafter. What can I say? This is my genre, my first love in music, and the first true community that I felt like I was a part of while growing up. The filmmaker is an anthropologist who was a metal-head while growing up in Canada, and he has an easy, welcoming style of narrative that draws you in.

The film starts with shots from Heavy Metal Parking Lot, a short film taken during a Judas Priest show in the heyday of crazy metal fans (sometime in 1984, I think) and just showed a bunch of kids waiting for the show to start. I rented that DVD, was not really impressed by the film itself and less impressed by the dozen or so extras, most of which were quite a bit longer than the actual film (though I have to say, the filming of the demolition of the arena where the show had taken place, as well as the metal fan who went through a quite detailed LP-by-LP review of each of the Judas Priest albums as he showed off his collection were precious).

Anyway, so the filmmaker, Sam Dunn, a fan of the music, went on an exploration of metal culture and history in his film, and I thought that it was well done. He looked at the roots of the music, without talking about it for too long, interviewed people like Alice Cooper, Ronnie Dio (who kept making fun of Gene Simmons), Tommy Iommi, Dee Snider and a number of other respected folks from the beginning of the movement. He also did a one-on-one with Bruce Dickinson, in the Hammerstein Ballroom, which was pretty incredible, and a mind-blowingly funny interview with one of the most controversial black metal bands in the genre.

All that said, because I know the music fairly well, I wanted more. I thought that his exploration of controversy, from the Norwegian church-burning black metalists (and the way that Alice Cooper laughed at them) to the PMRC and Dee Snider discussion, were great. He even dealt with gender (and gender bending) in the genre. But he didn't open the question of race - which may seem like a non-issue because it seems like such an overwhelmingly white male genre and culture.

But it's not, the crowds around the world that turn out for metal shows is incredible (look at Brazil, Japan, and other places where metal shows can sell more than 75,000 seats easily), and even within metal, there are a good number of thrashers and others who are not white. Tom Araya of Slayer is Peruvian. Testament's Chuck Billy and Eric Petersen (at least) are American Indians. There are plenty of others. And the lyrics - from Anthrax's numerous songs to many others - also look at intolerance and hatred in interesting ways. [note, when posting this, I went to the website for this film, and realize now that Dunn is en route to making a follow-up that looks at the world metal phenomenon called: Global Metal. I'm impressed by this dude!]

I would say that the fan base in the United States is similar to punk - there aren't a lot of us, but probably more than you'd find at a typical country show. I haven't seen the extras from Metal but I'm not sure if there's anything there that looks at race either, and I think it remains an interesting angle for an aspiring filmmaker: "Gold, Bronze, Brown, and Red: The Many Colors of Metal"

Read More......

Mar 24, 2007

Explosions in the Sky.

Texan indie-rock band Explosions in the Sky has quickly exhausted my free listens on Napster. I heard of them in a (gasp) Rolling Stone article, and was intrigued because instrumental guitar rock that I listen to is generally pretty abrasive or acrobatic stuff by solo artists with studio musicians. This is a band. And let me tell you - they are worthy.

Take Sigur Ros without the nutty vocals, but keeping the cresendos and dropping some of the orchestral embellishments, and you've got a decent idea of what these guys sound like. It's just good music - plenty of clean tones mixed in with more lively full band arrangements. It's a soundtrack to our lives, in many ways. Actually, for probably the first time that I can recall, I'm interested in seeing a movie because of who did the soundtrack (EitS did the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights).

I just missed them in the area, but I'm hoping to at least check out a few of their disks. I don't know what the live show would be like (shoegazing hipsters? Who knows). If you're looking for disks that can play that wonderful role of either being something that you put on in the background or something to which you are actively listening, Explosions in the Sky seems like a good fit.

Oh, and get this, one of the members, who's often the interview giver for the band, is brown. But the band is just the band. It's sort of like Soundgarden with Kim Thayil (though I guess they had a line in Spoonman about "all my friends are Indian/all my friends are brown and red" so he's not fully stealth.

Anyway, check them out.

Read More......

Mar 19, 2007

So. Tired.

But will return in time (soon) to write about the world and all its infinite spinning. Some thoughts that are churning at this point...

I'm learning more about Transgendered identities and issues... just the tip of the iceberg, but it's got me thinking about gender privilege that moves away from a simple analysis of patriarchy. It's just tough for folks whose very identity is controlled by the state and state imposition, in a way that race, ethnicity, and even sexuality are not really touched.

I mean, you may not be able to get the equal treatment as others based on these characteristics, but the very essence of who and how you identify yourself is not being called into question or being defined for you (check that, sometimes that's not true, but generalities in this stream of consciousness, okay?). I can't imagine that feeling, or the feeling that you have no privacy at all every time there's some kind of alarm that goes off in the ID-checker's mind because the gender on your ID doesn't match what they think it should be, or how you want for it to be listed. I just feel like trying to find who and what you want to be should be your own journey, not one that the state gets in the middle of... but does that make me more of a libertarian? Or just someone who thinks that in some issues, self-determination is completely thwarted by block-headed state action.

Of course there's so much more, but so little time for me to write...

Read More......

Mar 11, 2007

Genius Kid: Unhappiness in Slavery.

This 4-year kid's dad has posted videos of him reciting all kinds of fun facts (like the 50 capitals of U.S. States). While I definitely prefer Animaniacs, this kid is really cute. But, I don't think I dig the trained puppy routine that parents seem to take with their kids. If you check out this video, I think he just wants to play games, not be the showcase spectacle that he's being pushed into.

But if you check out Spellbound and watch the way some of the desi parents turn life into a competition, you start seeing the math and spelling competitions as the bane of these kids' existance. How maladjusted does your kid have to turn out for you to realize that you're doing him wrong? I don't know. I don't think your kids should be your show pet. If you like competition, grow roses or something. But let the kid be a kid.

Read More......

Mar 10, 2007

Desi Attitude: Hardly.

A friend turned me onto DJ Desi's myspace site, from which I saw a link for Desi Attitude that I assumed was a rip of Rocawear or something. So I played along and clicked.

Ends up that DA is a non-profit that the DJ is involved in (i.e. founded?). Aside from a splash page that seems to have taken it's cue from myspace, at least in the number of photos it has on it, there was much to wonder about with this group.

Apparently, it's dedicated to the "hi-5s" - a list of five program areas that really kind of cover the whole spectrum:

Music & Arts

I don't know - it's a nice idea, and you can tell that he's sincere, I guess, but I'm skeptical about this whole thing - sorta the dude who takes himself a bit too seriously, and really, looks like he's all about the parties, but this "project" is his way to sell the other products.

Maybe that's a little cynical of me, but let me tell you, when you go to the desi attitude myspace, the wallpaper has "spread the desi virus" as the clever slogan. Wha?! Okay dude - I don't know what you're smoking, DJ "They-See", but that's not flying for me.

But the classic quote from your website is:

Money is not the only thing a homeless person is looking for. Sometimes they just want someone to ask, "How are you?"; sometimes they just need a hand to stand up, someone to listen to their story, someone to tell them a story, a laugh, an element of inspiration, just something to make them feel human. That's the attitude we want to bring to giving. And when you touch a human on that level, they get a lot more.
- DJ Desi

Uh. Okay dude. Thanks for the lesson. I thought the second sentence would be "they want a home." But I guess the point is compassion, right? You take yourself pretty seriously for someone who's supposed to be throwing a bunch of parties. Regardless, while going through the site, and the model-like team that you've put together, I keep trying to find the punchline.

But then I realize - I mean, your name is "DJ Desi." You don't have a single ironic bone in your body. For real. What about "DJ Day-Z." Not DJ They-C? How about DJ Daisy? Don't want to hate, brother, but I'm not a big fan of the shirts, the logos, the whole get-up. Come on brother. Is this for real?

Read More......

Mar 9, 2007

Mos Def.

I know that a lot of white kids got into Mos Def when his first solo album, Black on Both Sides, dropped. But I have to say, I think he's pretty awesome. He's walking this interesting line between mainstream sound, because his stuff isn't unaccessible, and the progressive avant guarde in hip-hop (at least by my estimation) because he's not walking the typical path, is using celebrity, Hollywood, Broadway, and the rest of it to raise consciousness, he's not a hack in any of the things in which he's engaged, and he's not afraid to make some statements. For example, he put out a track soon after the tragedy in New Orleans that slammed the Administration, and he had the conviction to sing the song outside of the (AWARDS NAME) and get arrested doing it.

So I have to give Mos Def some props. On MD's acting. I think he's a great actor, actually, from the soft role in Brown Sugar, to his cameo in Lackawanna Blues (awesome movie that you should check out if you can), to his star turn on 16 Blocks, and I just saw him play a cop with enough nuance in The Woodsman to make you both hate and like him at the same time. Mos Def has acting chops. I haven't seen him as Ford Prefect in Hitchhiker's Guide, but I think my father-in-law even liked his acting in a medical history movie called Something the Lord Made.

I haven't heard his latest album, but I'm finally listening to The New Danger on Napster, and I don't know why I didn't pick this up when it dropped years ago. It's basically an album's worth of proof, taken from his song Rock N Roll on the first album, which said flat out that rock music is black music, and reclaimed some of it from the folks who got famous with the rhythms. Danger is brimming with different aspects of rock, blues, soul with Mos Def switching over to the styles in songs composed with enough conviction to keep you on board. It's not the most cohesive album, by any means, but Black Jack Johnson, which is in itself comprised of members of some of the top black rock/funk/pubk acts (including Living Color, Bad Brains, and Parliament/Funkadelic) can cook.

I have to end here - but I'll pick this up on a post I've been promising about Afro Punk, which definitely gave me more to think about in the race/ethnicity prong of subculture/counterculture analysis. Don't know if I'll be that deep about it, but whatever. It's relevant to Mos Def's ever-expansive performance of what is "black music." Hat tip to Mos. I'm feeling you, man.

Read More......

Mar 7, 2007

Maiden India, Mashups, etc.

Okay - so as serendipity would have it, I have some great tidbits that seem to fit so perfectly into the little world I've created for myself in this blog (including my occasional reflections on South Asian diaspora, metal, critical and cultural theory, and whatever else) that you'd think I made this shit up.

First, I got an email from the Maiden camp about some new merch on their site. I thought "well, I can't get this in the U.S., but I might as well check it out." I didn't realize that Maiden's playing Bangalore next week. Wha?! Yeah. As in, India. And they even made a new shirt design up for it. Eddie blasting a cricket ball. How bloody perfect is that. But for 40 USD shipped, it's a shirt I can only admire on the internet. I cannot wait to hear about how many people went to a Maiden concert in India. There's a following? There are other brown Maiden heads (aside from the obvious freaks like Dave Baksh from Sum 41) out there? Who knew!

And on that tip - in recognition of this wonderful show (wonder if it's their first in India - anyone know?), Wax Audio, who has created some really interesting and cool mashups (read and hear the best of them here) created this mock-up called "Maiden Goes to Bollywood", with a funky, funny mashup to commemorate the concert.

Check it out. It's like all my worlds colliding (I'm not a Bollywood fan, but heck, even I like to get down once in a while). Avoid the Maiden/Public Enemy mash at all costs.

Finally, there's a discussion of "hipster metal" over at Invisible Oranges that I found fascinating. I wouldn't have thought enough to split out two branches to the kinds of metal (Dionysian and polished). I tend to follow the traditional view that most American thrash came out of a quest for a more aggressive NWOBHM sound, while Slayer's take on Venom led to the breadth of more extreme metal that's since followed. Regardless of its roots, IO's contention that hipsters are interested in the more extreme metal because of the discussions that can ensue. Interesting - read his words instead of my attempt to summarize here.

But I like his thoughts on Maiden - they are clearly not the most profound of the groups (though their use of historical figures and moments as fodder for songs is fun for the nerd-thrashers out there), but a Maiden fan is a Maiden fan. Sorta simple.

I'm going to have to come back to this soon with an eye towards the racial dynamics of metal audiences (fans and artists, really), in light of my recent viewing of "Afro Punk", a documentary with a pretty deep take on people who identify as black, and as punk/hardcore fans. I really liked it, but more to come. Meanwhile, check out those mashups!

Read More......

Mar 6, 2007

Night classes in law school are a mixed bag. I think that the evening students at my law school are more conservative. I also think that while they have some interesting perspectives compared to the young uns in my school, I feel like they have little perspective about why being a gunner in a night class seminar seems a little silly.

I do think that evening students are more diverse than the day students at my school, and I'd assume the same in many of the other schools that are falling over one another in the race to graduate students with the highest total debt load. But evening students often get the short end of the stick. Even though I'm older than a lot of my classmates, I still feel like I'm part of a community, and though I probably spend more time thinking about building a student community that I want to be a part of than I should, it's one of those things that you only get to experience as a student, and something that I really enjoyed while an undergrad.

But to go through the school process without the fun element, well, that would embitter me to just want to become a soulless facilitator of injustice too. But how do you make that evening experience enjoyable? I can't imagine going through school without getting to know your classmates and engage questions of justice and the philosophical boundaries of ethical community-based legal practice over bad food and long nights. Well, that was my first year, I guess. Not involved, not excited, and not engaged at all.

So I'm not knocking the evening students, but maybe just questioning the whole legal pedagogical industry. Is it really getting people excited about this profession? Is it truly making itself accessible to people who are outside of the traditional "I want to go to law school" cult? Not feeling it.

Read More......

Mar 3, 2007

MP3 Blogs: Get Peel!

I am a late comer to the whole MP3 Blog thing - basic concept is simple, though I don't understand how they get around copyright laws (i'm guessing that they don't): people who are really into music post up entries on music - reviews, reminiscences, whatever, and alongside the cover art, some random picture, and the occasional YouTube link for the obscure video, they actually post up MP3s.

Well, that's cool. So I'd started checking out a few blogs, and even through I use the syndication feature in Safari (Mac-only browser) that tells me when there are new posts, it was still a real pain to go to the site, download the song, figure out whether I want to keep it without having it get imported into iTunes, and then deal with the duplicate (because iTunes copies imported MP3s to file them away when you let it do the organizing for you).

Well, no longer. All music lovers + mac users, listen up! There's a tiny program that some beautiful people created called Peel that's awesome. It's basically an MP3 blog aggregator with a clean interface that goes online for you, checks out the blogs that you have identified as worthy, tells you if there are new tracks up, and gives you awesome control.

There are two tabs in the iTunes-like main window. One is Playlist - basically links all the tracks that have been on that blog in the last x days. It does not download the songs unless you set it that way. So you can just stream the music to hear it, and flip around to see what you like. Find something you dig? Just hit "download" and Peel brings it from the site. With back-end iTunes integration, if you just set up a couple of things (like having the files download into your iTunes music folder where all the artist folders are when iTunes is organizing your music), and you have iTunes organize imported music, the track will go into your library, get filed away nicely, and show up on a new Peel playlist.

The other tab is called "Web" and lets you read the text entry on the blog! It's like a mini browser in your music listening software - and sans the ability to hit links, will give you the context for the tunes you've been able to get your grubby hands on. I'm so hooked. It's the best of all worlds, cuts down my already ballooning site surfing, and gives me access to niche sites (I have 2 excellent metal sites for now, and deep soul cuts at Soul-Sides) as well as pretty eclectic stuff (looking for jazz now). The UI is clean, and updated regularly.

So Get Peel while it's still free! And if you're a peecee user, well, maybe you can find something similar with iTunes integration. I guess.

Read More......

Mar 2, 2007

Rage: What's in a Name?

I've been thinking a lot about anger lately, and considering how sometimes, people equate the vocalization of dissent, unease, or disagreement as an instant escalation. (If anyone out there remembers I Was Born With 2 Tongues - they played this out on a track with voices asking "why are you so angry?" over and over).

Anyway, this has come up for me because I've been thinking about my adopted name on this site - just sort of fell into it, and it seemed cool at the time, but when we can be deliberate about these things, we should.

But do I really want to reinforce the habit of many people to immediately peg someone who thinks critically and opens his/her mouth as angry? Think about the way that a righteous black woman in a graduate level class has to say to herself "I don't want to be thought of as that militant/angry black woman," and ends up censoring herself to avoid getting pigeon-holed, and eventually ignored. But if she silences herself, no one can hear her - even if they're listening.

So do we take on these personas ourselves sometimes? For me, is it a performance to seem more menacing than the traditional image of a blogger? I mean, hell, I am angry about some stuff, but I also recognize that anger doesn't always equal constructive energy. And I'm an optimist most of the time, especially after I've eaten. So what gives?

There's something larger afoot about the danger of groupthinking less of the folks who think differently, of course, but maybe we can draw this out a little larger...

For example, why do we all use so much military jargon and turns of phrase, even as dedicated peace activists, and advocates of non-violence. I've "rallied the troops," "assessed my targets," fought "battles" and "dropped bombs" in settings that had nothing to do with aggression, violence or anything of the sort. But how does using that terminology help us in the work that we're doing, and how does it send mixed messages?

A friend of mine made a statement saying that she was "bitching" about something in the company of about 10-15 folks, some of whom are ardent feminists. My friend is progressive, and has a commitment to human rights issues, but she never really thought about how using the "shorthand" of that word to describe a particular activity was a covert oppressive act itself.

I can talk about language all day - yesterday, the city of New York decided to ban the use of the n-word. I don't think that the ban holds the weight of statutory law, but it's still a powerful message (I guess in light of the ban on smoking, trans fats, and blocking the box, folks might say this is the last straw, taking away their right to say what they want to say but I would probably want to beat the shit out of those people, so it doesn't really matter to me).

Which brings me back to where I began - anger... animosity...rage. Even if we really have this inside us that makes us escalate within, should we really advertise it with the personas we take on? More in the last year or so, I've felt things boil up quickly, especially while on the road. While I don't think I was ever passive, I definitely didn't care as much about little things before - is the excuse stress? Or is it some kind of slipping backwards into a less advanced consciousness? Or is repression of anger what is really unnatural, and what we should address?

Maybe we all need to vent, and yoga and meditation isn't the quick release that let's us get there?

Read More......