I am very much a rocker in terms of my musical tastes. I listened to some hip hop during high school and college and follow some rap (and rap-influenced) groups here and there (The Coup, The Roots, Rage Against the Machine) But I primarily listen to rock and rock-influenced music more than anything else.
I’ve been on the lookout for something new to listen to the past few months and got tipped off to a free download to some music by the Angry Asian Man blog. Angry Asian Man alerted readers that filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura will be releasing a documentary this month on the life and musical work of 1960’s folksinger and pioneer of Asian-American activism Chris Iijima. Here’s a link to the blog promoting the documentary which has the link to download the mixtape.
The mixtape features works by Asian American folk music pioneers Chris Iijima, Nabuko Miyamoto and Charlie Chin interspersed with choice cuts by Filipino-American hip hop groups The Blue Scholars and the (now disbanded) Native Guns (Bambu and Kiwi). I have been curious about the work of the Blue Scholars, Bambu and Kiwi for some time now and appreciated this opportunity to sample their work. Listening to the mixtape was a revelation.
Political folk songs by Chris Iijima as well as spoken word excerpts from the documentary were interspersed in between the hip hop musical tracks. Iijima’s songs were explicitly politically radical and anti-Vietnam War and were informed by a pan-Asian sensibility which seemed, to me, unusual for an Asian-American artist from the 1960s. I was not exposed to pan-Asian identity politics until college in the 1990s so I recognize Iijima as a pioneer of Asian-American ethnic identity activism.
How do I best describe listening to the music? The only way I can describe it is I felt a similar feeling in listening to this mixtape that I felt after the first time I read some of the classics of political literature that I have ever read. Books with a potent social and political message such as the Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, Class Notes by Adolph Reed.
The tracks by these hip hop artists, in short, contain some pretty potent and powerful stuff. At times introspective but at other times angry and militant, these tracks are never boring or get mired in tired cliche. The common thread that runs through the tracks by the Blue Scholars and Native Guns is political activism and a deep social conscience. These are unapologetic, militant radical missives that have an explicitly Marxist, anti-war, pan-Asian and anti-capitalist edge.
The tracks – for lack of a better word – rock. But along with rocking, the lyrics strive to make the listener think and reflect on the state of the world where war, inequality, injustice, violence, racism, sexism are rampant. Rather than just lament and complain about the state of the world these artists advocate political activism and personal responsibility tinged with a social conscience that puts their sympathies and allegiance squarely with a humanistic and radical, pro-people vision. I read in their Wikipedia bios that more than just hip hop MC’s, the Blue Scholars, Kiwi, and Bambu are also community organizers and political activists in their regular life away from music. It shows.
So do yourself a favor and download the free mixtape from the Song for Ourselves blog. If you are a hip hop and rap fan you won’t be disappointed. If you are into socially and politically conscious music and are looking for something potent and powerful that makes you think and reflect on the state of the world today you can’t go wrong with this mixtape. If you are curious about the Blue Scholars, Kiwi and Bambu this is the perfect opportunity to hear some of their best cuts. There is no downside to downloading this mixtape. Take this Filipino-American rocker’s word for it — you will be blown away.