Writer Kanara Ty learns the hard way that sometimes free screenings are not always free.
One of the most practical ways for beginning filmmakers to cut their teeth is to start with the short film format. Cereal Monogomy, a memorable short at this year's VC Film Festival, documented one man's complex relationship with his breakfast food.
Subscribe to the APA Newsletter
The premiere event of Tad Nakamura's film A Song for Ourselves included live performances from Blue Scholars, Bambu, Kiwi, DJ Phatrick -- and a special appearance by Nobuko Miyamoto, Charlie Chin, and Kamau Ayubbi.
Article by Megan Chun
Video shot and edited by Warren Kenji Berkey
In celebration of the premiere of Tad Nakamura's documentary A Song for Ourselves, all 878 seats at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo were filled, and many stood outside hoping to steal an empty seat.
Hosted by Traci Kato-Kiriyama from Tuesday Night Café, the event began with a surprise reunion performance by Native Guns. DJ Phatrick spun the beats as rappers Bambu and Kiwi fed off each other's energy, getting the crowd involved in the favorite, "Champion." They consistently encouraged the audience to smile, to chant their name "Native Guns," and to wave their hands in the air.
While Bambu and Kiwi have recently been working as solo artists, they reunited as Native Guns specifically for the event. They revisited many of their popular tracks while introducing many of their newer songs. Social outreach is a theme that pervades all of their music, whether it is the work they do together or individually. All the songs, whether touching on the topic of lower class economic struggles or the violence in neighborhoods, had a clear focus on community, an issue very close to their hearts. All three artists have a passion for helping their respective communities, specifically focusing their efforts at youth and after school programs. Bambu and Kiwi both work as community organizers for the Filipino community in California -- Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), respectively -- while DJ Phatrick co-founded the Bay Unity Music Project, a digital music and recording enrichment program for youth and young adults.
Following the performance was the much-anticipated showing of Tad Nakamura's documentary, A Song for Ourselves. The life of the musician/activist Chris Iijima, displayed on the screen, caused laughter at times and crying at others. As the credits rolled, the audience showed their appreciation for Tad's work with an abundance of applause. Afterwards, the red curtains on the stage opened and revealed Charlie Chin and Nobuko Miyamoto, friends and fellow performers with the late Chris Iijima. The crowd was quickly silenced, in anticipation of a performance from these legendary figures of the 1960s Asian American movement.
Performing only with an acoustic guitar and a small hand drum, Nobuko and Charlie's voices resonated through the theatre. Joined by Miyamoto's son Kamau Ayubbi, they sang of their identification as Americans and beckoned fellow Asian Americans to find their voice.
At one point, Charlie Chin, interspersing occasional chords amid dialogue, told the history of Asian Americans and their struggle for equal opportunity, giving a historical background to the songs. Touching on the issues of the immigration laws and the racially-discriminatory restrictive covenants, Charlie's overview of the past gave light to the frustration and the search for hope during the time Chris Iijima and Nobuko wrote the songs. A standing ovation and an ocean of applause later, the baton was passed onto the Blue Scholars.
When the Blue Scholars took the stage, the younger portion of the audience jumped to their feet, rushing towards the stage to get a clearer view of Sabzi manning the turntables as Geologic took to the mic. All prior reservations aside, the crowd echoed Geologic's rhymes, waving their cell phones in the air. At one point, the entire theatre was participating in a two-step dance, fully entranced by Sabzi's jazz-influenced beats and Geologic's lyrics about miseducated youth and the need for revolution. Much like Bambu, Kiwi and DJ Phatrick, Geologic and Sabzi are known for their socially conscious messages. Their name itself is a play on the term blue-collar workers, and the two members also participate in mentoring youth in their community in Seattle.
The night was a celebration of the bridging generations and our evolving ideas about community. Both the older and newer generations of artists have been viewed as being bold for speaking out, but none of them view political controversy as the main issue. When asked about the sociopolitical tones in their lyrics, the younger artists -- Bambu, Kiwi, DJ Phatrick, and Sabzi and Geologic of the Blue Scholars -- said their lyrics flow from thinking about what is important to them. They feel a sense of frustration that political lyrics would be considered controversial, while lyrics about violence and stealing end up receiving praise and being palatable to the mainstream.
A sense of blending, fusion, and evolution seemed to pervade the night, as seen in the performers onstage, in the crowd demographics, and even through the Kogi korean taco truck that was conveniently parked outside after the concert was over. The importance of dialogue between generations was paramount. But ultimately, the music gained the spotlight, proving to be the bind that provides for continuous discourse between the past and present -- and displaying the power of a communal song.
Date Posted: 3/20/2009