Posts Tagged ‘music’

Peace if possible, truth at all costs

July 7th, 2009
Miles Maeda at Smartbar

Miles Maeda at Smartbar

Chicago is the birthplace of house, a electronic music genre characterized by funk-infused disco and a synthesized bassline. It transcends boundaries. No one is ostracized because of creed, age, ethnicity, sexual preference, or gender – all people come together as one, united under the same music. This is the epitome of tolerance and self-expression – you can dance as you please, and no one will care or look at you in disbelief.

To learn more, I tagged along with a couple of veteran house DJs and producers during the weekend. I had a behind the scenes look at major house clubs, such as Smartbar and Vision. Beats were pounding, people were dancing, and for a moment, the music transcended reality. But house music is more than just an adrenaline pumper. It is also about the underlying quest to search for identity and truth. At an after-party that lasted for 21 hours, a debate ensued about truth.

Truth, in essence, is absolute. Everything from good to evil, from ethically comprehensible to morally ambiguous decisions are encompassed by it.  Truth is pervasive; it exists regardless of opinion.  Any person that wants to deny the existence of gravity is welcome to jump off a bridge and test out the fact of its existence.

Everyone strives to know the truth but everyone’s perception of it is different.  In less obvious scenarios, can one really determine what is good and bad? In other words, if you feel someone acted unethically, can you tell that person what he did is wrong if he perceives right and wrong differently than you do? For example, one man’s conscience keeps him away from alcohol, but allows him to do mind-altering drugs. To the hidebound thinker, this is a moral travesty but to this drug user, this is permissible, and as long as others are not harmed, it is perfectly fine.

Is there a morally correct choice to make in every scenario?  There is no easy answer to this dilemma. Many complex issues arise from different perceptions of reality, which can commonly be seen in religion and politics, even amongst those who share the same fundamental beliefs. Uniting people under the same banner with mutual tolerance and respect is the first step for negotiation. Let the house beat go on.

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June 5th, 2009

Hip-hop consists of four elements: MCing (often called rapping), DJing, graffiti, and breakdancing.  And with these elements comes culture and fashion.  Many often equate hip-hop to noise because radio only broadcasts top 40 booty banging tracks, and perhaps that is why hip-hop remains one of the least understood genres of music.  True hip-hop is more than just rapping to a beat; it’s a way of life that one must experience to truly understand.

Graffiti by Adam Stab

Graffiti by Adam Stab

One of the elements of hip-hop that is often forgotten is graffiti.  To understand more, I hit the streets with DèAngelo, a graffiti artist I met at a record shop in Baltimore, MD.  We meandered through the back alleys of the city and charged through dense brush alongside railroad tracks in the middle of the night amid torrential rainfall to search for a pot of gold.  And we were successful – we discovered multiple graffiti jackpots that contained some of the most beautiful murals I have seen my entire life.

DèAngelo took out a spraycan and via a live demonstration, showed me the intricacies of can control, and how lines can be manipulated without the use of cardboard cutouts to create smooth lines.  I was soaked, dirty, smelly, and bitten multiple times by mosquitoes – but I was having the time of my life, because this was hip-hop at its core, grassroots style.

I managed to meet many of the biggest graffiti artists of Baltimore today, including Adam Stab.  Two decades down the line, they are still writing from the heart.  I hope that in a decade I will keep my youthful nature and keep on doing what is important to me, just as these artists have done.

Graffiti is beautiful and should be embraced.  There should be certain areas in the inner city designated as tag zones and graffiti programs implemented in those zones to keep youth away from crime and drugs.  And in these places, there could be hip-hop concerts where local DJs and MCs meet up.  It’s an inexpensive way to help curtail a massive problem.

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April 28th, 2009


My music education began in Austin, TX.  And now, a fortnight later, I am in New Orleans, LA, basking in the sweet sound from the instruments of street musicians.  This morning, in true New Orleans outré fashion, a band comprised of six young adults who could not have been more than twenty years of age took to the streets at 3 A.M. playing trumpets, trombones, and drums.  Within the blink of an eye, a throng of people crowded around this magnificent display of brass.  There was more energy there than any concert of 10 magnitudes greater.  The feeling was ineffable.  It was music done grassroots style – arms were flying in ecstasy, torsos were moving like flowing water, and feet were shuffling as if it were 1969.  Words weren’t needed for unity.  The drumbeat transcended reality.

A good lyric or tune can comfort and console, incite anger and outrage, inspire and encourage, or impart knowledge and wisdom.  A song has the power to remind us of a loved one and dig up remnants of a past long forgotten.  Many times, it is unforgiving, making us relive memories we secretly tried to tuck away in a safe box.  For many of these street musicians, music is all they have left.  It is their blessing and it is their curse.  I am reminded of Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, a poignant tune that I imagine some of these artists must breathe and feel.

So I’m just gonna sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

Look like nothing’s gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same, yes

It is with these street musicians that I can appreciate the most.  And best of all, it’s free.