Some people get into community building through textbooks. Some people get into community building through student organizing.
I got into community building through music.
Ok, perhaps that's a little over-simplified.
There are a number of reasons why I'm involved in community building including my own family history and a life-long want to be part of something larger, but much of it came from the music I listened to in high school and the art I consumed while figuring myself out.
I've had a few conversations in the past few weeks about the role of Y2K-era file sharing in Asian American identity building for folks my age, and what better timing than Bambu's triumphant return to LA for a one-night show at The Echo.
Bambu, an LA-native and one of LA's best, is a badass rapper. As a former gang member and Marine, his tracks are all tools that help the listener work towards undoing the conditions that continue to facilitate gang culture, militarization (domestically and internationally), and non-education.
I first saw Bambu perform as part of his old unit with Kiwi Ilafonte, Native Guns. Part of a USC program at Bovard Auditorium, the awkward night (there were only two rows of people) ended with Far East Movement (then Far*East Movement) yelling so loud into their mics that their speaker toppled over and a friend and I had to jump onto stage from the audience to fix the situation.
Native Guns was great, but my memory of them is overshadowed by how loud FM was.
In the years since I've seen Bambu perform back with Kiwi and as a guest at the first Blue Scholars' show I saw at the Key Club in Hollywood.
This would be my first time at a solo show.
This would also be my first time at the Echo, surprisingly.
I'd been to the Echoplex plenty of times for Bootie LA, but I'd never been upstairs to the Echo.
It's definitely a cool intimate space, but not so intimate as to feel cramped. Despite the packed house our clique somehow found itself in the middle of the crowd with an enviable vantage point.
Mostly. I am rather short.
But tall dude in front of me be damned, the show started and everyone started moving to the beat of DJ Phatrick and then suddenly --
I wondered, many times, whether anyone in the crowd was a casual hip hop fan with no context for what Bambu was about. Lyrics ignored, his tracks sound like they could be any top-tier underground joints. The show opened with "A Sunrise Above" off of the Party Worker album, the opening bars a play on Lennon's "Power to the People" that sang "Power to the Workers." Bam's flow was crisp and clear. His energy was strong and determined. This man was seasoned and thoughtful.
He welcomed the crowd with a "warm and militant welcome," and then started a three hour journey through organizing philosophy, class warfare, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism, anti-Blackness disruption, and anti-misogyny.
The casual hip hop fan, if they didn't have the knowledge yet, left with a semester's worth of Cultural Work 101.
And the professors were not just Bambu. Explaining that he didn't want a generic song about misogyny and instead wanted women to break it down themselves, he introduced Klassy who spat fire and offered a rumination on abuse, the cycle of violence, and self-care.
Bam introduced Faith Santilla, an artist/organizer who I know as the inspiration for the folks who have inspired me.
And then of course, to round out the energy, Rocky Rivera took the stage with Irie Eyez and DJ Roza to shut it down.
By this time in the show it was late. It was a Sunday night. We were tired, but it was Rocky so we powered through.
And by the time Bam came back on we were drained.
In retrospect, it wasn't a concert. It was a rally. The emotional labor and introspection this show called for was far beyond any concert I'd been to. The debriefing and discussion that needed to happen after was endless.
Way back it was music like this that showed me a world outside of my suburban bubble and reminded me of my roots as the child of two families that clawed up through poverty to "the American dream." In listening to Native Guns, Rocky Rivera, Blue Scholars, etc etc, I found myself building language, history, and context that would allow me to be critical of the conditions that forced my family to use assimilation as a survival tactic.
I look at Bam and Rocky, a duo raising a child together, and see possibility and hope for our community. We can raise our children to be critical of the systems that educate them and hope that within the next two generations we will see change that impacts our systems of law, order, and education.
More than that, I was reminded of what it means to be part of a community working together in joint movement and allyship. I will never claim the struggle of inner city Filipino youth, but I can certainly offer my community's resources and hands to build structures for use when we are called on to offer our help.
The show was a reminder of how much has shifted since high school and early college. Now having organized longer, had more conversations, and been more critical of my praxis, I hear the lyrics differently. My call to action has shifted. My role at the concert is different.
But I'm still figuring that out.