about 3 weeks ago, i did a show right on the steps of los angeles' city hall for the mayor's kick-off celebration of asian american history month. when kat, my manager and best friend, first presented the opportunity to me, we were both weary of the invitation. we put it on the back burner and took on other gigs... when the deadline came to making the final decision on the gig, we both thought it would be a great opportunity to grab this platform and address some of the issues plaguing our beautiful city -- so we said yes.
the day of the event was circus-like. we got there and got escorted into the mayor's office building. we were given almost vip treatment into a city hall council meeting (everyone in suits - while phat was in his trademark wrinkled t-shirt, dirty new balances and jeans from his freshman year in high school, and me in a t-shirt, jeans and respectable kicks -- we stood out) and we were ushered into our own little room with a clear view of city hall's front steps. we saw the mayor, the entire council, other pretty important people and, much to our delight, tia carrere. aaaaaanywaaaays, the time arrived for us to take the stage. with the taj mahal painted behind me as the backdrop and a group of shaolin fighting monks to my left, we started our set. the audience was more than i expected (i expected zero people to show up) and right up front, pressed up against the barricade were a group of 10-15 pre-school kids -- this is important to remember for later.
i got through the intro song of the set and started in on the mayor's "war on gangs," and the lausd budget cuts! i wasn't animated, i wasn't even aggressive during my rant, i just told it like it is... so, i said what i said, started into the next song, beach cruising. i got through the first verse, and started in on the second, "...it goes liquor store, church, liquor store, chicken shack..." i realized that phat didn't drop the beat when he was supposed to, so i just figured he fouled up and i kept going. about 4 bars in, my microphone went dead. i looked back at phat and said that they had cut us off. i looked to the stage manager, and she walked me off stage and told me that someone was going to "talk to me." i mean, i figured i got cut off because i went in on the mayor and my camp was ready for that. the woman who had made the decision to cut my mic off approached me with the swiftest of strides. "what happened?" i asked. "we're cutting you off because you used the 'n-word." i tried to explain to her that nowhere in my set do i use the word and if ever in my recent music (from barrel men to exact change) the word was used, it was to critique the word and challenge any word(s) of oppressive nature. she wasn't trying to hear me, ignored me and proceeded to tell the stage manager to bring on the next act. needless to say, once i realized that she was full of shit and wasn't going to listen to me, i began to raise my voice. i wall of people forced me behind the stage and phat and i walked off. pissed.
it's ironic that they would use THAT excuse to cut my set -- because cutting my set off for letting the mayor know how the majority of its citizen's feel is not good enough of a reason (not to mention unconstitutional) to shut me down, they chose to throw in a complete lie to justify it. what are you going to do?! i went to bat against the mayor's office, and he "walked" me. fine. we've been going back and forth with the organizers of the event about the incident, but the mayor's office refuses to chime in. so, kat wrote a letter on our camp's behalf (below). when given the opportunity to have a voice -- use it as though it were your last!
Dear Mayor’s Office,
We are writing this letter to address the censorship of Los Angeles-based artist and activist Bambu at the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month kickoff event which took place on the South Lawn of City Hall on Friday, April 24th 2009.
Bambu accepted an invitation by the planning committee to perform at this event, and donate his performance to celebrate Asian Pacific Heritage Month with the City of Los Angeles. After waiting in the wings for over two hours to perform, Bambu’s set was suddenly cut short, after two event committee members, who we were told are staffers of the Mayor’s office, incorrectly accused Bambu of using the “n-word” in his performance.
Through his music and community work Bambu has brought social issues affecting disenfranchised people in our city, and in our world, from the Filipino Veterans, gang violence, poverty, lack of educational resources, and more. Bambu is a youth community organizer who has taught youth writing workshops in Historic Filipinotown, and currently teaches after school writing workshops at Locke High School. One of his primary lessons to young people is to move beyond using “language of oppression” – such as using words like the ‘N-word’ - to empower themselves to utilize the vast lexicon of the English language to give voice to their experiences.
But the audience unfortunately was unable to experience what his fans and supporters have come to love about Bambu – his engaging performance, hip hop music with a positive community message – because two staffers made a terrible accusation.
Bambu did question the quality of education as well as the effectiveness of the Mayor’s gang solution program while onstage, just prior to starting his second song, which leaves us to wonder if this was the actual reason why he was censored. Everyone in this country is supposed to have the right to free speech and express their viewpoint. Bambu’s views may not have been that of the Mayor’s Office, but as a citizen of this Los Angeles, he has every right to express his views and not be censored.
We were told that the staffers believed they were trying to contain the event to be family-appropriate. We find this to be an excuse, as well as rather offensive to for the staffers to think that Bambu does not understand how to act appropriately. Bambu was well aware of the nature of the event, and has performed at numerous family events over the years. The young children at the front of the stage, who were not much older than Bambu’s own son, were enjoying his set. Bambu knows better than to use offensive language, especially in front of children.
It is very unfortunate that Bambu was unable to share his music at this event. It is also unfortunate that the Mayor is represented by these two staffers whose reactionary and short-sighted actions support censorship of a voice who speaks on behalf of Filipino and all inner city youth of Los Angeles.
Bambu will continue his work as a community organizer and hip hop artist. He will continue to raise his voice against injustice, and teach young people to raise their voices against injustice.