Sunday, January 31, 2010

R.I.P. JD, Long Live DP

Some of you may be thinking, "Drew, Dilla's been dead for a while now." Others of you are probably scratching your head, thinking "what is the title of this blog about?" The rest of you have already poured a glass of whiskey and toasted to the interesting and obscure memory of JD Salinger, one of the most influential (if not prolific) writers of the 20th century. At least, that's what we did to commemorate his passing last week.

Back when I was a teenager working on my first album (onescore minus eleven years ago), I also happened to be reading "Catcher in the Rye." I don't think I ever really told anyone, but part of the album is directly inspired by (stolen from?) this book. Here, take a listen and see if you can spot it now:

Well, that's pretty much how I felt about playing the piano for a long time... not exactly shy, just real personal. It really wasn't until I started performing a lot in other capacities that I got real comfortable playing piano "for other people." I'm glad I finally did, because one of my favorite things about traveling abroad is jumping on board with local bands and trying to keep up. From busking in the street with teenagers in Salvador, Bahia, to jammin' with a Mexican reggae band, I've had my fair share of interesting impromptu performances... and they've been some of the most fun of my life.

Last week was no exception, as Tom Rodwell invited me to play a set with him and at the Wine Cellar. If you're not familiar with the music just check out my last post for a taste. Anyway, I was obviously juiced to jump on board, and the show was even more fun than I expected. Tom on guitar, Joe Pineapple on bass, Shadow on harmonica, and me on the old upright! About 3 minutes into the second set, the venue became a sweat box, but that did not stop the ladies on the dance floor (but at least one of them had to change outfits halfway through). Damn, calypso is fun!

So, now your probably thinking, "I still don't understand the title of this post." Well, now I'll finish explaining: last Thursday dead prez (dp) was here in Auckland "Small world!" That's pretty much all Stic.Man could say when I caught up with him coming out of sound check. My friend and Napalm Clique accomplice, Unity, just released some music featuring Stic, so it was cool to finally get it into his hands (I don't think he'd heard the track since the recording session). Here, have a listen:

The show was quality, and it reminded me of being back on Guam. See, New Zealand has its own (ugly) history of oppressed indigenous people, the Maori. We know what side of the argument dead prez is on wherever they go, so it was no surprise when they hung the Maori flag from the DJ booth. I couldn't help but notice the parallel to my Chamorro friends passing the "Reclaim Guahan" banner on stage during Ooklah the Moc's performance at the Guam Music Festival over a month ago.

Whenever I travel, one of my favorite sayings comes to mind: "same sh*t, different toilet." But here, its important to point out some key differences between the status of the indigenous populations on the three islands I've visited.

The government of Fiji is run by native Fijians (Melanesians), after a 2006 military coup ousted a predominantly Indo-Fijian government on the grounds of corruption. The Parliament building still remains empty (except for the maintenance crew that still cleans it everyday), the Constitution has been suspended, and no elections have been held. For this reason, Fiji was expelled from the Pacific Forum last year.

In contrast, the native Chamorros of Guam hold MANY local offices on Guam, but cannot be said to "control" their government. Ultimately, Guam is run by the U.S. Department of the Interior, whose leader (Secretary) is not elected by anyone! Even if you trust Obama, who appoints the Secretary of the Interior, I hope you recognize a slight conflict of interest here in light of the U.S. Government's historic and future plans for the island. To put it crudely, Ken Salazar of Colorado is currently the King of Guam!

The situation in New Zealand lies somewhere in between. Where Guam has the Organic Act, New Zealand has the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840, between the British Crown and the Maori chiefs of the North Island. While both documents are as controversial as they are condescending, the Maori have been able to leverage the Treaty in the last few decades to win many monetary and land concessions or settlements. I have a lot to learn about the subject, but my sense is that the Maori have been gaining ground while the Chamorros have been losing it. May the force be with We Are Guahan!

This week I will be traveling south to Wellington and and other surrounding areas. One place I will be visiting is the last "majority-Maori" area in New Zealand. As always, I look forward to getting my education live and in-person.

Pura Vida,

Sunday, January 24, 2010

FUSHNCHUPS! (aka Fish & Chips)

I've made my way to Auckland, New Zealand, and what a beautiful city it is! It's obvious why they shoot so many movies here (Lord of the Rings, Avatar, King Kong, etc.) One my first night in town my friend and host, Colleen, took me to the Wine Cellar. I was treater to plum wine and some seriously good live blues, courtesy of Tom Rodwell (guitar) and Joe Pineapple (bass). The music was so good I just had to bootleg the concert on my iPhone. Here, have a listen:

I've had some top notch "tour guides" since the second I got here. So, when I'm not reading or watching the 1st season of "The Wire" (caution: may be more habit-forming than the Cheesesteak Shop), I'm off visiting another corner of this beautiful island.

Marine Reserve near Long Bay

Black Iron Sand Beaches of Waitakere

Looting Grandma's Garden at Orewa Beach

I knocked down three good books last week. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle, was recommended by Colleen. More than anything, it made want to stop B-S'ing and finish my application (I did one of the essays last week!).

I picked up Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America back at Hafa Books, the used bookstore on Guam. It was interesting and damn funny, but it wasn't exactly breaking news. The saddest part about it was realizing how much the (U.S.) economy has tanked since the book was published in 2001, and that things have only gotten worse for most folks.

My friend, Jamie, recommended The Alchemist as a great short read that would be perfect for me on my journey... she was right. Paulo Coelho manages to squeeze a whole lot of food for thought into the story, but one parable stuck out as deep and relevant to my life right now. So, here goes:

A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world. The lad wandered through the desert for forty days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived.

Rather than finding a saintly man, though, our hero, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesmen came and went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the most delicious food in that part of the world. The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be given the man's attention.

The wise man listened attentively to the boy's explanation of why he had come, but told him that he didn't have time just then to explain the secret of happiness. He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours.

'Meanwhile, I want to ask you to do something,' said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. 'As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.'

The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was.

'Well,' asked the wise man, 'did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?'

The boy was embarrassed and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

'Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,' said the wise man. 'You cannot trust a man if you don't know his house.'

Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the taste with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.

'But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?' asked the wise man.

Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.

'Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you,' said the wisest of wise men. 'The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil in the spoon.'

Bibliography of My Trip

> Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human - by Richard Wrangham (2009)
> Angels & Demons - by Dan Brown (2000)
> Last Words: A Memoir - by George Carlin (2009)
> Say You're One of Them - by Uwem Akpan (2008)
> Long Walk to Freedom - by Nelson Mandela (1994)
> The Da Vinci Code - by Dan Brown (2003)
> Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies - by Jared Diamond (1997)
> Foundation & Earth - by Isaac Asimov (1986)
> Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle - by Moritz Thomsen (1969)
> The Alchemist - by Paulo Coelho (1988)
> Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America - by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)

Reading list continued on 2/16 post

Sunday, January 17, 2010


We landed in Fiji last Saturday morning, at Nadi International Airport. It took our small group a few minutes to adjust, as one Fijian after another greeted us with "Bula!" You see, on Guam, "bula" is the equivalent of the Bay Area's infamous "hella." As in, "Dude-man-bro, Guam's got bula marines coming!" I was thrown off at first, but quickly realized that "bula" is like the "shalom" of Fiji. Every culture needs a super-word that serves as a greeting and salutation, plus has four or five other meanings.

Our first night out we hit Sitar, a delicious Indian-Thai-Fijian restaurant with the best service I've had in months (aside from the family bbq's on Guam!). After some top-notch samosas and a plate of SPICY goat curry, we headed to Ed's bar. Ed's came highly recommended as a spot that welcomed tourists, but was mostly frequented by locals, which turned out to be true. The pool tables were slanted, the music was hit-or-miss, but the beer and the company was good. I did narrowly escape an a$$-kicking after a brief misunderstanding on the dance-floor. A word of personal advice, don't go too dumb in a country that just had a military coup... someone is bound to show you what dumb really is. But relax family and friends, I'm merely embellishing for the sake of an exciting tale!

One highlight of my time in Fiji was our visit to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. At the base of a mountain range that's looks like a giant on his back, lies a secluded park that started out as a private collection of orchids. Here's what it looks like now:

On my last night in Fiji I found myself at Ice Bar, the new hotness in Nadi. After some very minor flirting with the very-cute-and-nice bartender, I found myself in charge of the DJ booth... who woulda thunk it? I reached deep into my collection and managed to deliver a quality two-hour set on the cutting edge of international pop. It's amazing what you can do in some places with just a winamp playlist and an 8Gb flash drive.

The next morning it was back to the airport, and onto the next leg of the journey. Check back for the next posting to find out where I am now... let's just say I'm even further south, and further into tomorrow than I've ever been.

Pura Vida,

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Not Just Making Noise

So, if you've been following this blog since the start, then you know what's going down on Guam. I just set foot on the island for the first time in December, but I've been aware of, and supportive of the Chamorro community's struggle for self-determination for years. Currently, the U.S. Government directly controls 1/3 of the island, primarily for military bases. On top of that, the current planned military buildup will bring an additional 79,000 people (at its height) to an island, increasing the population by up to 40 percent.

In recent weeks, the people's movement to oppose this plan has picked up new momentum right before my eyes. What started as a frustrated handful of friends, has now evolved into a highly organized opposition... "We Are Guahan." "Guahan" is a Chamorro word that means "what we have," and is the original name for the island... before the Spanish Conquest.

Within the span of one week, We Are Guahan has made some big noise, attracting international and local press. If you've got a sec, please click on the links below to check it out:

Wall Street Journal

PRI's "The World"

Pacific Daily News

On a more personal note, I had an adventure that really opened my eyes to exactly what is at stake... some of the most beautiful land on the planet! We Are Guahan led an all-day group hike to Pagat, an ancient Chamorro village and burial ground located right on the coast of the the island. Instead of trying to describe it, I'll just show you a few of the pictures:

While the trip was fun, there was definitely a heavier side to it. If the military buildup goes as planned, access to Pagat will be cut off so that the Marines can have another "live fire" ammunitions range. Our original motivation for organizing the hike was to find a non-political way to connect with locals, and get them to realize exactly what was on the chopping block. Just look at the pictures above again for a second, and then ask yourself what's more important?

I feel lucky to have been on the hike. Who knows, next time I'm on Guam, I may not be able to visit Pagat at all. Besides, how often do you get a chance to swim in an underground freshwater cave AND jump off a cliff in the same day? (click on video below)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Luckiest Man Alive

Three years ago, my friend and I walked away from this accident. Well, technically, I pulled him out of the passenger side window, but no props to me since the accident was my fault. No, I wasn't drunk... I was just tired. When I got home, I labeled this picture "luckiestmanalive.jpg" and that's how it's been listed on my computer ever since. Wherever the message came from, I got it loud and clear... "slow down." Since that morning, that's exactly what I've tried to do.

Call me a nerd, but when I booked my ticket for this trip back in November 2009, there was one thing that I looked forward to more than anything else... reading. Maybe that doesn't make sense to you... why fly halfway around the world just to read? To me, it makes perfects sense. For me, reading represents the best possible way to just "slow down."

Many people think of vacation as a chance to just "get away." While I definitely looked forward to "getting away" from home, there was/is nothing back home that I really want or need to escape from. I love the Bay and it will always be my home.

That being said, this trip is an opportunity for me to do more of things that I always want to do at home, and reading is at the top of that list. Before I left, I decided that I would read a book-a-week. And so far, I'm ahead of the game. Here's what I've been chewing on so far, listed in the order I read them... I figure I'll just add to this list as I go:

> Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human - by Richard Wrangham (2009)
> Angels & Demons - by Dan Brown (2000)
> Last Words: A Memoir - by George Carlin (2009)
> Say You're One of Them - by Uwem Akpan (2008)
> Long Walk to Freedom - by Nelson Mandela (1994)
> The Da Vinci Code - by Dan Brown (2003)
> Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies - by Jared Diamond (1997)
> Foundation & Earth - by Isaac Asimov (1986)
(Reading list continued on 1/25/10 post)

Long Walk to Freedom was borderline life-changing! I can still remember going to see him speak in person at the Oakland Coliseum when he first got released from jail in 1990. I don't remember a damn thing he said, but I just remember how important it seemed to the tens of thousands of people around me, especially my dad. The whole time I was reading the book, I just kept on thinking how lucky the planet is to have him (still!). I want Magic Johnson to share some of his "Live Forever" pills with Mr. Mandela so he can stick around for another 100 years. It's long, but it's not hard or depressing, its the opposite.

In many ways, Say You're One of Them is the polar opposite of Nelson Mandela's memoir. First of all, it is a collection of short stories, not one big undertaking. Second, it's fiction (but it's not at all). Third, it is very, very, tough on the spirit. Written by a Nigerian Jesuit Priest, Say You're One of Them is about the pure resilience of children in the midst of utter ugliness. Please read this book, but don't expect to be uplifted too much by it.

As for Catching Fire, it definitely does not read like a textbook. It's kind of a blend of anthropology, gastronomy, and physiology... gastrophysiologicalanthroplogy? Wait, I think I found the topic for my Master's Thesis!

Yesterday, I took a nice long walk to the next village, Barrigada, to check out Hafa Books. After trekking along the highway for a half-hour (walking is not very popular here), I reached the used bookseller, and started combing the aisles. I honed this skill spending countless hours (and paychecks) at Amoeba Records starting back in '96. Effective shopping at any used book or music store is like speed-reading with higher stakes. It's all about recognizing the little things that jump out at you... positioning yourself in relation to other crate diggers so that they end up in your wake, not the other way around... and yes, good old-fashioned patience and restraint. After a good 30 minutes of mining, I dropped my booty on the counter, only to be told that the closest ATM was just another 15 minutes down the road. No sweat, plus walking in the cool tropical rain is pretty damn refreshing.

Later that day I was back on the couch with my newest (used) book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. Aaaaah, just were I want to be. If you enjoy reading, or if you know how much I do, then you'll appreciate just how good this is for me. If you're not into reading, I will just have to quote Menace II Society by saying, "I fill sorry foh yoh muddah!"

If any of these books jump out at you for any reason, leave a comment and let me know what's on your mind. Personally, I would recommend any and all of them, but I would point out that The Da Vinci Code is basically the same exact book as Angels & Demons, the first book in the series. I have the third book, The Lost Symbol, with me, but I'll probably have to wait awhile before I jump into that.

I'll be updating this blog entry as I go with new titles as I finish them. I will also add some reflections on how the books relate to my experiences here. Please check back again soon!

Pura Vida

- Jan 18: I just finished Foundation and Earth, and after I turned the last page I threw the paperback against the wall on the far side of the room and yelled "rubbish!" The last time I had that reaction was when I finished Roberto Bolaño's 2666. At least Foundation and Earth wasn't a thousand pages long, so I didn't take it so personally. Isaac Asimov's Prelude to Foundation was the book that first got me into reading, some time back in the early 90's. For me, that book ranks right up there with The Power of One (Courtenay), The Count of Monte Cristo (Dumas), and everything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as all-time favorites. Over the next few years I plowed through the next four books in the Foundation series, feeling like each book was not quite as good as the last. Eventually, I lost interest, until I saw the final book in the series on the shelf in a department store in Fiji. I guess I thought I owed it to old Isaac to finish what we started together so long ago. In the end, I would say Foundation and Earth is what happens when an author is under too long of a contract, and takes too much of his publisher's advice. Sorry Dr. Asimov, but the next sci-fi book I read will be by Frank Herbert.