News / Arts & Entertainment

Hip Hop Meets Southeast Asia Poetry in US Midwest

Tou SaiKo Lee
Tou SaiKo Lee
Richard Paul
What happens when hip-hop meets an ancient Southeast Asian poetry tradition in the American Midwest? Answer: an unusual collaboration between a young rapper and his grandmother.

The American immigrant story usually follows some basic contours. The first generation holds on tight to their old world traditions. Their children try as hard as they possibly can to become “American.” Then in the third generation, the grandchildren often turn back to learn from their grandparents’ culture.

At an outdoor farmer’s market in St. Paul, Minnesota, an elderly woman chants in the dialect of the Hmong people of Laos.  She’s wearing a bright purple turban, a black dress with colorful appliques, a bright, shiny necklace and wrap-around sunglasses.  Next to her is a young man, dressed in black with a baseball cap and jacket.

The young man is her grandson, Tou SaiKo Lee - a rapper and poet in a band called Delicious Venom.  The woman is his 70-year-old grandmother, Youa Chang, a practitioner of the ancient Hmong poetry tradition of kwv txhiaj.

Hip Hop Meets SE Asia Poetry in American Midwest
Hip Hop Meets SE Asia Poetry in American Midwesti
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

The Hmong are a tribal people from Laos who supported the United States during America's wars in Southeast Asia.  When the wars ended, large numbers of them fled to the United States, where many settled in Minnesota.  For Tou SaiKo Lee, this unusual paring with his grandmother began to take shape after a visit he made to Southeast Asia to explore his roots.

“I had the opportunity to go back to Thailand - I was born in a refugee camp in Ng Tai there," he said. "It was an amazing experience for me, discovering the arts through poetry, spoken Word.”  

The trip drove him to explore the many varied methods the Hmong use to express themselves artistically.  

“I knew that I really connected to kwv txhiaj in particular, which is Hmong poetry chanting,” he said.

And it’s little wonder why.  His grandmother had been a kwv txhiaj poet back in Laos.  

“When I was growing up I didn’t connect to it.  It seemed like something that the elders did only," he said. "But I was definitely connected to hip-hop.  But when I got a little bit older, I realized there was a connection from what I did to what she does.”  

Kwv txhiaj was giving his grandmother a voice - using poetry to chronicle her experience.  It was the same thing he was doing through hip-hop.  

“I felt like it was important to fuse those two art forms together and showcase it," he said. "Show it to the younger generation to show that I can honor what the elders are doing.”

At the same time, he says, performing alongside his grandmother sends an important message to the older generation.  

“Her teaming with me shows -- like -- elders that, Hey, maybe hip-hop isn’t the negative stereotypes that they might think it is,” he said.

WATCH RELATED:  New York Times Magazine documentary - "Hmong Hip Hop Heritage" by Patrick Ferrell

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the latest edition of "Beyond Category" blues singer and guitarist Corey Harris performs with his band and talks about his travels in West Africa tracing the roots of the blues.