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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

Hamilton Live: Dustbowl Revivali
|| 0:00:00
...  
🔇
X
September 02, 2015 12:19 PM
Dustbowl Revival is an American roots orchestra with eight full-time members who performed live at "The Hamilton" songs from their new CD, "With A Lampshade On."

Dustbowl Revival is an American roots orchestra with eight full-time members who performed live at "The Hamilton" songs from their new CD, "With A Lampshade On."