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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

At Washington’s Blues Alley jazz singer Jane Monheit and her quartet perform songs made famous by Judy Garland. Monheit sits down with "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten to talk about her music, the singers who influence her, and her life traveling with family on tour.