Monday, July 20, 2009

Gospel Hip Hop Meets Falun Gong, Rips Hu Jintao

Gospel Hip Hop
Meets Falun Gong,
Rips Hu Jintao

The China Support Network participated in a 'Freedom For Falun Gong' rally on Washington DC's National Mall on Sunday, July 19 2009, where I personally attended and gave a speech. (The speech can be seen in a separate blog post: http://chinasupport.blogspot.com/2009/07/full-text-of-july-19-speech-by-csns.html )

The guys and I need to have an "after action review," because I expect that we were surprised by what happened, and we are still sizing it up. Did we know what we were getting into?

There is no bad thing in Sunday's event. This is not a complaint -- far from it. "Wow!!!" is more closely the take away that I'm having.

It's this way: I can take credit for bringing in the rock band, Light Club, to the causes of Chinese democracy and of freedom for Falun Gong, Tibetans, Uighurs, and more groups that are persecuted in Communist China. It was 2005 when I invited Tim Britt and his bandmate Ron Luke to perform at the commemoration of the 16th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. They were being brought into the middle of the Chinese dissident scene in Washington, DC.

For that occasion, they were inspired to write and record the song, 'Remember Tiananmen Square,' in the style of American rock music. Previously, I was aware of one such song ('The Ghosts of Beijing' by Eye In The Village) that was recorded in 1989 just after Tiananmen Square's bloody massacre of June 4 that year. And of course, Axl Rose from Guns'n'Roses was reportedly working on an album called Chinese Democracy.

--But aside from that, the U.S. rock music scene had been silent for 16 years on this topic. The emergence of new rock music for the cause was going to be big, especially for the Falun Gong community which was just coming out of its shell.

The backstory on Falun Gong is this: In 1989, it didn't exist. In 1992, it was introduced. It had explosive growth of popularity in China, until its size was estimated in the range of 70-100 million members. That scared the chief of the Communist Party, and a crackdown commenced in 1999. In 2004, a related newspaper published 'Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party' and began the movement to have all Chinese quit and resign their membership in the Communist Party. In those days of 2004-2005, the Falun Gong community (perhaps they can be called "neo-dissidents") was beginning to integrate better with other groups such as the secular pro-democracy movement ("paleo-dissidents").

Being in on the planning stages with Britt and Luke, we realized that U.S. rock music was coming from an alien culture in the eyes of those from Mainland China. We realized that the dissidents had never heard anything like this -- strong American rock music as a delivery vehicle for a pro-Chinese democracy message. It was even said that the Falun Gong "didn't like" rock music. We were going to get in everybody's face -- from Beijing thru Chinese diaspora thru the American public -- with this music, carrying a hard-edged political message.

They loved it! --A Falun Gong practitioner suggested expanding on the 'Bye Bye CCP' theme, and that inspired a second song, 'Bye Bye CCP.' The Falun Gong TV studio made two music videos that were done as footage montages with those two songs. The U.S. rockers had touched a chord (or in the eyes of Beijing, where Falun Gong is banned and verboten and persecuted, a raw nerve).

More collaboration followed. The Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR) in 2008 brought together all of China's persecuted to call for human rights ahead of the Olympics. Light Club wrote and recorded another song, 'Freedom First, Olympics Second' for our coalition by the same name. HRTR elevated more musical acts into the picture, and released a compilation CD called 'Songs to Save the World: Music of the Human Rights Torch Relay."

This may have meant that more musical acts were nipping at our heels, but we welcomed that because we want the good cause of Chinese rights to grow. And, Light Club's picture was on the CD cover and the lead song was 'Freedom First, Olympics Second.'

Just when you're feeling on top of the scene, you can't grow complacent. The foregoing is backstory to the "Wow!!!" that I am still having from what we witnessed yesterday.

And, I can't claim credit for bringing a new act onto the scene: Jared Pearman organized yesterday's event for Friends of Falun Gong. CSN co-sponsored. I think that at CSN, we were all surprised because Jared had invited us, but had not shown us the rest of the program lineup. In our experience, we would have expected a lot of speeches, plus Light Club and possibly one or two other musical acts.

So, we arrived at the National Mall and act after act after act appeared, sprouting like mushrooms. Jared had not told us that he was throwing a musical Woodstock for this final rally in the week that marks 10 years of Falun Gong persecution. "Wow!!!"

In fact, the Light Club band was also running the amplifiers, sound system, and sound board for the event. --I don't think they knew what was about to hit them.

Jared may be a practitioner of Falun Gong, but he is also a practitioner of opaque scheduling. While introducing Light Club, he stepped up to a mike and told the crowd as much.

"Being the person that I am, I rearranged the schedule right from the very beginning. And Light Club has been really gracious. These guys are running sound for our event; they drove all the way down from Connecticut to be here today with us. They're doing sound for the event; it's been a really really great pleasure to have them. I've been a thorn in their side rearranging things and changing everything up to the last minute, and I'm gonna do some more of that later on today, sorry about that guys..."

About ten minutes later I began my speech. I had prepared remarks designed to rip into Hu Jintao, the President of China, and also to scold Barack Obama, the President of the United States. And this was politically breaking some new ground in the free Chinese movement. Falun Gong and the China Support Network previously joined in a Global Coalition to Bring Jiang to Justice. That refers to the previous Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, who began the persecution of Falun Gong.

But, Falun Gong did not create a matching Coalition to Bring Hu to Justice. Even though the current Chinese President Hu continued the persecution, his is "the new administration," and the Falun Gong hope that he will reverse course. While that was understandable at first when Hu was new, it was unrealistic and the passage of time bears out the fact that Hu did not reverse the persecution. So, CSN has suggested the anti-Hu coalition, but Falun Gong did not agree with us.

Until today. Now, it must be clear to the Falun Gong that their's is not the most recent crackdown. In 2008, a Tibetan crackdown made news, and just this month in 2009, a Uighur crackdown made news. It is already time to denounce Hu Jintao for the handling of the situation with Uighurs.

My view is that it is in fact time to send Hu Jintao to the Hague (the International Criminal Court) to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Think about it: Falun Gong, Tibetans, and Uighurs have all become victims under crackdowns in the Hu Jintao administration. All three of these groups should be calling for Hu Jintao's scalp, and they are natural allies to join in a new Coalition to Bring Hu to Justice.

My speech did not press Falun Gong for a decision about a coalition; instead, my speech pressed Hu Jintao himself, suggesting that he should resign, surrender, and turn himself over to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.

Politically, it breaks new ground, because my earlier speeches didn't focus on Hu Jintao personally, just the Communist Party regime in general. I judged that the time was right for this. The latest crackdown was only two weeks earlier, and it brought to light another example of genocide and crimes against humanity, committed by Hu's government just this month. The Uighur crackdown is echoing the Tibetan crackdown of last year -- but already, the death toll is higher in this crackdown than in last year's.

So. It was important to rip Hu Jintao, and I did so. One can also note that mine was the keynote speech -- the program was largely music, not speeches. Jared and his wife and some other victims of persecution provided anecdotes about the persecution; so yes, the program had speech, but no Congressmen or secular Chinese dissidents.

'Point being, mine was the strong voice, not eclipsed by anything else on the program.

Or perhaps, I've got that exactly wrong. If we cease to think of music and speeches in different compartments, then the program overall had many strong voices: singing!

I continue to think "Wow!!!," and yesterday serves as an example that just when you think you've seen it all....you ain't seen nothing yet.

The enormous discovery came near the end of the program, when the rapper (and ordained deacon) Joe L. Da Vessel took the stage. OMG... Look at the bio and music pages at http://www.joeldavessel.com/. Can a Falun Gong rally be turned into a hip hop revival? If I didn't see it with my own eyes, I would not have thought it plausible.

Joe L. Da Vessel is a giant hulk physically, an imposing presence. I first met him when I stepped off the stage at the end of my speech. He was kicking back in a nearby van or SUV, and he and his manager shook my hand, and gave me a shrink-wrapped copy of a CD titled, "Testimony: 1 Lyrics 4 Life." The CD cover also has this clue: "The 2008 Gospel Music Stellar Award Nominee, Rap/Hip Hop Gospel CD of the year."

Likely, he had just overheard my speech, ripping into Hu Jintao. He asked me, "How do you pronounce the name of the Chinese President?" I replied appropriately, something like "Who gin tahw."

Soon enough, he was taking the stage, doing highly engineered rap music, and ripping a new orifice for Hu Jintao and the Communist Party. In fact, he was bellowing, "Hu Jintao! You are not God!" over and over again.

At one time, Tim Britt and Ron Luke were feeling that something big was going down, because they (Falun Gong) had never heard anything like the music they would put on the table. But at July 19's event, they were not the big discovery. (In fact, Light Club decided against performing their new song, 'Chinese Democracy Defiled,' feeling that the moment was not right to try the new achievement of performing it live.)

Well, they (Falun Gong) had never heard or seen anything like Joe L. Da Vessel hammering Hu Jintao. I could sense that something big was going down. This was the big discovery.

Apparently, Joe previously rapped out a song, "In DC We Demand The Vote," for District of Columbia voting rights, and that video was played at the Democratic National Convention (I got that from his MySpace page, myspace.com/joeldavessel ).

So clearly, he doesn't mind getting involved politically, and on July 19 we appreciated his presence and his appearance in support of freedom for Falun Gong and indeed, for all of China.

And of course, I'm happy to watch people pile on against Hu Jintao. In this way, I wasn't the only American offering a challenge, or a political assault that seems frontal and direct to Hu Jintao, on that day.

It's a heartwarming discovery, and for some in attendance it must have been jaw dropping. As mentioned above, American rock music was once an alien culture to Falun Gong. Hip hop is like a subculture all of its own, and would seem even farther removed from the experience of Falun Gong.

But it's like that -- at the event site, a reporter for the Epoch Times asked me to reflect on what changes I had seen across the ten year's time that we were marking in the persecution. I replied as indicated, that Falun Gong began by being known only to those in its own circle. Various different "interest groups" have discovered Falun Gong and vice-versa in these ten years.

It's inevitable that if you go to shout at the Chinese embassy, you will notice other demonstrators there, and realize that Taiwanese, Tibetans, Uighurs, Falun Gong, and secular dissidents are all regular protestors outside of Chinese embassies and consulates.

These ten years allowed for many exchanges, joint actions, and coalitions among the groups. All of these groups overlap in their common humanity. American rockers joined in the overlap, and now American hip hoppers are also coming together to denounce the persecution.

All there agreed that the persecution itself is ridiculously absurd. Indeed, Joe L. Da Vessel helped to ridicule it, listing some practices of the Communist Party and saying, "What is that?" as a short way to dispose of the matters' legitimacy.

He also sang his song, "Yea Though I Walk," a rap song built around the 23rd Psalm in the Christian Bible: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me." Fearing no evil was an apt subtext for our event, as we indeed pushed back against evil -- that of China's Communist Party and Hu Jintao.

^ Photo at side stage ^


^ Wide view of the scene ^

2 comments:

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