Interview on Waakao Taiwan
Posted Oct 21 2009
1. Who was the most influential person in your life, in terms of learning or knowing about your Taiwanese culture?
My mother. Although I was born in Taiwan, I left at a very early age, although I've visited a number of times, including "Love Boat." Through my father's job we traveled all over the place, but a constant was my mother. Although she didn't explicitly go out of her way to promote Taiwanese culture, of course it was part of our daily life including spiritual beliefs, food, social interactions, and our family friends. It wasn't made explicit because that's just who we are! I started looking at things more politically because I was listening to a lot of hip hop such as Public Enemy, Paris, Rakim, and Ice T, who made me look at the world differently. I also spent a lot of time in Alabama, which was central to the Civil Rights movement. These influences made me look at my own community with a much more analytical eye.
2. There are few multi-cultural families in Taiwan, does it pose any problems or difficulties on the Taiwanese side of the family or visa versa?
Nothing major that I've noticed. Some of the folks on the American side assumes that all Asians are smart and well-mannered, but that's it, although there were some intense discussions. Something that would come up from time to time was religion as my father's side is Catholic and my mother's side is Buddhist. I remember some conversations related to these spiritual issues when I was a kid and my mother, sister, and I lived with my paternal grandparents. My immediate family tends to view the world differently from our extended family, but that has more to do with our experiences traveling than ethnicity. My American side is quite diverse, ethnically speaking. I think because the two sides are so far apart geographically and Taiwanese and Mexican-Americans don't have a history of conflict that it's easier to deal with us as individuals. What I mean is, it may have been more of an issue if we were, say, Japanese and Korean, British and Irish or African American and White. Context is everything. I have no doubt that most American's positive stereotypes of Asian women--quiet, intelligent, well-mannered, etc made it easier to accept my mom. With all the negative stereotypes of Black women, there may have been more resistance if she was African American. If my father was African American I have no doubt that I would've been treated differently in Taiwan. Not necessarily from my family, but by others. I don't know for sure, but I analyze these issues as my career so I do wonder. I could talk about this stuff for days! Having said that, I've never really heard any disparaging remarks from either side. Has it always been good? No, but as with most cases, when people get to interact and see each other as people, a lot of problems and stereotypes get resolved.
3. When and under what circumstance did you start djing?
In terms of turntables, after my sophomore year in college. I count this as my start, although I had been doing apartment parties with two tape decks and a mixer. The parties were fun, but super ghetto. Sometimes I'd even use a boombox to play music and a walkman to cue up my tapes. I'd literally walk around the room holding the radio up for people! I remember one time I didn't have a flashlight and used a lighter to see. My finger was plenty black and burnt by the end of the night!
Basically, I was fascinated with hip hop since elementary school but never got into the dancing or emceeing aspects. They weren't huge at my school and I was a bit shy. I used to draw a bit, but never got into doing walls. DJing was a natural fit, although I never developed the hype-man side. I loved putting mixes together and the crate-digging tapped into my nerdy side. I tried a lot of things as a teen, including skateboarding and football, but once I started DJing, I was hooked! So, the summer after my sophomore year I was accepted to study abroad at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, but also for a research program at my own college. The former was going to cost a few grand while the latter was going to pay a few grand. I went with the latter and bought a complete sound system, lights and all. Well, the store only had one turntable in stock, which I bought. The next day I did a picnic, where I played all hip hop and R&B. A professor at the party later approached me about DJing her husband's birthday party. He was like a 60-year old German guy. I had no idea what to play so she gave me a box of his cassette tapes. We had a fabulous time and they even gave me a ham as a tip! Till this day I wonder how my life would've been different if I had gone to Jamaica, but DJing has opened up so many opportunities for me that I can't complain.
4. Which style of music was your first love?
Hip hop! However, the more I studied hip hop, particularly guys like Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, DJ Q-Bert, and through the influence of DJ Marquis in Detroit, the more I studied hip hop's roots. I studied the breaks, getting into reggae and soul music in particular. Because of my hip hop background I was big into tricks-doing doubles and scratching. However, the first time I did a non-hip hop party in Detroit I cleared the floor. I learned that I had to diversify my tastes as this wasn't just about me showing out. I began dancing as well, which gave me a new perspective on R&B, salsa, and other types of music. Hip hop opened me up to explore these different styles.
5. It is obvious that your background and your love of the study of culture influences your music, are their any styles of music which your would like to try out in your mixes that you have yet to try?
I'm very open, but Taiwanese music is an interest, for obvious reasons. But if it's not obvious, I want to do my part to promote Taiwan. However, it has to be good! I'll play anything if it's good and you don't get a pass just because I know you. Chang Jui-chuan caught my interest and I picked up some vinyl, but since I don't speak Taiwanese I'm limited in that aspect. Genre-wise, I also want to educate myself on more coastal Mexican music, non-reggae Caribbean music, and Arabic music. I have some scattered in my collection, but I have so much more to learn.
Here's a song called "El Negro de la Costa" by Pepe Ramos.
I've never played this, but I would like to work it in.
6. What was your strangest experience djing
That's a tough one. You see a lot of crazy stuff over 15 years! Well, this one time I DJed a high school graduation party in a barn. I spent some time on a farm as a kid so driving by sugar beet fields and horses wasn't that big of a deal. What tripped me out was when the teens complained about my music and told me to play that "thug" music! This town was about two hours north of Detroit and I knew the stereotypes of both, namely that Detroit was full of criminals and such. Outside of the music, these kids were getting tore-down drunk and doing kamikaze shots from a keg while parents were there! At the end of the night, someone's mom was paying me and someone hit her in the face with a cupcake. She just laughed and said, "those crazy kids." Later, there was some shoving and crying, and whatever else drunk people do. The three of us from "the slums of Detroit" were some of the few sober people there. This stood out to me because it's often said that people in places like Detroit don't know how to act, but I've done plenty of events in suburban or even rural areas where they're way more out of control. I've seen plenty of drama in the 'hood, but the inner city doesn't have a monoloply on acting a fool!
7. You told me that you are thinking to return to Taiwan to live for awhile. Why?
For most of my visits I was with family, who I love dearly, but after I finally got to explore on my own I saw the potential here so each visit since then has led to more exploring. I have loyalty to Taiwan, although I spent most of my life elsewhere. Taiwan has so much to offer and I don't know if many locals even recognize it; the geographic diversity, the food, history, economic opportunities, and more. Having said that, I don't get the impression that there's a clear sense of what it means to be "Taiwanese." I'd like to explore this issue of identity more and hopefully contribute to the discussion. A big change for me has been the increasing diversity. While I'll be Taiwanese until the day I die, the fact that I've lived all over the place means I've been influenced by so many cultures, even beyond my Latino ancestry. I can no more diassociate myself from them than I can Taiwan. As Taiwan becomes more cosmopolitan it has become more attractive to me in regards to staying long term. I've been away so long that I'd never be a local, but with the increased multiculturalism I see so much potential to create a world-class country. It's exciting to think that I could conribute to that. I currently live in the San Francisco Bay area so I'm spoiled by the diversity, but I also see the problems with having so many types of people together. I think I could play a role in helping alleviate some of those problems in Taiwan. I've grown to appreciate my situation in the States but if the right opportunity comes up I could easily see myself setting up shop back in Taiwan. Emotionally and career-wise I think I'm there. It just comes down to economics so I'm biding my time and laying down a foundation!
Check the original here.