Oops..we have been sitting on this a few days, all the beers and amazing shows made Shanghaiist a little loopy and unable to sit down and type. The entry below comes via Emily Moy who had a chance to sit down with Talib Kweli and Ozomatli at the Yue Festival press conference last Thursday……..
Its 3:30p.m., I’m running up and down The Bund and, I’m LATE. My interviews with Talib Kweli and Ozomatli are to promptly begin at 3:30. I’m freaking out, to say the least. After frantically pantomiming for directions, (swearing I’ll really start studying Mandarin), I finally bust into the Signal at Bar Atanu. I walk upstairs into a sea of chaos and wonder how the hell I ended up in it.
As I catch balls of sweat from my forehead, I introduce myself to Wil-Dog of Ozomatli. I ask about their impressions of China, though its only their 3rd day in the country. Wil-Dog responds honestly, “I love it. But being here as a Yank, completely out of my element, being herded around, its kind of hard to know what life is really like.” Even so, everyone already agrees they’d love to come back.
In an attempt to gain some perspective and meet the local community, Ozomatli spent a day in Beijing at a school for migrant workers’ children. After the students performed a number of songs, ranging from nationalistic to their ABC’s, Ozomatli took over and started a huge dance party. All the artists mention while Beijing was an awesome show, they really came to perform for the locals. I tell them I don’t think that’s going to happen in Shanghai either with the festival tickets at such a premium. They all sort of shrug and move on.
Recently, Ozomatli teamed up with the United States government and toured parts of Africa and the Middle East. Some of fans think the band has sold-out. Uli looks at it like this; “There was a lot of internal debate. We decided to exploit this opportunity as much as we could. We saw it as a way to bring our music to the masses; we were the first band to play Katmandu. That would’ve never happened. We’re not acting as apologists for the government, we’re playing for YA.”
During a 5 minute break between interviews, I start to relax, stop sweating and breathe. As I introduce myself to Talib Kweli I can feel the balls of sweat reforming. I start to ask a question when he stops me and asks where my tape recorder is. Thinking nothing of it, I tell him I don’t have one. He informs me that he doesn’t do interviews without a tape recorder. My interview was over. Or so I thought. As I plead with him and his assistant, my knight-in-shiny-glasses appears, offering his tape recorder. Talib is ready to continue. I resume breathing as I profusely thank my knight, Jeff.
I ask if he ever feels alienated by the audiences he attracts; does an all white, Chinese or black audience make a difference? Is playing in Brooklyn, (his hometown), more significant than playing elsewhere? He tells me, “You have to know what you’re doing it for. I make music to entertain. It’s my job as a man to be active in my community. As an artist, its my job to entertain people, whoever shows up.”
Talib admits hip hop seems to have developed a number of subgenres, including mainstream/commercial hip hop and socio-political hip hop, which he was once categorized under. Talib recognizes this, but counters, “In order to sell music, corporations need that. Hip hop in its essence, its nature, doesn’t have that . Unfortunately for many fans and artists, corporate selling makes it so they have to come out with some ‘type’ of hip hop. Its really unfortunate and destructive.”
Nonetheless, Talib admits that he has a family to support and his music is his job, so he needs to get paid. I respect that, but if I hadn’t gotten a free ticket, I don’t know if I could’ve afforded to go to the festival. I understand this was the first big festival in Shanghai with foreign headliners, but maybe in the future, we should take Ozomatli’s and Talib’s advice and start locally, work on our own scene within our own community. That and just play, everywhere…
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