Thursday, April 17, 2008

Say Bok Gwai

I grew up listening to The Clash—who, I'm proud to say, I saw in concert four times over the course of their career including the legendary Bond's NY gigs. They are still, for me, “the only band that matters,” although I enjoy a range of more contemporary groups as well. Still, The Clash, Gang of Four, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Pogues, and Pixies get frequent play on my i-pod.

So, when I said to Professor Lee that I knew nothing about contemporary music by Asian Americans other than those that I have learned about through this course, he suggested, perhaps tongue in cheek, that I look for “the Asian American Clash.” In searching for Asian American punk rock with a political edge to the lyrics, I found Say Bok Gwai. (The Web site for the band and that of its record label don’t offer a translation of the Cantonese but some bloggers said it essentially means Damn White Devils. Perhaps someone in class can confirm if that is an accurate translation.)

The record label describes the band as:

“Canto-core from San Francisco!!! Say Bok Gwai combines hardcore, metal, punk, thrash music with Cantonese vocals. A unique blend of two cultures, Say Bok Gwai covers a variety of the harder musical genres and has songs about food, differing cultural perspectives, Chinese American pride, white America, mating, metal, politics, and more. This duo is comprised of Alex Yeung (composer, guitarist, vocals) and Andre Custodio (drummer).”

Here’s one example of their lyrics as translated into English (again, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translation):

Straight Outta HK

Born in Hong Kong came to America.
San Francisco is my home!
You see me, you don't understand me.
"You are not Chinese, You are not American."
A good Chinese would not have long hair, he has a good job and starts a family.
A good American would not live with his family, he is tall and rich and white.

Straight Outta Hong Kong [4x]

I don't care what your opinion is.
I have a culture that I call my own.
Respect my parents yet I am my own person.
Create a new culture!
Straight outta of Hong Kong!
San Francisco is my home!

Also, there are several clips on You Tube (which Iwasn't sure how to embedd into the blog, sorry.)

I think this band raises interesting questions not only in its lyricsbut also about the relationships between the political message, language, and different audiences.


Voman said...

Yeah - Clash, Ramons, Sex Pistols...Johnny Thunders, sure, I remember, you are not alone. That was another time, another place, another life.

Check out Detroit7...pretty unique. I believe they're Japanese.


Clarissa J. Ceglio said...

Thanks for chiming in and for recommending Detriot7. I'll definitely check them out.

Alex said...

Your translations are very good Clarissa. Yes , Say Bok Gwai means dead white demon in Cantonese. To clarify this, the term is used by the band to mean "the man" or the authority in power since this term does not exist in Cantonese. Growing up here in the US "the man" or authority is rich old white men.