Sunday, August 17, 2008

Playlist: Overseas Chinese

I have a passing interest in diasporas... the global spread of peoples away from their homelands.

Did you know there are more than 8 million Arabs in Brazil? And a couple million Filipinos in Saudi Arabia?

The Chinese diaspora has been massive, as you can imagine. An estimated 90 million people of Chinese ancestry now live outside of China. These folks are sometimes referred to as “overseas Chinese.”

There are 3.4 million of them in the United States. And about 1.3 million in Peru, for some reason. (Peruvian-Chinese cuisine is a thing.)

Here’s some music representing the far-flung impact of the overseas Chinese. Click the song titles to stream the sounds on my Vox blog.

1. “Lively Up Yourself” – Byron Lee

Jamaica has an estimated 70,000 people of Chinese descent. That’s 2.6 percent of the population.

Naomi Campbell, Sean Paul, Tyson Beckford and supposedly even Grace Jones have some Chinese blood.

Chinese Jamaicans have influenced reggae music from its formative days. Record producer Leslie Kong cut the first singles by Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley. Thomas Wong – a.k.a. Tom the Great Sebastien – ran one of the first Jamaican “sound systems” in the 1950s. Guitarist Mikey Chung has worked with Peter Tosh, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Sly & Robbie.

Then there’s Byron Lee (pictured), a bass player and bandleader who toured internationally with his Dragonaires back when it was all about ska. (They appeared in the first James Bond movie, “Dr. No.”)

Lee eventually owned Dynamic Sounds, a state-of-the-art recording studio in Kingston. Bob Marley & the Wailers recorded their breakthrough LP, “Catch a Fire,” at Dynamic Sounds.

Byron Lee’s cover of Marley’s “Lively Up Yourself” appeared on a 1994 album called “Tribute to Bob Marley, Vol. 1.”

2. “Ven A Ver Llover” – Ana Gabriel

Ana Gabriel has been a well-known Mexican pop singer for 20 years. Born in Sinaloa, she has Chinese ancestry on her mother’s side.

(There are only 23,000 ethnic Chinese in Mexico.)

This track is extra cross-cultural; it’s a Spanish-language cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” from Ms. Gabriel’s 2007 album “Arpeggios de Amor.”

3. “Monkey Meets the Dragon King and Gets a New Weapon” – Fred Ho and the Monkey Orchestra

Brooklyn-based Fred Ho – born and raised in America – is a baritone sax player, an avant-garde jazz composer and a left-wing radical.

Influenced by Ellington, Mingus and Coltrane, Ho in 1982 formed the Afro Asian Music Ensemble.

His Monkey Orchestra added traditional Chinese music to the mix. The audio I’m streaming is from Ho’s 1996 album “Monkey: Part One.”

Fred Ho’s MySpace page has other cool stuff streaming, including “All Power to the People,” a piece from his “Black Panther Suite” (which he calls a “martial arts ballet”).

4. “Berlin Sunrise (Die Dämmerung)” – Daniel Wang

Born in California and raised in Taiwan – with a return to the United States for high school, college and beyond – DJ Daniel Wang now lives in Berlin. He’s big in the disco scene.

Wang has spun records in Brazil, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands and Lithuania.

This 2004 track is available as a FREE MP3. Just follow this link to RCRDLBL.

5. “Henry’s Dance” – The Wiggles

And now for something completely different. Jeff Fatt was born in Australia 55 years ago, the son of Chinese merchants.

As a keyboard player, Fatt achieved moderate success in the 1980s as part of a rock band called the Cockroaches. But in 1991, Fatt joined ex-Cockroach Tony Field in a new group, the Wiggles, which played children’s music.

The Wiggles became (and still are) a gigantic hit. They’ve sold millions upon millions of DVDs and CDs, and they tour throughout the English-speaking world.

Matter fact, the Wiggles are rocking the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island as we speak.

In “Henry’s Dance,” Jeff Fatt sings the part of Henry the Octopus.

13 comments:

King Quaker said...

As someone who came of age in Jamaica in the early sixties, right at the birth of Ska, I remember when Byron & the Dragonaires came on the scene.
Joining them were the Skatalites, Carlos Malcolm the Afro-Jamaicans, and another band led by Kes Chin (another Jamaican-Chinese). My memory says his band was called "The Vagabonds" but I could be wrong.
In addition to recording, these groups played concerts and dances across the island.
The Vagabonds faded within a few years. Carlos left a great legacy in his recordings and the "Skatalites" are legends.
But Byron never stopped. He toured with almost every successful Reggae singer you can name. He discovered (in the seventies) that people love to dance to "Soca" music, and that became his signature music, along with Reggae classics.
The last dance I attended where he played was in the mid nineties at a hotel on Capitol Hill in D.C.
After the dance we were waiting for our ride in the lobby when Byron came by, also waiting for his ride. He sat with us and we all talked about the old times for about 10-15 minutes.
He continued to tour until recently. North & South America, and all through the Caribbean.
Last year he was awarded the Order of Merit by the Jamaican government, but was too ill to attend the ceremonies. If rumors are to be believed the prognosis is not good. But he will always be a legendary figure in Jamaican music.

You mention Mikey Chung. There is a (apocryphal) story that following a long recording session (fueled in part by you-know-what) he announced his intention to go back to Africa.

bklyn6 said...

Berlin Sunrise (Die Dämmerung) is nice! Thanks for linking to the free download.

Naomi Campbell, Sean Paul, Tyson Beckford and supposedly even Grace Jones have some Chinese blood.

I've always thought Dr. Mae Jemison (former NASA astronaut) looked a bit Asian. So when on "African American Lives II" Henry Louis Gates, Jr. told her that she was 13% Chinese I wasn't at all surprised. But Jemison was! She'd always thought her eyes revealed Native American ancestry.

Anonymous said...

Try eating at a Chinese restaurant in Turkey. Same old food, killer accents!

Same in Spain.

When they finally get to Mars, there will already be a "all you can eat" Chinese Buffet a hundred yards from the landing site!

Undercover Black Man said...

King Quaker, welcome to my spot. And thanks for the comment.

I assume Bryon Lee's show in D.C. had an all-Jamaicain crowd? Because I'd never heard of the dude.

You mention Mikey Chung. There is a (apocryphal) story that following a long recording session (fueled in part by you-know-what) he announced his intention to go back to Africa.

Now that's funny!

Undercover Black Man said...

I've always thought Dr. Mae Jemison (former NASA astronaut) looked a bit Asian.

That had never occurred to me, Bklyn6. But yeah, I totally see that.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm from Brooklyn New York and I am ethnically Black American --all for grandparents are from the South. I grew up in Flatbush, a neighborhood with a large Caribbean population. I've had so many classmates with the last name Wong, Fung, Chin and they were all Jamaican. I have seen Chinese-Jamaican Rasterfarians and those who were Ital.

I've seen Trinidadian food restaurants serve Chinese food Trini-style. My closest friend in college was Jamaican, half black half chinese. Because of the heavy integration of Chinese in Jamaican Americans I am shock that the population of Chinese in Jamaica is so small. I thought Chinese would be about 15% of the entire population.

You've forgot another Chinese music artist. If memory serves me correct, his name is King Chow. I saw his name on posters in my neighbor hood when I was a child. I think he was a calypso artist. He was always on the same poster as the Black Stalin, Black Josey Wales and other artist of that ilk. I remember seeing Byron Lee and the Dragonaires name on many of the poster in my former neighborhood. I did not know he was Chinese. (Lee is such a universal name)

Ill Mami said...

Thank you so much, UCBM, for highlighting the presence (huge) of Chinese in Jamaica. I am also part Chinese, as my grandmother is half-Chinese and half-Black from Kingston, JA. Her last name was Lo-tin which she later Anglicized to Lowe.

My grandmother would always tell me how she was teased so horribly as a child. She equated being Chinese in Jamaica as being treated like a Jew in this country. Since Chinese people largely made up the merchant class, the same stereotypes applied: stingy, eager to make money and loathe to part with it.

It's interesting since I now have a child whose father is Puerto Rican, many ask if my son's father is Chinese or Japanese. When people find out his eyes come from me, they are astounded. Especially living in LA where there is such a dearth of Caribbean folks compared to my hometown of NYC.

Thanks again for shouting us out.

Undercover Black Man said...

I've had so many classmates with the last name Wong, Fung, Chin and they were all Jamaican.

Thanks for commenting, anonymous. This is so deep. I never knew!

Undercover Black Man said...

My grandmother would always tell me how she was teased so horribly as a child. She equated being Chinese in Jamaica as being treated like a Jew in this country.

Yeah, I can imagine. A bit of the same kind of envy as well.

Thanks for commenting, Ill Mami. (Your blog is hot, by the way.)

King Quaker said...

UBM,
The crowd was largely Jamaican. But lots of Trinis, Bajans, Guyanese and other West Indians from the all across the Caribbean were sweating bullets on the dance floor.
Once Byron started featuring Soca music and touring the region he became a draw to people from all over.

After their parents and grandparents started as shopkeepers, Chinese-Jamaicans have become major economic players on the island.
The motto of Jamaica is: Out of Many, One People.
Or as the great Reggae DJ Big Youth put it: "All nations this time".

RC said...

It isn't true that Chinese food everywhere is great or even good. Chinatown NY, and Chinatown San Fran are the best I have eaten in the states, and I would love to eat Chinese food in China, especially the grilled stuff. Maybe one day. But here in Puerto Rico they have PuertoRicanized the offerings and it just does not do it for me. Too much fried rice and too much fried chicken on their menus and the rest of the food is greasy. Lo Mein is very sad. Pizza is horrible here too. Downright nasty stuff passes for pizza. Beware.

T-Bird said...

like rc said, chinese food is NOT good everywhere. i'm in barcelona and i have to disagree with the anonymous person who earlier said it was good here in spain. the only places i've had good chinese here are taiwanese places -- generic "chinese" places abound (especially the buffets) and they are pretty universally nasty.

found this blog while looking for info about the "grace jones has chinese blood" thing...

LesTP said...

Just a bit of ethno-related music trivia - the famous jazz trumpet player Fats Navarro was half black, half chinese, although I am not sure if his asian ancestors got to US via Caribbean or not.