I forget which comedian it was who introduced this term to me. All you Asian peeps out there know what I’m talking about. When Asians say “so-and-so is Asian” we mean Japanese, Chinese, or Korean. “Asian” to Asians does not include Filipinos, Vietnamese, Thai, Indians, Indonesians and other Southeast Asian groups. So how do Asians describe this “other” Asian group? The comedian called them (and himself) “Jungle Asians.” I thought this was the funniest shit ever when I heard it. Because it’s true! I personally have the impression that “Jungle Asians” are more musical, better at dancing, eat spicy foods, and less sexually prohibited. My impressions are embarrassingly colonial.
Recently, I created a new act inspired by a vintage green dress that I found on eBay. The dress is bright green with yellow accents and a beautiful floral pattern. It has been sitting in my closet for almost 6 months because I couldn’t find the right music or act to go with this beauty. So sadly it was the “Dress with No Name”.
Then one week at Shien’s “Nuit Blanche” show at Brasserie Beaumarchais (every Wednesday from 9-11pm), the theme was “Exotic Garden of Eden”. I took out the dress and added some flowers to the halter area and wore it for that night. I love the dress. It makes you feel floaty and pretty. But I still needed to find the right music to go with it. Of course, tiki culture is an obvious choice but I do not want to dress up as a hula girl with a grass skirt. That’s as cliche to me as being a school girl (which I have done). I started researching vintage Hawaiian music from Hawaii and that’s how I stumbled on a Facebook invitation that simply said, “Hawaiian Music – LIVE in NYC for one night only….” – and of course I went and made Michael go with me.
The event took place in the downstairs lounge of a Japanese noodle shop called Jebon on St. Marks Place. I had no idea what to expect and not knowing who the musician was either. Michael was hoping for slack steel guitar, I was just happy to be out and be entertained rather than entertaining. The space was very intimate with lots of low Japanese style tables and low ottoman-like chairs. There was a really nice hardwood floor stage in the corner, quite sizable. One would have never expected a performance space downstairs from Jebon which was populated by NYU-age students.
An ukulele player opened the show then the headliner came out. He is San Francisco’s Kawika Alfiche who is apparently the Led Zepplin of Hawaiian music, one of the organizers told me. He sang along with a very cool looking Japanese bass player with his hair slicked back in a ponytail. Actually I’m not sure if he is Japanese or not because everyone there looked like they could be Asian or Jungle Asian. It was obvious that everyone there belonged to the API community, or as the guy who sat across from me said, Asian Pacific Islanders. He too looked like he could be Filipino mixed or Japanese mix. I do love that ambiguity. Pacific Islanders have such an interesting history. I’ve met Hawaiian people from so many different backgrounds ranging from Chinese to Japanese to the more indigenous Polynesia background. Our lead singer Kawika looked Polynesia for sure but without the floral Hawaiian shirt, I might have thought he was Asian-Mexican mix. Anyway, as you can see, I am fascinated by racial ambiguity.
Kawika opened the show with traditional Hawaiian chants to various goddesses (there sure are a LOT of goddess in Hawaiian mythology). Then the hula dancers came out. There were two women and three men accompanying Kawika all night. Kawika played the ukulele while another accompanied him on guitar.
All the songs they sang were in Hawaiian so I don’t know what the songs were about, but the melody and the drum Kawika used were very moving.
He was really funny too in between songs. He talked about his own mixed heritage, Mexican, European, and more. He spoke about hanging out with the mariachi bands in Mexico and how much he loves mariachi music. Apparently hula is HUGE in Mexico and Tennessee! Go figure.
The hula dancers both men and women were absolutely mesmerizing. The women’s dresses were pretty covered up but you would never want to see more skin as you do in burlesque, because their hip, hand, and torso movements were so fluid and so sensual. Absolutely beautiful. I spoke to a few of the musicians afterwards and found out that last year when they came to NYC, they performed at Symphony Space in the Upper West Side. Most everyone attending this show are members of the Halawai Community. I think Michael and I were the only people there who attended carte blanche. It was inspiring to see what one can find a community for ANYTHING in NYC. Towards the end of the night many of the hula class students also joined the dancers on stage. Everyone sang along to some of the old Hawaiian songs, and I left the place in such a great mood, inspired by the sheer joy the dancers exhibited and the uplifting spirituality of the songs. Michael said he thought it was cheesy all the praying to the gods stuff and he didn’t like that aspect, but I thought it was moving and made me stop for a moment in my materialistic life of rhinestones, trims, makeup, glamour, etc and think about the space I dwell in. I think its specially hard to feel connected to nature living in NYC, and I live in a giant high rise building and I am not near any parks. I have astro turf on my balcony. It was refreshing for me to experience mythology through music and dance that night.