12 May 2010

Voices and Soul

11 May 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos, Tuesday's Chile
Contributing Poetry Editor

One of the many benefits of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is being able to listen to the flagship Pacifica radio station, KPFA. Hard Knock Radio is a show on KPFA that interviews Hip Hop and Rap artists weekdays at 4pm. This week's poet, Rocky Rivera was interviewed recently on Hard Knock Radio. My son, Israel Putnam/IzzyMaq has had some regional success in the Northwest with his Hip Hop/ R&B stylings, so I like to think that I have developed an "ear" for Hip Hop that belies my generational Punk origins.

Rocky Rivera is the Hip Hop persona of a young Filipina who spends her time between Los Angeles and the SF Bay Area. Some statements from her Hard Knock Radio interview resonated with me. One in particular, about the origins and direction of Hip Hop/ Rap, stood out more prominently,

"It's not about being a gangster, it's about being a guerrilla. It's not about bling, it's about survival."

This week's poem; and yes, Hip Hop/ Rap is certainly poetry, pays homage to the Filipina revolutionary, Gabriela Silang, who was executed in 1763 after leading insurrectionists against the Spanish Crown when her husband, Diego Silang was executed earlier that year; Black Panther, Angela Davis and the four school girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing; and United Farm Worker activist, Delores Huerte.

Along the way, Rocky Rivera packs a lot of history, with a strong back-beat, into this poem/ song about strong women who changed the world, with power and...


Left him on a Tuesday
Found him on a Sunday
Cried when I saw my
Hankerchief in his suitcase
Letter folded neatly in his pocket
With my perfume
Knew that he was lying when he
Told me he’d be back soon…
I couldn’t sleep the night
He left me with a promise
That he’d always keep me close
When the struggle got the hardest
So I…wiped the tears
Tied the hankerchief around me
Rallied up the troops
So we could
Find the Spanish army
It was time to stop the cryin’
Time to start the fightin’
Love was the beginning
But my people steady dyin’

And so I promised him the same thing
Gabriela blast in the name of the Philippines

I could hear em in the back of my mind
They said “Please don’t break my heart”
It could only be a matter of time…

Studying overseas
When I heard about the blast
And I knew the little girls
Who were killed in Alabama
It was Carole, Addie Mae
Cynthia & Denise
The Klan got away
In cahoots with the police
Knew that it was coming
When the Panthers started forming
So I booked the first flight to the states
In the morning
To show them my solidarity
Tightened up my afro
Books in my hand
Revolution in my heart
So I used my education
To combat the injustice
It was more
Than Malcolm X and Martin Luther
In the trenches

Sistah soldiers put ya rifles up
Angela Davis ride when the Klan try to light us up

I could hear ‘em in the back of my mind
They said
“Please don’t break my heart”
It could only be a matter of time they said

It was modern day slavery
Livin’ in the Valley
Stockton, California
Pickin’ grapes with my family
And my people broke they backs
Just to make a couple bucks
While the whiteys in the town
Ridiculed us in they trucks
So I
Picked up the megaphone
Shouted to my people, El
Pueblo Unido
Jama Sera Vencido
…Told em to stick together
Demand to be treated equal
These fucking crackas
Will continue to abuse us
Threw me in the slammer
20 times and some change
Yeah they broke a couple ribs
But the spirit remains

Do it again in a heartbeat
Para mi gente
Dolores what they call me

-- Rocky Rivera

(used with permission of the author)

(On Starlight and Fire, Keck Observatory Mauna Kea, Hawai’i / copyright Justice Putnam)

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