Social Encore: Raising the ‘Bar’
BY JERMEL-LYNN QUILLOPO / Special to the Star-Advertiser
When Prometheus Brown (also known as Geo from Seattle-based hip-hop duo Blue Scholars) and Bambu came to Hawaii in July 2011 to participate in workshops at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, both were so inspired by their experience that they spontaneously decided to team up with DJ Nphared and call themselves The Bar.
With local openers The Horror Show, Kristofer Rojas and DJs Revise and Anton Glamb
» Where: Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian’s, 1680 Kapiolani Blvd.
Soon after the trio released their debut project, “Walk Into A Bar,” which addressed issues often hidden from the postcard paradise image of Hawaii most visitors see.
“I feel like all the things we spoke about were things that we were building with folks,” said Bambu. “Talking with the locals and just hanging out with (them) while understanding what the real issues of Hawaii were.”
The album was so well-received by hip-hop fans that they created another, “Barkada,” which was released in March. The Bar returns to Hawaii this week for a full lineup of festivities celebrating the album’s release.
Brown and Bambu met each other in 2002 during a Louisiana concert series called Foster Jam. Since then, they have remained close friends with common interests, like their love of hip-hop, their Filipino culture and educating people about social issues and current events through music. Both also share a special connection with Hawaii.
Both men come from military families, with their fathers stationed in Hawaii for a short period of time. Bambu spent three years here during his early childhood, while Brown spent a large chunk of his childhood in Hawaii. He even paid homage to the state with the song “Hi-808” off of the Blue Scholars’ “OOF!” EP from 2009. (Brown left in 1991 when his father was sent to Washington state.)
Bambu is based out of Los Angeles and Brown is based out of Seattle. While traveling between California, Washington and Hawaii on tour individually, Brown and Bambu often crossed paths. They took advantage of their frequent meet-ups to not only catch up, but to create music as well.
“We were just crossing paths so much that it made sense to record all of the stories and things we were experiencing,” said Brown.
Barkada is Filipino slang for a group of friends, and just like their first album, each track on “Barkada” has a unique story that references inside jokes The Bar and other friends have from their adventures on the road.
One of the songs off the 13-track album, “Auntie,” refers to a boy with a crush on his aunt. When I asked both artists about the song, they agreed it was something they both could relate to earlier in their lives.
“Auntie was fun to make on a creative standpoint,” said Bambu, “It was fun stepping out of the box and being able to explore it with someone that could understand that.”
As a Filipino American myself, I smirked when I heard the tail end of the “Auntie” because both emcees started to ramble common names among Filipino women. I know dozens of people with an aunt named Tessie, Vicky, Precy, Cely, Josie, or even Rosie.
Another song, “Tuts,” was inspired when the trio was watching Manny Pacquiao sing on YouTube. DJ Nphared went ahead and created a sample of his singing voice to creatively make a beat while Bambu and Brown addressed encounters with the police.
Using music as a tool to educate people about social issues, history and culture gives people an inside look at who the MCs are, not only as artists, but as Filipino Americans. Brown said if he weren’t making music, he would probably be a fan trying to connect with artists who were speaking about the issues he often references.
“The best hip-hop to me is when an artist can be completely honest about themselves, their upbringing, their community, and what they see on a daily basis,” said Brown.
“Bambu and I are both dads, both do community organization work, and we both talk about the same issues,” he added. “Our connections with the provinces in the Philippines are reinforced with the conversations that we have with each other.”
Both said they rap about what they know and when people hear their album, it speaks to people in general, whether or not they are of Filipino descent.
“This helps people know about Filipino American culture, but at the same time reinforces a lot of Filipino Americans on how they personally feel (about) their culture,” said Bambu.
Bambu, Brown and Nphared have a different sound when they are working on individual projects. But when the three come together, The Bar infuses the influences of each person.
DJ Nphared produced the majority of “Barkada” and you will be able to hear his eclectic choices of mixing old-school and west coast vibes with a current/new school sound. Working together as a team, the three are able to feed off of each other, with both MCs challenging each other when it came to writing.
This album has some head-bobbing tracks that have become some of my personal favorites. The very first song, “Live from Hawaii,” comes hard with heavy electric percussion and features Hawaii’s own Krystilez from the Angry Locals on the intro.
Being part of the first generation of my family to be born in the United States, I can relate to “Coming (To America)” because it mentions the struggle some people had to go through when they decided to make a new life in America. They even shot a music video in the heart of my hometown, Kalihi, which provided insight into how local Filipinos honor their elders.
“Manny” will take everyone back to when the world of boxing shook a little after Juan Manuel Marquez knocked out Manny Pacquiao. In the Filipino community, Pacquiao is an obvious favorite in the boxing arena. Even though Pacquiao lost twice in 2012, there will be die-hard fans who “will love you for who you are” and will be there to support you not matter what.
“Cockfight” has a beat that feeds off a sense of motivation and even my father can relate to the storyline. Back in the Philippines, chicken fights are a common occurrence.
“One Beer Left” takes it down a notch with a smooth and slow beat with lyrics about what you do that last cup of brew — talk about what used to be and what can be. The album’s last track is a bonus track with a head banging vibe called “Locals Only Remix,” with tons of local references that range from talking pidgin to calling people “cousin.”
Currently the Barkada album can only be digitally downloaded from the Beatrock Music label. The Bar is working on physical copies that will be released this summer.
This collaboration between the artists continues to amaze me and their down-to-earth demeanor makes it that much more fun hanging out with them. There will be several opportunities to meet The Bar this weekend.
First up is a meet-and-greet at 4 p.m. Friday at In4mation Pearlridge. The Bar will release their limited edition “Barkada” collaboration T-shirt.
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, promoters Foes and About the Goods will host a pre-show BBQ at Kaimana Beach Park. The concert will follow at 8 p.m. Saturday.
And on Sunday, Brown will help host Food and Sh*t: HI!, a prix fixe pop-up dinner at Fresh Cafe Downtown. Check out more coverage of that event here.
Jermel-Lynn Quillopo is a multi-faceted, energetic individual with experience in both print and broadcast journalism. “Social Encore” aims to tell diverse stories about Hawaii’s food, events and people; share your tips with Jermel via email or follow her on Twitter.