linkthink re: hip-hop, reggae, the US, jamaica, and anything else wayne wants to wax on


6, or so, ways to kill a sound--choose one

top 6 ways to kill a sound in last night's "3rd annual forward sound clash":

1) him not jamaican (enough)!

2) him cyaan even represent new york!

3) him dub dem all splice!

4) him talk war and play a gyal tune!

5) an eediat name dat!

6) him a bloodclot battyman!

[don't believe me? hear it for yourself.]


hip-hop and its contents

i like to think that, like phife dog, i've been a "hip-hop scholar, since being knee-high to a duck." and while i may not have the height of mugsy bogues or the complexion of a hockey puck, i try to represent as best i can.

and when i say represent, i mean represent. that includes representing in the good ol', holdin-it-down, intransitive manner, as well as re-presenting the story of hip-hop as i see it. for those who don't know, i've been working on representing hip-hop's relationship to reggae (and new york's relationship to kingston) for a few years now, and so for me the story of hip-hop has become inseparable from the story of reggae--and vice versa.

allow me to rehash how i arrived at the present narrative. when i went out to UW-madison to study ethnomusicology, i knew that i wanted to "work" on hip-hop. no, they weren't teaching about hip-hop at UW, and i really didn't need classes to tell me what was up at any rate. what they were teaching was method--the tools to use to understand this big, complex, socio-musical monster. (and not monster meaning bad but monster meaning good.) i wrote my master's thesis on the development of dj premier's sample-based style--from the loops of "words i manifest" to the stabs of "you know my steez"--and the relationship between primo's steelo, street/underground resistance, authenticity (aka, the real), and (the threat of) copyright litigation. for my dissertation, i decided that i wanted to write on hip-hop as a global phenomenon, looking at what it carries with it outside of the US as well as what people bring to it. because they made me study german in grad school and i knew germany had a longstanding and rich hip-hop scene, i had planned to study hip-hop in germany. by chance, though, i ended up taking a trip to jamaica (to investigate a prison rehabilitation program), and i was struck above all by the serious presence of hip-hop in the land where reggae is king. it seemed strange to me at the time, that jay-z and nelly could dominate a club in kingston, so i decided that jamaica would work as well as germany. (plus, wifey wasn't about to follow me to berlin, but kingston could work.)

although i had planned to focus on the subject of hip-hop in jamaica, it's not as if it operates in a vacuum there, and unsurprisingly, the deeper i dug into reggae, the more i realized that, in addition to kool herc and busta rhymes (the classic tokens through which hip-hop acknowledges its west indian input), hip-hop and reggae had been in dialogue pretty constantly since the mid-70s and in a way that the conventional stories of each music didn't really seem to acknowledge. (moreover, looking simply at the story of reggae, it was clear that american music, despite ska's strong break from boogie, has always been big in JA.) it seemed to me that there was an interesting part of the story that was missing--the part of the story that recognizes what an intensely caribbean place new york is and what a cosmopolitan place kingston is. between circular migration and the increasing speed and accessibility of high-tech communication and media technologies, the borders get pretty fuzzy and what's remarkable is how you can hear this, all along, in the music--never mind the way that you can hear conceptions of 'jamaican-ness' or 'blackness' change in the music over time. by recognizing these inter- and perhaps trans-national movements in the music, we can appreciate better the way that the US is intricately connected to its neighbors, not to mention the ways that (black) jamaicans have embraced and engaged (black) american musics and styles as a way of upsetting certain nationalist narratives that tend to obscure race/class conflicts and inequalities. (check out deborah thomas's new book for a fascinating, in-depth argument along these lines.)

the course that i'm teaching this spring at brown will attempt--through lots of critical listening as well as reading across various narrative strategies--to present as much of this stuff as possible, to challenge as it enhances the established narratives about hip-hop and reggae and about the relationship between the US and jamaica/the caribbean. there has been a lot of talk about hip-hop/reggae crossover recently, but we can observe a pretty steady history of american mainstream culture--hip-hop included--absorbing caribbean culture, so that, for instance, dub techniques disappear into unmarked ubiquity and ska becomes something that suburban white kids do. (after giving a lecture on jamaican music at harvard last month, i had a student come up to me and say, "ska is from jamaica!?")

i imagine that, like the syllabus for my electronic music course, this one has the potential to generate a fair amount of discussion and debate, as the world of online hip-hop critics and pundits is no less contentious than that of electronic heads. i direct people to my comments re: the electronic music course, as many of the same points apply. but the gist of my defense is this: i am not seeking to supplant but to supplement the stories of hip-hop and reggae. this course does not attempt to tell the full histories of either hip-hop or reggae; instead, it seeks to hear their histories together in order to appreciate their deep links and the implications of such a relationship. although my approach is somewhat radical, it should not be dismissed as revisionist (unless, of course, all history is revisionist). although i seek to demonstrate in a new and somewhat subversive way that hip-hop and reggae are not only related but relational (that is to say, crucially and mutually constitutive), i'm building on a growing body of scholarship and drawing from a musical record that challenges the received historical record.

i've been curious about the intersections between hip-hop and reggae for a while now. ever since back in '85, when my aunt lorna gave me and my brother our first boombox, along with a few casettes: among them, whitney houston's eponymous joint, miami sound machine's primitive love, and run dmc's king of rock. i don't think we ever removed the cellophane from the miami sound machine, and while whitney got some run, it was run dmc that had our little toshiba on lock.

incidentally, run dmc's king of rock not only introduced me to rap, it also introduced me, in a rather bizarre way, to reggae. on "roots, rap, reggae," run and dmc are joined on the mic by none other than king yellow, and they all do their best to ride a pretty chintzy attempt at a reggae riddim. i can remember finding it funny that they decided to roll their r's on the track, and it was years before i realized that yellowman was saying "hotter, hotter, hotter reggae music" (at the time, i just heard it as "atta," which was the name of a muslim kid we went to school with). now, having dug deeper, i can hear that yellowman's making reference to, among other things, welton irie's 1980 adaptation of the sugar hill gang's "rapper's delight": "hotter reggae music"--an early example of reggae's love affair with rap. and i can appreciate the significance of this collaboration, having learned that yellowman was all the rage in NY clubs in the early 80s--another fact that too often goes ignored in hip-hop histories. reggae been in hip-hop. (thus, "hip-hop and its contents.")

in a nod to "roots, rap, reggae" (which is itself a nod to bob marley's "roots, rock, reggae") as well as the pioneering work on routes/diasporas by scholars like paul gilroy and james clifford, i've titled my course, and my dissertation, "routes, rap, reggae" in order to emphasize that these circuits of travel, migration, and exchange are as much a part of the foundations of hip-hop and reggae as more traditional and obvious sources.

at any rate, i'm really looking forward to this course. we'll do a lot of critical listening and reading, engage (no doubt) in some heated discussions, and, through individual research papers, investigate many of these twists and turns further. we'll also have some guests to enlighten and provoke us from time to time. jeff chang, whose fantastic new history of the hip-hop generation is one of the course's primary texts, will be making a stop in providence to discuss his project and his perspective. and later in the semester, adam mansbach will come by to discuss his latest work on hip-hop, race (traitors), and the tricky politics of engagement/appropriation. i'm hoping to rope in some other special guests before the semester is over.

to any detractors out there not persuaded by my disclaimers, i invoke jeru tha damaja: "i repre-...aww fuck it, don't even need to say it."

6 million ways to tell a story, choose one.


electronic music and its discontents

(i don't care what y'all say: the collage does what it's supposed to.)

i know that i was asking for it when i decided to make the syllabus for my course on electronic music public by creating a semi-slick webpage for it and putting it out there. there are dozens of message boards devoted to discussing the subject, often quite contentiously. thus, it's not surprising that my syllabus has touched off a fair amount of debate here and there (and even here). and simon's decision to link to it has ensured that hundreds of people will take a look.

aside from the slightly queasy feeling that such intense and large-scale scrutiny provokes in my gut, though, the feedback has generally been rather positive, sometimes helpful, and rarely shocking. i'm glad that most people see the value of such a course and understand the inherent limitations of such an undertaking.

with regards to the value: 1) electronic music, as many have pointed out, is a terribly under-represented subject in the academy, and when it is taught, such courses frequently focus on avant-garde composers rather than, say, DJs; 2) teaching such a course at harvard, even if at harvard's extension school (which is a division for the "continuing education" of the greater boston community), bestows a certain kind of cultural capital on electronic music, which, whether or not "it" needs it, does help to change assumptions in certain social strata vis-a-vis the inherent value of such music (which most aficionados take for granted); 3) exposing more people to the broad range of styles and practices associated with electronic music, not to mention the contemporary ubiquity of its technologies and techniques, is likely to foster greater support for the electronic/digital arts, a goal that most of the people reading this likely hold; finally, 4) although not as many people have mentioned this, my course seeks to foreground the relationship between various musical styles (and more styles, i might add, than are typically brought under the header of "electronic music") and the production/maintenance/subversion of such socio-cultural categories as race, class, sexuality, gender, nation, and so on, and though this is not anything new, the mainstream perceptions of electronic music continue to revolve around skinny white kids in fat pants dancing with glow sticks or stodgy academics sitting around impressive-looking consoles clapping for themselves--neither of which tells the whole story or does justice to the complex (and revealing) social and discursive patterns that "produce" electronic music and its various "subjects" (by which i mean "subjectivities" as well as "areas of study").

in terms of limitations, there are a few things that critics should recognize: 1) this is already an extremely ambitious course in terms of both overall scope and relative depth, and it would not only be quite a challenge to fit in additional readings, listening selections, etc., it would be expecting a bit much of the students who are taking this course as a once-a-week elective; 2) as some have pointed out, there is a relative dearth of good writing about the subject, and i have done my best to cull some of the best examples that i know as well as to select other sites--the ever controversial, ishkur, for example--precisely because of their provocative nature and their window into represention (i.e., the way that people talk about this stuff and produce knowledge about it); 3) no matter how much one tries, one will never please everyone out there, especially with an undertaking such as this, and there will always be "seminal" artists or recordings or even styles or genres that are, unfortunately, left out (what do you know? the folks in the cocteau twins forum think i should have included the cocteau twins, as well as more "pre-post-rock," which, for those not in-the-know, doesn't translate to "rock"); 4) the enrollment for this class, like the enrollment for most extension school classes, will comprise a wide variety of backgrounds, and i am teaching with the baseline assumption that there may be a majority of complete neophytes in the class. that said, i am also teaching with the hope that even those with some or a good deal of background in the subject will discover new music and new perspectives on familiar music. this is not a class where i expect that professional critics, electronic musicians, and various types of aficionados will necessarily learn all that much that they didn't know. even so, i do think that, as with anyone else who has done their homework, has engaged seriously with the music, and has come to it and through it in an idiosyncratic manner, i bring a special perspective to the subject (as a producer and performer of hip-hop, reggae, and other electronic styles) and special training (as an ethnomusicologist and a teacher), and i would hope that my perspective and the particular connections i make could offer something to even the most ardent and veteran consumer of electronic music, criticism, technology, etc.

i think one of the biggest potential problems here is for people to confuse inclusion/exclusion on this syllabus with canon-creation. i am not interested in creating or affirming a canon of any sort. if anything, i am interested in challenging people's assumptions about what is and is not electronic music--take, for example, the attempted coverage of merengue and soca, which rarely enter into the conversation about electronic music. (such omissions, of course, say a lot about the unexamined prejudices floating around out there.)

one more thing: this syllabus is a work in progress. i put it up so that prospective students could get a sense of whether the class is something they want to spend their time on. as i continue to teach this class in future years, and even over the course of this semester, i expect that i will find additional and better resources and that i will refine the collection of genres, artists, and recordings represented. overall, i am excited about the immense amount of feedback i am receiving, and i expect that over time i will be able to incorporate a great deal of it. (feel free to leave a comment below.)

at any rate, lest i come across as too defensive, let me just say that i am flattered to have stoked the fires of discussion, and that i am thankful for all the people who think the course looks "cool" as well as all the people who think it's criminal that switched on bach didn't make the listening list (yet).

here's to a good semester. i'm looking forward to it. and if you think that my electronic course is bullshit, wait until you see the one i'm teaching on hip-hop and reggae. 6 million ways to piss people off, choose one.

as they say down in jamaica, on RETV: don't watch me, watch yourself.


i think they were...asian

america, it's them damn arabs...

them arabs...

them arabs...

and them chinamen...

and them arabs...

[adapted from alan ginsburg's america]

(don't be scurred.)

(be very scurred.)

(seen at /jace/place)


US-led troops have damaged babylon,

though only literally, it seems.

perhaps though, the damage will transfer to metaphor,

and realize my broken dollar dreams.


fanfare for fanfan

as reported in the new york times today, the supreme court ruled against the "mandatory-minimum" sentencing guidelines that for two decades have tied judges' hands and sent minor-league drug dealers away for far longer than they deserve. judges will now be able to use discretion in using sentencing guidelines, which should theoretically result in more "reasonable" sentences.

of course, while this legal "remedy" will treat a symptom of america's prison problem--e.g., the number of long-term inmates--it does not address such fundamental root-causes as america's insatiable demand for drugs, its racist justice system, or the way that structural inequalities and limited opportunities push young black men, and plenty of other "caught-up" folks, into being pushers and then into jail-cells. still, it provides some real relief to individuals, families, and communities who need not suffer further from excessive and discriminatory punishment practices.

as someone generally interested in prison- and drug-war-reform, i was also relieved that the decision finally came down in this manner. this case in particular, however, was especially interesting to me, as it involved an old acquaintance.

this gets confusing, for there are several cases at play here, as you can read in the opening paragraph of the decision. my friend is not booker or blakely, but "respondent fanfan" as they call him here, or ducan, as i always knew him. as you can see, ducan's case finally brought the whole thing to the supreme court. here's the short of it: according to the jury, ducan should have served 5-6 years; according to additional evidence submitted at the sentence hearing (where no jury was present), ducan should have been given 15-16 years; relying on the blakely ruling, the judge decided to impose a sentence based on the jury's verdict alone; the gov't didn't like this and filed an appeal. regardless of all the legal battles at stake here, however, what is clear to me is that the world is made no better a place by putting ducan in jail for ten more years than he already has to serve.

first, i suppose i should mention what ducan was being sentenced for. he was charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine, arrested and convicted in maine, of all places. one more note of specific interest: the prosecutors were pushing to increase ducan's sentence because "a preponderance of the evidence" (presented at the sentence hearing) showed that he was dealing crack. because crack was not mentioned in the indictment, the judge insisted on basing the sentence on the jury's verdict. of course, this practice of assigning greater penalties to crack than powder cocaine is a perfect example of how america's ridiculously racist drug-war and prison-industrial complex work.

ducan is a few years older than i am, but we grew up in the same neighborhood, attended the same schools, played on the same basketball courts. we shared many friends in common, and shared lots of friendly moments. our stomping ground was west, west cambridge (i.e., way past the brattle street side of west cambridge), where working-class italians, irish, and blacks (including second-generation kids with parents from haiti, jamaica, and other caribbean islands) all got along just fine. [ducan was from a haitian family, but i didn't realize that until much later, when i finally learned his last name.] most of my memories of ducan are from this one summer years ago--perhaps my twelfth?--during which i spent several hours a day playing basketball, joking around, and hanging out with ducan, who was working then as a "park instructor"--one of the best summer jobs available to older teens in cambridge. he was stationed at glacken field, a five minute walk from my house (or his). incidentally (or not--i actually found ducan's role rather inspiring), i would hold the very same position a few years later. i remember in particular that summer that ducan took my younger brother, an enterprising baller, under his wing, instructing him on the finer points of the dribble and the jumpshot.

in contrast to other older kids in the neighborhood, ducan was never a bully. i might even describe him as gentle, though that may be a mis-characterization. at any rate, i can at least say that he never picked on me or my brother, which was not the case for all the older kids in our neighborhood. he was what people around here would call a "good kid." seriously. he was able to be humble and radiate confidence, able to be kind and yet tough. sure, as we got older, there was the occasional fishy story, like the one where he bought a brand new car with the cash in his pocket, but generally, especially in the pantheon of the "bridge boys" (as the neighborhood 'gang' was called), he seemed like an angel. my memories of ducan are of a man smiling, joking, playing basketball with grace and style. a mentor, teacher, coach, referee.

the last time i saw ducan was six or seven years ago. we bumped into each other in harvard square, and we had a friendly chat. he told me all about his burgeoning hip-hop video-production company and about the interviews he was doing with MCs and DJs. i wished him luck at the time. too bad he never got lucky enough with that venture to put the risky business behind him.

but a man's gotta eat, right?

and though that sounds like a cliche, i can't dispute it. i can't really knock the hustle, especially when people like ducan--i.e., young black males--are so often relegated to filling these perilous niches in our sick society. (reminds me of the way that jews in europe were, for centuries, forced into such stigmatized yet necessary occupations as tax-collecters, pawn-brokers, and money-lenders--middle-men for the land-owning elite.)

no, i can't knock the hustle (at least not until my next blog), but i'm deeply frustrated and saddened that a man of ducan's talents--someone with such intelligence, kindness, and grace, someone with such potential--now has to sit in a cell for a little lifetime. (i think he ended up with 6 and 1/2.) of course, it could be worse. it could have been 16 and 1/2.

so here's a little fanfare for fanfan--and all the others who might benefit from this new ruling.

hang in there, duke.


rap v. techno: who knew?

here's the low-down on the difference between two popular genres of music--but keep it on the down-low.

seriously though, who would pay for a fake term-paper like this one, especially when it's on a topic that any college student could easily BS their way through? perhaps the bad writing is a ruse--a way to throw off any scent of cheating. but this bad? (i mean, a lot of the college papers i read--and, yes, some by harvard students--feature some truly bad writing, but this is straight-up stoopid.) still, it would have fooled me. no way i would have googled a phrase in search of the plagiarized source. nope, i would have simply given it a failing grade--no questions asked. except maybe, what is this crap?

not long ago, a colleague who teaches at a midwestern institution of higher learning that shall go unnamed told me about catching a student cheating by googling one of the phrases in the paper. of course, he was tipped off when the paper he was reading--a one page response-paper for pete's sake--said something like, "in the following essay..."

was it a cry for help? nope. the kid was already on academic probation and begged my colleague not to turn him in. what did my friend do? i never found out. what would you do?


steps taken

get yer dates straight: migrate over here for a minute.


a moment of sweet aloha

blue skies of hawaii smiled on our visit, for sure.

enough to make me shave my beard in hopes of catching some sun on it.

our first few days on oahu, however, were unusual in that we experienced several consecutive days without much sun. apparently clouds and rain are not so infrequent during the winter, but rarely are they so persistent. it didn't really matter to me and bec, though, as the temperature itself was an incredible relief from the cambridge cold. far as we were concerned, it couldn't have been more comfortable and welcoming: 75 degrees, partly cloudy, and terribly green all around.

our welcome was made especially warm by our gracious hosts, amy&ron, who have been living in honolulu since the fall of 2003. a&r are old friends from the madcity who finally decided to up-and-live in paradise for a while (as opposed to all the tourists who simply come to live-it-up--a high % of whom, i'm told, never leave the filled-in-swamp and fake-beach-cum-shopping-center that is waikiki). a&r are two great kids, and a great couple, too. back in madison we used to go out dancing together 2-3 nights a week. (i lost a cool twenty pounds dancing to cheesy house and hard techno back in grad school.) and occasionally we'd get together for a big freestyle session, a hip-hop/techno threesome of sorts--ron on the box, amy on the tables, and me on the mic.

last summer, amy&ron got married. they had the good taste to have a small, short ceremony, an indian-food dinner (~saucy~), and an all-night rave of a party in the middle of nowhere northern illinois. for the occasion, i composed a song. (it wasn't my first attempt at wedding music.) for the wedding of my dear new-honoluligans, i was excited to have stumbled upon the existence--nay, proliferation--of the hawaiian wedding song, which has been recorded dozens of times. i went straight to kazaa and downloaded as many versions as i could find. i was lucky enough to locate renditions by jim reeves, elvis presley, andy williams, santo and johnny, and makaha sons of ni'ihau.

using the andy williams version as the tonal center, i pitched the other tracks around until i found relationships that sounded good to me, but not according to any "rules" of harmony. (you'll hear that there is a good deal of "dissonance" between the tonal-centers i settled on.) i then "warped" each of the tracks--dig the incidental alias-tremelo effects--so that i could sync them in time at the somewhat arbitrary (but, i would add, stately and banging) tempo of 75 bpm (which happens to be 15 bpm faster than the original tempo of the andy williams "lead vocal"). in some cases, i applied filters and other effects to the tracks, especially since, as random, peer-to-peer mp3 files, they were not always of the highest quality. in the case of the fuzzed out slack-key track (the timbre of which i've come to like quite a bit), i used bit-reduction and white-noise to cover up the unlistenable digital belches of a shitty mp3. when pitched up to fit the andy williams tuning, the elvis sounded downright eerie and jim reeves hopped right on the kanye-wagon, so i decided to bring them in later in the song as "backup singers" of sorts. to round out the form, i use a couple classic breaks--the blackgrass and billiejoe--sometimes in combination, and thus give the crooning a bit more drive. (i like the way that the rolled snare gives the track an air of gravitas, if in an ironic kind of way.) finally, i cut and paste some parts here and there, such as the opening percussion loop, culled from the elvis cut.

so, check out amy&ron's hawaiian wedding song (<--click here to listen).

anyway, hawaii seems to have agreed with a&r, or vice versa, because now they're talking about staying for several more years. they even speak with a hint of condescension about folks from the "mainland" with their no-respect-for-local-mores, johnny-come-lately attitudes. apparently, it's easy to grow comfortable in hawaii. still, this wasn't so immediately apparent to me when i was observing life in honolulu and (some of) its suburbs.

for one thing, i found the architecture pretty uninspiring. lots of beige high-rise and low-rise apartment buildings, which, with a few exceptions, all appear to have been built in the headlong postcolonial rush of the 50s and 60s. (let me admit that i have very little knowledge of hawaiian history, however, so i hope that jeff, hawaiian-homeboy himself, doesn't pull my card too hard.) as a first impression anyway, especially when thinking of the place as somewhere one lives rather than simply visits, it felt like too many people living on top of each other, too much boxy concrete, too little primary engagement with the natural riches of the island. but that's life in the dog-eat-dog, and my overriding impression of hawaii (as seen through oahu) was that it is a surprisingly american place for the middle of the pacific. strip malls, fast food, fat folk, and a noticeable military presence (though, according to ron, not as noticeable as it was several months ago--go figure).

when we drove out to oahu's northwest corner, ka'ena point, for a little hike to the spot where albatross chill and they film that lost show, we drove past ewa beach (where amy teaches special-ed high schoolers) and along the southern and western coasts, which happen to be among oahu's poorest areas. this was, unsurprisingly, a depressing drive. juxtaposed with the splendid hills--i don't care what people say, the leeward side of the island is quite beautiful--were ramshackle tents on the beach, spartan single-family homes, and the familiar third-world odor of burning trash. apparently, as in many other american cities and towns, crystal meth has ravaged poor families here, and i could sense the bleakness and desperation of addiction in the air. in my privileged position as traveler and vacationer, i had a hard time reconciling what seemed like hawaii's abundant natural riches with the impoverished lives that so many seemed to be living in the midst of such wonders. it reminded me of the jamaicans i met who couldn't wait to leave port antonio for mo'bay or negril and had long stopped noticing the verdant hills and shining sea.

(really though, i should stick to poking my nose around one island at a time, so let me chill on being critical of what i saw. let me turn instead to what i heard.)

wherever i go, i've always got my ears pricked (...seeking what will transmit, the scribes can apply to transcript, yo...), and while driving around oahu we listened to a lot of hawaiian radio, especially KTUH. generally, when flipping the dial, i sought out what i would call traditional hawaiian pop: slack-key guitar, pretty melodies. what surprised me, however, was the ubiquity of reggae--and not just jamaican reggae (though i heard a lot of that--and quite a variety, too). most of the reggae i heard was locally produced. it seems that hawaii has a reggae industry as vibrant, or at least prodigious, as perhaps any other place i've ever been to--save for my favorite likkle island. though there were hints of dancehall style (especially the occasional raggamuffin vocal), most hawaiian reggae songs seem to go for a one-drop, lover's rock or roots type of feel. jamaican accents apparently aren't required in this adopted genre, and most of the singing more closely resembles contemporary r&b (e.g., whiners like usher and r. kelly--but shit, that's true in jamaican singing these days, too). hawaiian reggae tends to focus on love and romance, positive vibes, and the environment. i have to admit that i found most of it to be a little on the cheesy side for my tastes. but it's definitely interesting as an example of reggae gone abroad. hawaiians have drawn on reggae's resources in a very different way than, say, new yorkers or panamanians, japanese or italians. (i forget who's realer--jawaiians or germaicans?) and i love that there's an island connection going on here, though i don't really understand quite what that means. (the people at hanauma bay prolly didn't think twice about grabbing the melody from disney's "under the sea" [itself probably cribbed from a calypso song] to accompany their snorkel-safety instructional-video.)

the island's natural beauty is almost overwhelming. the beaches were incredible, and by far the highlight of the trip. kailua with its sleepy serenity, makapuu with its crushing waves, honauma bay with all its snorklable beauty, and waimanalo with its sheer perfection. on the north coast, the waves were so fierce that swimming was banned at most beaches. the churning surf was gorgeous to behold though, and rather humbling in light of recent events in south asia.

we did a bunch of hiking, too, up into some serious bamboo groves and up to some wicked waterfalls and watering holes. (sorry, no pics. couldn't be bothered to record everything, y'know. gets too heisenberg for me sometimes.)

one day we took the H3 out of honolulu. we drove through the hills and over to kaneohe, on the east side of the island, where we stopped in search of some funky, hawaiian-print fabric suitable for kitchen curtains. (something to cover up the weather-stripping, knamean.) some of the prints were pretty wild, though many were a lil' over-the-top for us. and though they might have made for passable shorts, they weren't the type of patterns you'd necessarily want to see while you're making coffee or cooking dinner. anyway, we finally found something that we thought could work. big ups to fabric mart on the kamehameha for a serious selection and quite a deal on some pretty threads. [hope to have pics of some funky curtains before long.]

not far from fabric mart, right off the kahekili, is the valley of the temple where one can visit the byodo-in buddhist temple, a replica of the 900-year-old byodo-in in uji, japan. constructed without the use of nails, the temple is truly a sight, as are the koi populating the ponds that surround it, the elegant gardens, and three-ton brass bell.

on this particular day, however, one of the managers was busy chatting on her cellphone, and the chatter seemed rather inharmonious with the purpose and air of the building. the place's aura was further diminished for me when i noticed that part of the temple had been converted to an unceremonious office-space and that the buddha statues and ponds were littered with pocket change. (such an ironic sight--the buddha weighed down with nickels.) so i banged the gong, which--consistent with the high quality of the architecture--was satisfyingly resonant, and we took off. headed back toward town, we noticed a sign for some botanical gardens and followed them to what was perhaps our favorite little spot on the island. (ok, aside from waimanalo.)

ho'omaluhia botanical gardens is a 400-acre park featuring tropical plants from around the world. in addition to hawaiian and polynesian plants (each of which reside in their own section), there were areas for (south/central) american, african, indian and sri lankan, autralian and melanesian varieties. and almost everything was a sight to behold, including this piece-of-work:

on top of that, we were pretty much the only ones there, save for some ducks who held down their turf when we approoched the garden's reservoir.

some of the plants required a closer look, and photos just won't do them justice.

in most cases, a closer look revealed shapes, colors, and textures like none i've seen before (and in some cases, the camera was able to capture them).

wild, huh? and these fuzzy-looking appendages below belong to the lipstick tree, an amazonian transplant.

here's another view.

from a distance, one understands the "lipstick" title a bit better, as their redness is more visible.

a little further on, i found one on the ground that had been split open. even in this broken state, it was simply entrancing.

other trees, such as hawaii's native wiliwili, were eye-catching in their own way.

i was particularly fond of this next one (whose name i forget) and it's volleyball-shaped "fruit." (incidentally, i'm told that volleyball is the most popular sport in hawaii, which reminded me that recently i learned that volleyball is supposedly the most played sport in the world.)

here's a bit of a closer look.

(no, it's not a pineapple. those are generally grown on the north side of the island at this creepy place, which we made sure to avoid. [don't get me started about the pineapple business, for real.])

fuck a pineapple. gimme some poke and i'm straight. actually, when it comes to hawaiian food (and i know jeff gon' kill me for saying this), i was pretty underwhelmed. don't get me wrong: there are some real culinary delights to be had. and our dinner at sam choy's left no doubt that, as far as high-end eating goes, it's the "island favorite" for a reason. even our trip to ono's, which definitely serves the most straight-up, traditional hawaiian cuisine in honolulu, turned out to be a bit of a let-down. (and i even had a good helping of poi! which, being a day-old, had a tartness that was not disagreeable, though slightly strange. being a purple puddle of mush doesn't help. next time, i'd probably go with rice.)

in my own defense, check out the following recipes, and you'll get a sense of what goes into (or, more tellingly, doesn't go into) hawaiian cuisine. part of the "problem" here, i think, is that hawaiian cuisine was built on what strikes me now, in this age of globalized produce and brazilian beef, as a relatively small pool of available ingredients. really, i'm probably just revealing my biases as a health-conscious, spice-heavy kind of guy when i say that i generally found hawaiian food to be a bit bland and a bit heavy. i can see how plate lunches--various BBQ'd meats, two scoops of white rice, and macaroni salad--might make good after-beach food, but, for real, do they have to put so much mayo on the macaroni?

(anyway, i'm just mouthing off again. but i remain open-minded and open-mouthed about the whole thing, so if you're an offended fan of hawaiian cusine, please shed some light on the gastronomy of the place for me.)

still, all the L&L curry-beef plate-lunches in the world couldn't weigh down what amounted to a wonderful vacation. the sun and fun did us a lot of good. and i'm hoping to make our moment of sweet aloha last. at this point, not too far removed from the bodily pleasures of riding waves at waimanalo, i hope to be dreaming in hawaiian technicolor at least until spring hits, with visions of neon lipstick trees dancing in my head.

once again, to jeff and to hua, and especially to a&r, and also to everyone else who shot us a smile or flashed us a shaka: mahalo, mahalo, mahalo.


honolulu hello

or should i say...


today's the last day of a week-long honolulu honeymoon for me and bec.

it's been far too nice to sit in front of computer screens. beaches are much better.

mahalo to jeff and hua for their recs and to amy&ron for their hospitality, generosity, and all-around rockstardom. (about them, and hawaii, when i get back to boston.)