Hip Hop Generation Next (english)

Trey, Maya & Koolism: Second Generation Transmigrants, In-betweenness and Multicultural Australian Hip Hop

Melissa Butcher and Mandy Thomas begin their edited volume "Ingenious", a collection of essays which celebrates various subcultural expressions of multicultural youth in Australia, with the following quote from Stuart Hall:

There are people who belong to more than one world, speak more than one language (literally and metaphorically), inhabit more than one identity, have more than one home, who have learned to negotiate and translate between two cultures, and who, because they are irrevocably the product of several interlocking histories and cultures, have learned to live with, and indeed to speak from, difference. They speak from the "in-between" of different cultures, always unsettling the assumptions of one culture from the perspective of another, and thus finding ways of being both the same as and at the same time different from the others amongst whom they live. [1]

This "in-betweenness" is an important aspect of Australian hip hop, which is frequently overlooked in debates about the desirability of Australian accents and local cultural references in what is still widely perceived as an African-American musical and performative genre. The cultural diversity of much local Australian hip hop reflects the indigenisation of hip hop by both indigenous and second generation immigrant youth throughout the world, and its frequent adoption as a conduit to explore and re-discover aspects of their homeland culture in a form of what Nina Schiller and Georges Eugene Fouron have called "long distance nationalism". Culturally diverse hip hop crews in Australia such as South West Syndicate, Downsyde, and Curse ov Dialect, with their wildly surreal "rainbow hip hop", express multiple speaking positions which embody Australian multiculturalism, pluralism and diversity through the four elements of MCing, DJing, graffiti and breakdancing. Individual MCs such as MC Trey, Hau of Koolism, Maya Jupiter, and DJs such as Austrian-Australian DJ Nick Toth, Vietnamese-Australian Uncle Ho, and Pakistani-Australian MC Paso Bionic speak from varied positions of "in-betweenness", and ensure that Australian hip hop maintains a unique sense of inbetweenness and musical syncretism which constitutes a highly original and distinctive view of the world and a strong participation in "transborder citizenry". [2]

Most Australian hip hop is in English, a factor which tends to accentuate comparisons with US hip hop, and charges of derivateness, and place it in a position similar to that of UK hip hop, which has been similarly disparaged from the USA. But the growth of culturally diverse elements, such as the use of Samoan, Tongan and other Pacific Islander languages by Trey and Koolism, Mexican and Salsa rhythms by Maya Jupiter and Downsyde, along with the inclusion of Aboriginal languages by artists such as the Labanese-Aboriginal South West Syndicate, Munkimuk, Lez Beckett, Street Warriors and Last Kinection suggests that this diversity is becoming even more diverse.

Represent the Un-represented

Many second generation migrants, in the sense of those either born here or who migrate to Australia at an early age, and who have been able to physically and linguistically re-connect with their ancestral homelands, are becoming an increasingly widespread phenomenon for which the term "transmigrant", as used by Nina Schiller and Georges Eugene Fouron [3], is an appropriate one. For Schiller and Fouron transmigrants are "long distance nationalists" for who the "homeland is not just a site of nostalgia; it is a location of ongoing experience". [4]

An important CD compilation showcasing the multilingualism and cultural diversity of second generation non-Anglo migrants in Australian hip hop is "Sonic Allsorts: Modern Music – Native Tongues", a co-production by SBS Radio Alchemy, the 2003 Noise Festival and the Sydney-based "underground" music magazine "Cyclic Defrost". This remarkably distinctive and unique collection contains tracks by 17 Australian artists from seven states performing in over twenty languages, with code-switching a recombinant feature. It was compiled by Brendan Palmer, founder of the independent electronica label Clan Analogue as well as the Uber Lingua DJ collective, and prominent local and international DJ and electronica artist. Over 3,500 copies of the CD were distributed throughout Australia, mainly as a "giveaway" in "Cyclic Defrost", which profiles and reviews a wide range of independent Australian and overseas exponents of hip hop, electronica and avant-garde music.

"Cyclic Defrost" co-editor Dale Harrison has noted that both "Sonic Allsorts" and "Cyclic Defrost" were "borne out of a need to represent other less emphasised elements of Australian culture, and to reclaim from the rampant parochialism and jingoism the very idea of being 'Australian'". [5] Australian hip hop, given its predominantly subcultural nature as an underground, Do-It-Yourself phenomenon which obtains little support from the mainstream music industry, is an ideal medium through which to express these "less emphasised elements of Australian culture". [6]

The result of a nationwide competition as part of the 2003 Noise Festival, "Sonic Allsorts" leads off with a track in Swahili by Sydney-based hip hop producer and MC Mr. Zux, following on with "Eh Mate", in French and Punjabi, by Brisbane artist Prussia, and a Spanish rap by Adelaide based Joel Castell. The most popular track amongst the six judges by a wide margin was Curse Ov Dialect's "Curse Ov The Vulk Macedonski", which features traditional Macedonian music and MCing by Borsch from the multicultural Melbourne crew who are redefining Australian hip hop. Also scoring highly were "Nursery Chant" by Sydney artist Tufa, who sings, chants and raps in Henghwa, and Latin American collective Ila Familia with their anthemic salsa dance track "Ven a Bailar". Anglo-Australian MC Morganics' "Multi Lingual MC", which features snippets of 15 different languages, gleaned from his work as a facilitator in hip hop workshops in Aboriginal communities where English may be a second or third language, as well as in his extensive international touring and production work, is also featured. (Morganics is completing a book entitled "Hip Hop Is My Passport", which recounts his work as an MC, producer and facilitator all over the world from New York to Africa.)

Brendan Palmer attributes the predominance of hip hop on the album to the fact that it is "the most active lyrical modern music" and "a style that allows the un-represented to be represented". Further examples include Creator, a Tasmanian-based MC from Sierra Leone who raps here in French, but also performs in Mende, Creole and English, Mandarin MC Horny Keung (whose name comes from an evil sauna bath owner featured in the cult movie "Hong Kong X File"), "Oiaue" (pronounced "oyawaya"), a part Tongan-language, part English party track from Koolism, an R&B track in Samoan, English and Cook Island Maori by Soul-Jah On, a French track with some deft scratching by Darwin-based Vassy, gamelan jazz from Indonesian artists Anything But Roy, and drum'n'bass track with Punjabi and Urdu inflections from Vir Asan.

"Sonic Allsorts" is much more than a curio – it represents a hidden face of Australian music, and some of these artists already have albums out (Mr. Zux has one in English, and another in Swahili). "Sonic Allsorts" has remained an isolated event, but one which demonstrates the depth of multiculturalism and multilingualism in hip hop in a country where English has always been the lingua franca.

Koolism: Representing Tongan Culture through Hip hop

Koolism is a hip hop crew from Canberra, Australia's little-known capital city. They consist of Tongan-Australian MC Hau (aka Langomi-e-Hau Latukefu) and New Zealand-born producer-DJ Danielsan Ichiban (Daniel Elleson) – whose name is a reference to the 1984 US film "Karate Kid" – who have performed together since 1992. Their name derives partly from Kool Herc, the founder of hip hop who migrated from Jamaica to the South Bronx in the early 1970s and replicated Jamaican reggae sound systems at New York block parties, inventing the break beat. In January 2003 Koolism received an appreciative write-up along with other Australian rock groups in the "New York Times", where Andrew Strauss called them "the standard-bearer of Australian hip-hop. Though it can throw down the funk live like the Roots, Koolism's strength is that it sounds like a hot summer's breeze, with nimble, laid-back rhymes and dub-heavy beats".

In October 2004 they were surprise winners of an ARIA (Australia Recording Industry Association) award for "Best Urban Release" for their independent label recording "Part 3: Random Thoughts", ahead of other artists signed to major labels. DJ Danielsan took advantage of the occasion to express his endorsement of homegrown Australian hip-hop and to disparage "wannabe fake American" Australian artists who mimic American accents and express obeisance to commercial US hip hop. The award was presented by mainstream US hip hop group The Black Eyed Peas, so he hastily qualified his comments by excluding them, which caused some mirth in the audience. Kool Herc was in Australia at the time, so Koolism celebrated their victory at an outdoor barbecue in Canberra at which they paid Kool Herc to DJ.

The duo released their first cassette tape, "Bedroom Shit", in 1996, when Hau called himself Fatty Boomstix, and many local hip hop artists were relying on limited releases of this decidedly lo-tech format, which are now collector's items, to disseminate their work. 1997's eponymous cassette featured "Juss a Brown Fellow", a celebration of the Pacific Island diaspora in Australasian hip hop, as well as references to Hau's troubles with police harassment. In it, Hau maps out the diaspora of what he refers to as 'Australasian rap', following a rhetorical track from Australia to Aotearoa-New Zealand and through the Pacific Islands of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau and New Caledonia.

Koolism's two 12 inch vinyl EPs, "Blue Notes" and "The Season", the contents of which were both included on their 2002 debut album "Koolism Part 1", achieved legendary status on the Australian hip hop scene. The remixed version of "Blue Notes" is a particular landmark, with a cover featuring a photomontage of Hau's close-knit Tongan extended family, who also appear in the video to "The Season". The video's combination of Hau's hip hop crew at a barbecue with his extended Tongan family shows how easily the two cultures combine, and the breakdancing at the end complements the soccer at the beginning as an expression of community leisure.

"Blue Notes" also features a "Pacific strum" guitar riff over an autobiographical account of Hau's childhood and Tongan family and trips back to the homeland for funerals of family members, sampled Tongan language from his Grandfather Ma' ilei, and some mellow jazz electric guitar by Sione Latukafu. Dedications on the record, instead of the usual hip hop "shout outs" to fellow crews, MCs, DJs and sources of inspiration, run as follows:

Love and dedication to: My Grandmother (Fe;ao Ma'ilei): Mum misses you hard and so do the rest of us. My Latukefu Grandparents ('Alopi & Vaimoana): I wish I had the chance to share your knowledge and wisdom. Kolovai to the fullest. The legacy continues … My Latukefu uncles: Maile, Tevita & Sione: Miss you all so much, keep looking over me. Uncle Sione, I'm trying to live up to my name … bare(sic) with me. My uncle, Sione Ma'ilei: you were always proud of me. Much love, uncle. My aunty Heilala: I miss your laughter and happiness. Haloti Faupula, even though I couldn't understand most of what you were saying, I could still feel the strength and emotions in your sermons. And to my lil bro that could have been – I often think how you would've looked and behaved. You would've loved to be part of this family. Much love, bro. This is also dedicated to the loving memories of those who passed away in your lives. May they rest in peace. [7]

Into the usual hip hop tropes of neighbourhood, community and locality, Hau incorporates his Tongan ancestry and lineage. Hau was born in Canberra; his parents, Lu'isa and Lesoni Latukefu, migrated there from Tonga more than thirty years ago. He has stated:

Unfortunately, they didn't really teach me the language because they figured we were in Australia and they decided it would be a lot easier for me to just speak English so I could communicate with the people around me and go to school without the language barrier problem. They taught me the customs but it wasn't a strict Tongan household. [8]

Like his countryman, former New Zealand All Black Jonah Lomu, he was something of a prodigy in rugby union, and at a certain point had to make the decision to devote himself to hip hop rather than rugby. "Oiaue" on "Sonic Allsorts" shows that he manages to speak a bit of Tongan, even if he began to play down his Tongan background on Koolism's 2006 album "Part 3 – Random Thoughts". He has commented that being Tongan makes him unafraid to express emotion, which sets him apart from the more macho aspects of hip hop:

Growing up as a Tongan – we are very emotional people. I have Australian friends and I go to their houses, and there's nothing wrong with it, but you know, their fathers are always like "You gotta be the tough guy. Don't cry son". The way I was brought up, my father cooks and cleans, but he's a proper man, but he's emotional as well. So I'm not scared to be open like that whether it's through rhyme or everyday life. … Tongans go to a lot of funerals. It's such a small community in Australia so every Tongan knows each other and everyone goes to the funeral. So I've been brought up going to funerals and crying and being able to deal with emotions. [9]

The title track of "Part 3 -Random Thoughts" is a stream-of-consciousness reflection from a train about terrorism, priests and sexual abuse, and the "wack" (gauche) and violent outpourings of chart-topping US MCs. "Self Portrait" follows a similar story-telling structure, with a languid jazz piano and bass backing, delving into Hau's childhood and schooldays, revealing him as a rugby union prodigy but eventually relinquishing the sport for hip hop. Musically, "Random Thoughts" has a more UK-influenced drum'n'bass, breakbeat, garage, funk and electro orientation than previous Koolism albums, and Danielsen's beats have a harsher, sparser, more metallic tone which is influenced by groups like the Chemical Brothers and not always very mellifluous to the ear. Influenced by the UK-orientation of their new label, Invada, it is an album aimed at clubs, which means it is danceable but often sacrifices density and subtlety of lyrical content and musical flavour for more hedonistic party tracks.

The relatively spare, stripped-back beats on offer in "New Old Ground" (2006) put Hau’s free-flowing, dense rhymes firmly in the forefront to great effect. Although no longer based in Canberra – Hau had moved to Sydney and Danielsan to Melbourne – they were still regarded as local heroes in the capital due to their ARIA award, with a double page spread in the "Canberra Times" claiming the new album "takes Oz hip hop to new heights – and shows where the duo comes from". Their distinctive sound is a combination of Hau drawing on his Tongan heritage – shown to great effect here on "Em", featuring the soulful sounds of some of Hau's extended family, and referring to the Polynesians in Australian prisons, as well as the community in Sydney western suburb Merrylands. The album's single "Tapes" expresses nostalgia for the days of cassette mixtapes compiled from hip hop and R&B vinyl, and given to girlfriends. "KOA" is a history of the early days of the pre-Koolism crew Kiss our Arse through the 1990s, and "Something Special" also reproduces "that old 90s vibe that we still love", as well as name-checking a few of their peers such as Melbourne collaborators Mnemonic Ascent, MC Trey and Maya Jupiter.

In 2008 Hau took over from Maya Jupiter as the host of the nationwide youth radio station Triple J's Australian hip hop program, and the duo released their fifth album, "The 'Umu", in 2010. A YouTube video accompanying the album's release showed a group of Tongan men building an 'umu – an underground oven accompanied by Tongan singing. As one reviewer noted: "Koolism’s music can be compared to an 'umu. It's like an underground hot-bed of musical styles; from hip hop to RnB, with a bit of dancehall and reggae thrown in for good measure". [10]

The final track on "The 'Umu", "Alone", is a soulful sung and spoken account of Hau's uncle's migration to Australia in the 1960s, when he was selected to play rugby for the Australian national team to tour South Africa in 1963, but this was vetoed due to South Africa's policy of apartheid. The uncle overcame his disappointment by continuing to play football, and was eventually named in Tonga's "team of the century". Danielsen's keyboard playing is a prominent feature on the album, especially on the more low-key tracks, while a skit on the album has a telephone caller requesting a Koolism track on the Triple J hip hop show. The album clearly demonstrates Hau is still drawing on his Tongan heritage and his family's history of migration, which serves to identify the duo's distinctiveness.

MC Trey: Fijian-Australian Hip hop

One of the most prominent second generation transmigrant MCs in Australian hip hop is MC Trey, who grew up listening to her father's gospel singing in Fiji, along with Polynesian and reggae music. Her real name is Thelma Thomas; the name Trey originated as an acronym for "The Rhymin' Edifyin' Young'un", as spelt out on "Projectiles", her 1996 debut cassette release with DJ Bones, but has numerous other connotations such as triangular and tripartite. Trey's first encounter with hip hop was when she was nine years old, at primary school in the mid 1980s in Fiji, watching videos of the Rock Steady Crew at a neighbours house: "They had a copy of 'Hey You' and 'Uprockin'. I remember seeing Baby Love and was like, 'Wow she's great, I want to do what she's doing". She set about finding out as much as she could about MCing and breakdancing, and at primary school she began scribbling down lyrics in exercise books. "I was so young and didn't have funds or much access to hip hop and didn't even know what was happening in other countries, but I watched as many vids as I could. My older cousins would learn breaking moves off the vids and I'd learn off them, and at family parties, we'd entertain them with our dance routines".

Her cousins in Australia and New Zealand sent her the "Beat Street" video and Run DMC tapes and she copied the moves and the flows. Trey's early breakdancing performances in Fiji coincide with an influx of breakdancing in the Pacific, particularly in Western Samoa, from which it spread to Aotearoa/New Zealand, where Maori and Pacific islander youngsters formed breakdance teams who appeared on local television and in a national breakdance competition. As Tania Kopytko has pointed out, the US import culture of breakdancing provided these mostly disadvantaged kids, who often had little chance of achieving recognition through conventional channels such as school, sport and social position, with "a very strong and positive identity that did much to raise their self esteem and realise their capabilities". [11] It also provided both Maori and Pacific Islander young people with a more accessible substitute for their own culture, which in many cases they were disconnected from, and arguably a conduit to gaining more knowledge about their own cultural background. Trey has admitted that she still doesn't know a great deal about Fijian culture, but sees hip hop as providing her with the motivation to discover it, and in the process she has re-acquired a good deal of her heritage. Her track on "Daily Affirmations", "So Where U Wanna Go", which addresses MCs looking for direction, begins with a description of a trip to Fiji and the migratory journeys of her Pacific ancestors, before embodying the local-US syncretism of much Australian hip hop by hooking up with African-American MC Eligh from Living Legends. She uses the metaphor of her Pacific ancestors setting their seafaring course by the stars to express her own progress and direction in hip hop.

Trey's family moved to Parramatta in the western suburbs of Sydney when she was eleven, and she pursued her interest in hip hop by going to local jams in the then emerging Sydney hip hop scene, which had started with breakdancing parties in the park at Burwood in inner-western Sydney. In Paul Fenech's 1997 documentary film "Basic Equipment" – the first film about Australian hip hop – Trey talks about the way that she regards the four elements of hip hop as modern extensions of analogous elements in traditional Fijian culture: turntablism relates to the beats of the lali log drum (used to announce mealtimes and other important events), the MC to her grandfather's public speaking in a circle around the kava bowl, breakdancing to the ceremonial meke story-performance dances, and graffiti to cave-painting or the designs of the tapa or masi cloth. This is bark-cloth used in traditional Fijian ceremonies and religious rituals, made from the paper mulberry tree into which patterns recounting ancestral Fijian stories are stencilled, stamped or smoked. Trey has used tapa cloth designs on her CD covers and website as well as wearing it in performance, and appropriating it in the name of the record label she has set up, Tapastry, and the title of her second album, "Tapastry Toons". As the liner notes state: "Tapa is of high significance in Fijian culture and always included in traditional, ritualistic and spiritual ceremonies throughout the island; Tapastry metaphorically represents the various elements of life experience, knowledge and creativity that interweave to create Trey – the artist and her music".

This incorporation of local cultural elements into hip hop is part of the indigenisation process which has seen hip hop take root in local cultures throughout the world. As Trey has commented: "I feel that a lot of young people who are removed from their culture or have grown up without a culture are drawn to hip hop because of its elements and sense of belonging it provides. For me, MCing is modern day story-telling, just like my ancestors did around the kava bowl". In her view, it is important for Australian hip hop to be multicultural, "because it brings different music styles and tales of different lands, and can only add to the beauty of hip hop". "Tapastry Toons" begins with the sound of the ukelele, an instrument which originated in Hawai'i and spread through the Pacific Islands, and has recently enjoyed a huge boom in Australasia, the UK, and the USA. Elsewhere Trey samples sea sounds, "combining traditional culture with contemporary culture".

In January 2009 she returned to her homeland to run hip hop workshops there, financed by Youth Inc Fiji and the Sydney-based youth organisation Fiji Youth Initiative (FYI), after receiving emails from local young people asking her to give them advice on hip hop. [12] This fulfilled a long-standing ambition to act as a direct catalyst for the development of hip hop in her homeland. She has also performed with other Pacific Islander hip hop artists, including Hau, who guests on her track "The Harvest", which was produced by Koolism, and Samoan female crew Sheelaroc, who include prominent MC Ladi6, from Aotearoa, New Zealand. At the "Sons of Samoa" event at the Sydney Festival in 2001, Trey teamed up with Samoan-New Zealand MC King Kapisi and Koolism at a jam at the Bondi Pavilion, a notable locus of Maori and Pacific Islander transmigrants in Sydney, an event which included traditional Samoan tattooing and more traditional Pacific Island music performances. As she told me in an interview:

It's just so fantastic to see other Pacific Islanders doing their thing and doing it well. I feel it also inspires young Pacific Islanders to do their thing as well. Pacific Islander cultures are similar and our ancestors worked so closely with each other, it's hard for us not feel a sense of unity. A lot of younger Pacific Islanders though are not taught their cultures, which is a shame. Events like "Sons of Samoa" are a great way to get the younger generation interested in their roots.

Trey has become increasingly involved in hip hop as a pedagogical enterprise, running workshops on hip hop, literacy and music industry skills with fellow MC, Turkish-Mexican Maya Jupiter, for disadvantaged teenaged girls in western suburbs Guildford, Parramatta and Bankstown. Between February and May 2003 they ran "Feline Beats and Rhymes", a course in Contemporary Music affiliated to South Sydney Youth services and covering instrumental technique, voice, songwriting and other hip hop skills for indigenous early school-leavers and young women from non-English-speaking backgrounds. At the end of the course, a CD, "SoulJah Sistaz", featuring songs and raps in four different languages (including Samoan and Maori), was launched by fifteen of the predominantly Pacific Islander girls (as indicated by songs like "Pasifik Beauty" and "Island Song") together with Trey, Maya and female DJ Groovy D at the Metro, a prominent central Sydney music venue. Multicultural television broadcaster SBS’s program "Insight" screened a documentary segment about the course. Stand-out tracks on the CD, the cover of which features a hibiscus flower superimposed over the Sydney CBD skyline, include the feisty "Fist It" by Krackhore, about how large Polynesian women should deal with sexual harassment and insults from boys, and "The War Track" by Jestah, about her objections to Australia's involvement in the gulf war. The girls also performed at the Surry Hills, Brackets and Jam and SmartArts festivals and were featured on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV program "Stateline".

Trey also runs hip hop skills and music industry workshops at ICE (Information and Cultural Exchange), a prominent government-subsidised community arts organisation for transmigrant youth based in Parramatta, sometimes specialising in teaching young Pacific Islander women. The 2007 documentary "Words from the City", directed by Natasha Gadd and Rhys Graham, filmed Trey conducting two courses of her "Island Beatz" workshop in 2006. She was also involved in "East London to Western Sydney", a collaborative hip hop theatre project between ICE and an East London community organization which was implemented after a trip to London in 2007 by Trey, Maya Jupiter and Aboriginal hip hop artist Wire MC. In May 2011 she was involved in the sixth series of "Hip Hop Projections", the result of workshops run by her, DJ Nick Toth and others with ICE. She has also run hip hop workshops with recent refugees and asylum seekers in locations such as the Villawood detention Centre outside Sydney. This educational aspect of hip hop, focusing on freestyling and improvisation, has become a large part of her work since the mid 1990s. [13]

Trey's influence on Australian women MCs was acknowledged in the documentary "All the Ladies", made by Colleen Hughson and Chilean-Australian Mary Quinsacara (MC Que) in 2003. The film profiled Layla, whose gutter-mouthed first album "Heretik" made a big impact on Australian hip hop in 2005, and Lil' G, who calls herself the "Wogarigine", as she is half Greek, half Aboriginal, and raps about subjects like the Yorta Yorta tribe and Aboriginal deaths in custody. It also focused on MC Que – whose 1993 cassette tape "Tellin’ It Like It Is" was the first release by a female MC in Australia – along with Italian-Australian MCs Thorn and A-Love from Melbourne, and Maya Jupiter from Sydney.

Maya Jupiter: Cangurita hip hop

Maya Jupiter, along with MC Trey – one of her main sources of inspiration, along with Koolism – has been one of the most prominent women hip hop artists in Sydney. The host of Triple J's weekly Australian hip hop show from 2004 to 2008, she is also a former host of Channel [V]'s "Soul Kitchen", a regular on SBS Radio's "Alchemy", and a regular club MC in both hip hop and R&B circles, as well as fronting the eleven piece salsa band Son Veneno, and running hip hop and music industry workshops for refugees and disadvantaged girls. She was born in La Paz, Mexico to a Turkish mother and a father from Baja, California. She migrated to Australia when she was one year old, and like both Trey and Hau, did not speak her native language at home. Her older sister introduced her to the salsa clubs and Latin American clubs in Sydney, where she was often rebuked for not speaking Spanish, but soon became involved in Latin American music groups as a dancer and singer, before gravitating to R&B clubs. When she was 17 she went to Mexico, and took a Spanish language course in preparation for the trip.

I enrolled myself in a six week course, then I went to Mexico for about three months and picked it all up because I'd heard it my whole life. I lived with my aunties and uncles, who didn't speak a word of English. For weeks I was there with a dictionary just trying to communicate and I really threw myself in the deep end. But on the other hand my grandmother in Mexico was an English teacher so she was able to teach me because she was the only one who was able to talk to me and translate between all the family. I'm not fluent but I can conversate [sic].

On her first trip to Mexico, Maya, whose real name is Melissa Martinez, was referred to as cangurita, a Mexicanisation of her Australian identity. As well as performing in Spanish with Son Veneno, Maya drops lines and words of Spanish into her raps, and "Mamacita", one of the tracks on her debut album "Today", is dedicated to her Turkish-Australian mother, who suggested she take the name Maya Jupiter:

That song was about the divorce of my parents and I guess it was very personal and I was really deciding whether I should put it on the album or not. Even when I recorded it I was like "Oh Damn" – you know it was very full on. But now the band plays it and we perform it at gigs and sometimes I think people don't catch it but you obviously catch it! It was a song that I needed to get out about my father because I didn't see him for about seven years, which I think incited the whole fascination of wanting to know about the Mexican culture, because up until the age of twelve you don't know what you are. People ask you and you go "I'm half Mexican and half Turkish" – "Oh, that's unusual". Growing up as a teenager I just didn't know any Mexicans at all – there were none in Australia and we don't have a community, although we are everywhere, we are all around the place – so that song was about that.

The album's highlight is "Songs of Freedom", which she wrote at the airport in Mexico City after her second trip back to her homeland, and which poignantly compares the plight of illegal Mexican immigrants in the USA to the current situation with asylum seekers in Australia, and with issues of social injustice around the world, making reference to the neo-Zapatista movement in Chiapas in Mexico.

In 2005 she curated "The Hip Hop Show", a forty track double CD compilation of both accessible and relatively "cutting edge" and obscure tracks from Australia, the UK and the USA, in which local tracks predominate and most show their merit in some quite distinguished company. Perth-based multicultural crew Downsyde's up-tempo ska-based "Comin' Back for More" is the opening track, while Aboriginal MC Brotha Black's "Brotha's Back", along with Local Knowledge's "Murri Flow" represent indigenous Australian hip hop. MC Que’s "Water's Breakin" is the only track by a female MC, although Combat Wombat's Izzy gets a few rhymes in, as does Apsci's Filipino-Australian MC and former opera singer Dana Diaz-Tutaan. Melbourne-based Eritrean duo Diafrix are also included, with Sydney-based Tanzanian producer and MC Mr. Zux keeping them company as representatives of African-Australian hip hop.

A year later Maya joined forced with MC Trey, Mr. Zux and Austrian-Australian DJ Nick Toth, to form Foreign Heights, a name she devised while flying over Australia in an aeroplane, and produced "It Goes On", a single and video clip. The group's name draws attention to its multicultural origins and the continuing stigmatisation of non-Anglo-Australians as "foreign". But rather than pursuing any political thread, the group's lyrics tended to focus on the everyday experiences of performing, travelling, touring and going to clubs, as well as Trey's experiences of motherhood which inform the track "La-La", about an unemployed single mother.

Toth, the well-travelled son of a diplomat and a hip hop, reggae and R&B devotee who had migrated to Australia in 1995 after DJing in Austria in the Vienna-based crew Yoo-Baa Trieb, who released an album in 1994, had been the DJ for seminal 1990s Sydney hip hop group MetaBass’N’Breath, which featured Morganics and US MC Elf Transporter, among others. Toth had previously released a double CD mixtape, "Gimme Some More!" which he toured with Lyrics Born and Pigeon John in 2006, and ensured that the beats were tight, fast and danceable, if a bit on the spare side at times. [14]

Trey and Maya exchanged verses with great fluidity and ease, having worked together off and on since 1998 prior to forming this hip hop "supergroup". They were joined by Toronto femcee Eternia on "Messin' With My Flow", about the bad experiences of performing with bad sound systems, and a number of the tracks were self-reflexive. "Mean What We Mean" showcases Kween G of the Belizean-Ugandan-Australian duo KillaQueenz, along with MC Que. There is a distinctively female flavour to the album in tracks such as "Oh … We Are About to Start", a hilarious account of a cat fight, attempted pick-ups and other shenanigans in a club in the early hours of the morning ("Guys in there trying to chat you up / But you can smell it on their breath that they just threw up!").

The second single from the album, "Get Yours", received an ARIA award nomination in 2007. Foreign Heights were featured preparing their album in the documentary film about Australian hip hop, "Words from the City", which was released in 2007, and also featured Koolism, Perth-based multicultural crew Downsyde, and Melbourne-based TZU, featuring Pakistan-Australian DJ Paso Bionic, and Eurasian 2nd generation MC Joelistics, who released a solo album, "Voyager", in 2011.

In 2008 Hau took over from Maya Jupiter as the host of Triple J's weekly "Hip Hop Show", and she relocated to Los Angeles to further explore her Mexican heritage. She transformed her image in the process, sporting a multicoloured Aztec feather headdress in some photos, presenting a Frida Kahlo-like peasant image in others. For her 2010 self-titled, self-released album she joined forces with Quetzal Flores and Martha Gonzales, of bilingual Spanish-English Chicano jazz-rock band Quetzal from East Los Angeles, and Orange County pop-soul MC Aloe Blacc, the latter of whom she supported on a US and European tour in 2011. Quetzal specialises in Son Jarocho, traditional music from Veracruz in Southern Mexico. The result was a rich tapestry of musical textures, combining hip hop with traditional Mexican music. Flores plays jarana jarocha, a guitar-shaped, ukelele-like stringed instrument, requinto jarocho, a four-stringed son guitar, bajo sexto, a twelve-string norteño bass acoustic guitar, and electric guitar. There is a Latin American harp solo on "Madre Del Amor", to which Gonzales contributes Spanish vocals, cajon (wooden drum), tarima (cedar dance platform), itotole (medium drum) and shekere (African gourd shaker with beads). Jarana, and a violin, cello and upright bass round off the mix. Aloe Blacc contributes a mariachi-like trumpet on the final track.

On the opening track, "I Am", zapateado, the sound of the percussive footwork of Mexican Indian dancing, is part of the mix, along with harp and pandeiro, a hand frame drum, and a Brazilian caxixi basket hand rattle filled with seeds. Maya introduces herself, "I am a magical mystical manifestation of life / A professional powerful woman grabbing the mic", poetically identifying herself over a high-energy rhythm and chorus. "No More" has a forceful rock guitar doubling a rap-tirade against poverty, violence, injustice and corporate exploitation and "generations of oppressors", exhorting her audience to "put up your fists" for freedom and the education of children. "Mujeres" has a requinto duet driving over atmospheric background chatter, "El Secreto" mobilises a slow flamenco-like dance beat under Martinez' and Blacc's vocals and a rap about the love of grandparents, with violin prominent. "Rico" contains a steel pan, and is a Caribbean-styled dance track about the lure of money, with Blacc's soul vocals predominating, "Crazy" has whispered vocals, and Maya plays tarima, along with with marimbol, a wooden box with a hole with metal strips, and a pandeiro. "Furacao" is a multiple percussion solo with surdo, a large Brazilian bass drum. "Phenomenal" is the single from the album, another self-identifying track with snippets of Spanish along with harp, requinto and tabla, "Free Again" is a rapid-fire rap about the desire for freedom with chorus by Blacc and polyrhythmic percussion. "Like Water" ("Under the Bridge") is a a sombre reflection on the passage of time in a relationship between a violent, dominating man and a young woman trying to break free, while "Canta" brings Martinez's Spanish vocals back for a rap about identity, migration, second class citizenship and the importance of family. The album is saturated in Mexican music, and sees Maya Jupiter exploring the Mexican side of her transmigrant identity in considerable depth.

In May 2011 Maya returned to Australia for a national tour as part of the "Line" – a federal government anti-violence and pro respect campaign – in tandem with Melbourne MC Pez and his collaborator 360. Now in her early thirties, she has matured into a performer who mixes bilingual hip hop, R&B, soul and world music somewhat in the manner of Mexican-American singer Lila Downs.

Koolism, MC Trey, Maya Jupiter, Foreign Heights, and numerous other MCs, crews and DJs in Australia are demonstrating that the in-betweenness of second generation transmigrants is strongly represented through Australian hip hop, a musical and subcultural genre which enables youth from diverse cultural backgrounds to access and express important aspects of their cultural heritage and identify themselves as "transborder citizens" in the process. In a nation where Australian citizenship is still widely regarded as a default version of Anglo-Australian identity, through musical careers in some cases spanning almost twenty years, they are re-defining both hip hop as a multicultural form of expression and their own alternative, subcultural citizenship.


Note: All quotations from MC Trey and Maya Jupiter are from interviews with the author. Edited and updated version of the essay "2nd Generation Migrant Expression in Australian Hip-hop" by Tony Mitchell as published on the website of "Local Noise", a project based at the University of Technology, Sydney, which focuses on Australian hip hop in its different cultural, societal and educational contexts. Click here to read the original full text version of the essay.


Endnotes:

[1] [1996] cited in: Melissa Butcher/Mandy Thomas: "Situating Youth Cultures". In: Melissa Butcher/Mandy Thomas (eds.): Ingenious: Emerging Youth Cultures in Urban Australia. Melbourne: Pluto Press 2003.

[2] Nina Schiller/Georges Eugene Fouron: Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long-Distance Nationalism and the Search for Home. Durham: Duke University Press 2001.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Dale Harrison: "Wagging Tongues: Sonic Allsorts Compilation: Interview with Brendan Palmer". In: Cyclic Defrost, No. 6, 2003.

[6] See also Tony Mitchell: "Australian Hip-hop as a Subculture". In: Youth Studies Australia, Vol. 22, No. 2, June 2003, 40–47.

[7] "Blue Notes", 2000

[8] Adam Stenlake: "Koolism: Random Thoughts". In: "Stealth", Vol. 2, No. 9, 2004, 54–57.

[9] ibid.

[10] Sickbuoy: "Koolism – The 'Umu", IntheMix, 2010. http://www.inthemix.com.au/music/47758/Koolism_The_Umu.

[11] Tania Kopytko: "Breakdance as an Identity Marker in New Zealand". In: Yearbook for Traditional Music, No. vxviii., 1986, 20–28.

[12] Anonymous: "The Hip-Hop Journo". In: The Fiji Times, January 11, 2009. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=111389

[13] See Rebecca Caines: "Giving Back Time: Improvisation in Australian Hip-Hop Pedagogy and Performance". In: Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2010. http://www.criticalimprov.com/article/viewArticle/1264/1932

[14] Sapphire CBD: "Nick Toth: Make You Boogie Down", IntheMix, 2005. http://www.inthemix.com.au/allabout/artist/4230/Nick_Toth
 

Discography:

Foreign Heights: "Foreign Heights", Sydney: Grindin’/Central Station Records 2007
Koolism: "Bedroom Shit", Canberra: self-produced cassette tape 1996
Koolism: "Blue Notes", Sydney: Parallax View/I-Raq Records Vinyl EP 2000

Koolism: "Koolism", Sydney: Track Records Cassette 1997
Koolism: "Koolism Part 1", Sydney: Parallax View/I-Raq Records 2002
Koolism: "Part 3: Random Thoughts", Sydney: Invada Records 2004
Koolism: "New Old Ground", Sydney: Invada Records, 2006
Koolism: "The 'Umu", Sydney: Invada Records 2010
Maya Jupiter: "The Artless/Ordinary Night", Sydney: Mother Tongues 2001
Maya Jupiter: "Funny Luck/Move", Sydney: Mother Tongues 2003
Maya Jupiter: "Today", Sydney: Mother Tongues 2004
Maya Jupiter: "Maya Jupiter", Los Angeles: self-released 2010
MC Trey w/DJ Bonez: "Projectiles", Sydney: self-released cassette tape 1997
MC Trey: "Daily Affirmations", Sydney: Tapastry Toons/Mother Tongues 2000
MC Trey: "Tapastry Toons", Sydney: Tapastry Toons/Shock Records 2003
Various: "Sonic Allsorts", Sydney: SBS Radio/Cyclic Defrost, 2003
Various: "The Hip Hop Show", Sydney: ABC/Warner Music 2005


Documentary Films:

Colleen Hughson and Mary Quinsacara: "All the Ladies", Hughson Gyrl Productions (video) 2003
Paul Fenech: "Basic Equipment", Livewire Film & TV Equipment (video) 1997
Natasha Gadd/Rhys Graham: "Words from the City", Film Camp Pty Ltd (DVD) 2007