Sunday, January 31, 2010

Famous Filipinos: of the Back Eyed Peas

The quartet The Black Eyed Peas is certain to gather Grammy awards and even more following this year. Band member,, who has long been a hit in the Philippines and a voice for Philippine tourism, is sure to bring more attention to his country of origin.

The Black Eyed Peas quartet has taken the music world by storm since their inception in 1995.  Formed by best friends, and who met at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, the group recorded hit after hit starting with the album, Behind the Front. "Where Is the Love" from the album Elephunk was on top of the billboards in the US, UK and Australia for weeks on end. Their music video, Yes, We Can, shot in black and white, taken entirely from a Barack Obama speech and performed with different celebrities illustrates the group's keen appreciation for American culture in their music.

The quartet is a crew of unlikely musicians who are also very good friends and each other's best support.  African American, (William James Adams, Jr.,)official spokesperson, plays instruments and sings. Filipino American (Allan Pineda Lindo) also plays clavinet and strings.  Taboo, (Jaime Luis Gonzales) Mexican and Native American vocalist worked in the Disneyland clean up staff before joining the group, and Fergie (Stacy Ferguson,) child actor and singer overcame a battle with addiction to resume her singing career. was born in Sapang Bato, Pampanga, Philippines.  His father, an African American service man, abandoned the family and young Lindo had to work to help his mother support the family.  An American, Joe Ben Hudgens, provided financial sponsorship through the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, a foundation which helps disadvantaged Amerasian children.  Hudgens later sponsored Apl to immigrate to the US. Apl was 14.  This tale of his life and the Filipino plight is featured in The Apl Song video (Elephunk album 2003,) recorded in rap in Tagalog and English, incorporating Filipino instruments. Bebot (Tagalog colloquial for hot chick) video recorded in the 2005 album Monkey Business, is a rap in Tagalog and has generation one and two versions. Filmed in LA with Filipino Americans and Black Eyed Peas, the song video provides a slice of Filipino life which will resonate with Filipino youth. Some criticize the video for oversexualizing the Filipino woman. It has, nonetheless, been a hit in the Philippines.

Apl's pride in his Filipino heritage is obvious in the Filipino rap included in  Black Eyed Peas albums where he has introduced the Filipino sound.  Like the other members of the group who are equally successful in their own right with their individual albums, Apl has projects with Filipino artists in the works. His website features his sound which he calls Jeepney Music, (perhaps taken from his childhood days of taking hour jeepney rides to get to school.)  The Black Eyed Peas have made a video "Take Me to the Philippines" with the Philippine tourism board. Despite his tremendous success, Apl seems grounded in his Filipino roots and works hard to bring the Philippines with him into the spotlight.  Watch Apl perform with the Black Eyed Peas at the Grammys.

(Note: I suggest Filipinos watch the entire video.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Dancing Inmates of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center Hit the Big Time

My sisters in the Philippines turned me on to the dancing inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center and I have been following them on You Tube for sometime. They have now hit the big time with a Sony DVD of Michael Jackson's This Is It.

Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) is a maximum security prison in the province of Cebu in the Philippines. The inmates include criminals convicted of violent crimes like murder, rape and drug trafficking. Some are serving multiple life terms.Yes, they, too, dance among the 1500 strong cast. Some are lead dancers.

The inmate dance troupe is the brain child of Byron F. Garcia, security consultant and prison official, who was inspired by Mozart music streaming in the prison yard in the movie Shawshank Redemption. Starting with yard exercises set to pop music, the activity progressed to full dance routines. The dance group came to international attention when their You Tube production of The Thriller by Michael Jackson uploaded in July 2007 immediately moved to the 5th spot in Time Magazines Most Popular Viral Video by December 2007. CPRDC dancers in their orange jumpsuits have performed before many Philippine dignitaries including the Catholic Archbishop and the Cebu provincial Governor. They perform for visitors on certain weekends and have participated in local festivals including the 438th Founding Day of Cebu. Within hours of Michael Jackson's passing, the inmates put together a tribute dance video of his songs, rehearsing for hours, pausing only for meals.

CPDRC dancing inmates have been the subject of the British documentary, Murderers on the Dance Floor aired in 2008 and CNN news. Japanese and Korean singers have performed with the inmates and made videos to air in their countries.

The dance project has been widely received by both inmates and staff. In 2007, the inmates were in included in the provincial employee capital bonus each inmate receiving 1000.00 pesos ($20-22.00) as incentive for their hard work.

The program is not without its detractors. Some criticize the program as cruel and cite torture of prisoners who refuse to participate. Program founder Byron Garcia responded to critics in one of the videos "There are sick people who think that dancing is a form of cruel punishment! Since when was dancing categorized as punishment? My fellow citizens of the world, cruel and violent forms of punishment are a thing of the past. If we make jails a living hell for these inmates , then, we might just be sending out devils once they are released and re-integrated to society. To all "non-believers" of humane treatment of prisoners, and to all haters of our non-violent approach to rehabilitation, all I can say is ...get a life!"

Byron Garcia may be on to something very significant here. The logistics of having 1500 hardened inmates, many with nothing to look forward to, to set aside gang affiliations and personal differences,work towards a common goal and step as one to the beat of a common rhythm; that boggles the mind. Members of the US Legislature, Executive and Judicial branch, pay attention. There may be a lesson for all here. I have great hope for you.

Wherever you stand in the controversy, watch these men and women. They are awesome dancers and in some ironic way, by their example they may also teach us how to work for a common goal.

Watch by clicking on highlighted phrases like this  You Tube external link.

Published on 1/26/2010 at:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I Wish All a Blessed New year

As I watched the Times Square ball come down to mark the New Year, events of the past year and the past decade came to mind. With it came my hope and prayers for a blessed year for all.

The decade was both a time of tragedy and a time of new beginnings.  We suffered tragedies both nature and man made as we witnessed the devastation of tsunami, earthquakes, typhoons and flooding and the ravages of man in 911 and the economic meltdown.  US soldiers have been fighting on two fronts. The auto industry, once an American symbol of promise and affluence came tumbling down along with industries and businesses that heavily depended on them.  Families lost their homes first in a wave of the subprime mortgage fiasco and a subsequent wave of employment lost. Men, women and children continue to die of hunger somewhere in the world. Michael Jackson's music genius is no more.

In the same decade, man achieved great things.  The US elected its first Black President. It saw acts of unprecedented heroism in 911 and events such as seasoned pilots saving passengers from going into the Hudson River.  Outpouring of gift giving followed the tsunami while billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet pledged to spend their billions in philanthropy to improve the human condition.  Web technology grew by leaps and bounds allowing families to connect with each other continents away on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Skype. Mobile technology, portable readers, and Iphones promise more applications to come. Man is developing awareness of the earth as a living being requiring nurture, respect and respite. Athletes achieved unprecedented personal bests even as some fell from grace. Filipino boxer, Manny Pacquiao, won unprecedented titles in different weight classes while Michael Phelps broke 37 swimming records and won eight Olympic medals. Michael Vick and Tiger Woods fell from grace with their fans. US legislators passed a health care bill.

It was the worst of times.  It was the best of times. The decade saw the worst and the best of man.

Just as each day is a new day, each year is a new beginning.  For my part, I hope to live a gentler, kinder, loving life with gratitude for all that is given.  For everyone, I wish each new day to be a blessed day filled with grace.


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