Here and Now, Everything Everywhere All at Once, Six Questions for Aireene Espiritu, R. Chong (Chinese Laundries), Chinatown Art Brigade, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Aki Kumar & Mariachi Mestizo.
HERE AND NOW
The ongoing auto-parts supply chain issue continues (probably until the end of July), so my “here and now” life without a car revolves around home and areas I can walk to, like the nearby downtown area. Which is not bad, really; there’s plenty of things to do downtown to occupy my interest.
I recently saw the two “Daniels” film, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and loved the chaotic bombast and surreal bizarreness of it, how it both fractured and focused the tensions of the Wang family. And, of course, I loved that some of my favorite actors starred, including Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis.
My own family and my multi-tasking mother came to mind: she worked for many years in a hospital laundry and tried to offset the drudgery of that job with her involvement in community organizations and an active social life. She also designed and sewed Filipino-style formal gowns as a “side” job, and I remember the sound of her Singer sewing machine going on into the wee hours of the night as she struggled to meet deadlines. Our life then seemed fun, but also pretty chaotic, and I’ll probably never know the full reality of what my mom had to go through to keep us living up to the middle-class standard that she wanted.
After mom died, before moving away from my hometown, I dug up one of her “China Doll” rosebushes (she was an avid gardener) and replanted it in a pot. I take it with me to whatever place I happen to call home. Right now, the bush is blooming like gangbusters:
Thanks to my partner, a few other plants are growing happily on our little brick patio. Here are two, one of them with a little visitor:
I met hardworking singer/songwriter Aireene Espiritu when the Salinas Chinatown nonprofit I then co-chaired hired her for a fundraising gig with her band of amazing musicians, The Itch. It was a soulful, fun, and energetic concert, and I thought it would be great to feature her on the Outpost:
SIX QUESTIONS FOR AIREENE ESPIRITU
1. Where did you grow up and how did that (or any other significant experience) influence your art?
I grew up in various places, born in the Philippines and moved to the United States when I was 10 years old. We first lived in New Jersey, then New York and I eventually moved to California to live with my aunt, uncle, and their kids at 14 years old. When my family first moved to New Jersey from the Philippines in 1980, we were only one of two Filipino families in a mostly white neighborhood. The kids in school were not so familiar with the Philippines and were always asking where I was from. Also, throughout my life I’ve encountered situations where I’ve felt I was judged based on being an Asian American immigrant woman, stereotyped and packaged. It’s been my ongoing task to break assumptions or at least get people to take pause and turn the knob of judgment down and be open-minded. All my experiences brought me to my current project, A Color-Coded Symphony, whose aim is to encourage and nurture curiosity towards cultures by connecting our ethnic origins to rhythms and music worldwide.
Part of a Color-Coded Symphony performance featuring Manesh Judge on tabla:
2. What’s your creative process like?
As a singer-songwriter, I get most of my ideas whether words, lyrics or melodies while I’m driving somewhere or during my walks, generally speaking when there’s movement involved, like if I’m moving I’m opening a channel for the muse to connect with me. The tricky part is to capture those ideas right away or they can disappear in an instant! So when they come, I usually have to grab my phone and record it right away or I always have pen and paper with me for that purpose. There were a number of times when I tell myself I can remember that catchy phrase or melody and then a few minutes later I’ve completely lost it.
Aireene Espiritu singing “Are you Genuine” at a Little Village Foundation benefit:
3. What puts a damper on your creativity? What do you do—if anything—to remedy that?
Too much time on the computer, doing the administrative part of music such as booking shows, promoting events, updating websites, accounting, etc. It takes up so much time since it’s running a small business with just one person on staff, me! I try to play music first thing in the morning so I can make sure I fulfill what I love to do. Sometimes it doesn’t work because I wake up with a lot of to-do’s and feel like I need to address those first. I try to make time for walks or hikes which helps me clear my mind. Meditating helps, too.
4. Does age [any age] factor into your creative process, and if yes, how?
When you mention “age” I immediately think of having wisdom as we age and with that comes life lessons that can be translated into songs.
5. What are you working on, currently, and what’s inspiring it?
I’m working on the radio part of the Color-Coded Symphony Project which are monthly interviews and songs with artists. It currently airs Thursdays 6-7pm PST on KTLC Free Radio, thelostchurch.org/radio, a non-profit venue based in San Francisco. We are on our 6th episode. For July we will feature Manesh Judge where he talks about music of the tabla, from North Indian Classical to Western folk, electronica and more. Eventually, I’d like to transfer them to a podcast where listeners can access all episodes anytime.
Aireene introduces the Color-Coded Symphony musicians:
The second project is a recording of 5 of 16 songs I wrote during the first year of the pandemic in 2020 as part of the Our Song + Your 10 Words song series. The song series is where I asked the streaming audience from my weekly show to give me a word and I would take the first 10 words to write a new song to the debut at the next show. A few were reflective of historical events that year such as Newsom declaring shelter-in-place, George Floyd, the California wildfires.
I received a 2022 Seed Commissions grant from the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival to help fund the EP. I’m hoping to have it released by this Fall.
6. What’s your favorite imperfection?
I don’t know which is my favorite, and this may sound corny, but I do know that what’s perfect to me are the imperfections in each object and in each of us.
Aireene Espiritu is a singer/songwriter playing mostly original songs accompanied by Latin/African rhythms, folk, bluegrass pickings and inspirations from gospel music - a mix of stompin', swayin', and timeless Americana.
She was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States at 10 years old, growing up in the third culture: the old country, the new country and a blend of both worlds. Mainly influenced by listening to Alan Lomax's field recordings from the South and growing up listening to her uncles' Filipino folk guitar fingerpicking, her music is reminiscent of front porch storytelling, of ghosts and the living, times of laughter and tears. She tours solo as well as with her band as Aireene & The Itch.
A trailer for the film “Everything Everywhere All at Once” edited by Voordeel and focusing on the theme of “Laundry and Taxes” (Spoilers):
Aireene Espiritu’s fifth album, “Back Where I Belong” (2016), pays tribute to the great rhythm and blues artist Sugar Pie DeSanto along with favorite American and Filipino folk songs produced produced by Little Village Foundation, a non-profit label founded by venerable blues keyboardist Jim Pugh. The album has received positive recognition and reviews from KQED's The California Report, San Francisco Chronicle, Living Blues and No Depression magazines. 4.5 out of 5 stars review All About Jazz.
Sugar Pie DeSanto, “Baby What You Want Me to Do”:
Sugar Pie on her roots in the Philippines, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, and her music:
I love Aireene Espiritu’s Our Song + Your 10 Words series, partly because it’s rule-based art (like OuMuPo), which I’ve mentioned before. Here’s Aireene again, singing acapella a song generated by 10 words received from her listeners:
Aki Kumar came to the U.S. to be a software engineer; he ended up being a blues, Bollywood, and boogie-woogie singer: Here he is singing “Eena Meena Deeka” (Kishore Kumar) with Mariachi Mestizo and friends (many of whom perform with Aireene Espiritu in Color-Coded Symphony):
I just realized that this issue must hold my record for the most videos I’ve ever presented in a newsletter! Thanks so much for subscribing to and/or reading and listening to Eulipion Outpost. See you next Saturday!
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