3 Ecstatic Nights of African Virtuosos: Salif Keita, Noura Mint Seymali, African Guitar Summit


by Tom Nguyen

This past month, we were treated to not one, not two, but THREE nights in a row of world-class musicianship from Africa and her diaspora! In recent years, there have been a lot of international acts cancelled at the last minute due to visa issues, especially from Africa. In this even tougher climate of strict travel bans affecting many musicians, like at the recent SXSW festival, it just seems incredibly fortuitous to have so much great African talent visiting Southern California in one week: Salif Keita at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, Noura Mint Seymali at Caltech‘s Beckman Auditorium in Pasadena, and African Guitar Summit at the Aratani Theatre as part of the annual Aratani World Series in Little Tokyo.

First up was a relaxing road trip south to see legendary Salif Keita. He only had this show and another in San Francisco announced, with a pending Los Angeles date that never materialized. We left Los Angeles in the afternoon to make sure we avoided rush hour traffic for the hour and a half drive down to the Belly Up Tavern and let me tell you, it was well worth it!

It was my first time at the Belly Up, a live music institution in San Diego county since 1974! Unassuming on the outside, and gorgeous the moment you step in, its half moon shaped high ceiling recalls its origins as a US Navy prefabricated building during World War 2. From the friendly staff, to its polished wood bars, floors and stage, to its walls adorned with art work of generations of musicians who’ve played, there is a welcoming and unpretentious vibe here as well as an aura of storied musical history in this intimate venue. DJ Glenn Red, of Afro Funke and La Junta, who I carpooled with, recalled his early formative years in the 90s as a music lover and concert goer, seeing Erykah Badu and many others there, before they became big stars.

The King Salif Keita is here!!! @bellyuptavern ???

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Top 10 Picks: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2016

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by Tom Nguyen

The 32nd annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) opens Thursday, April 21, with the world premiere of “The Tiger Hunter”, at Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo, and screens a diverse array of 140 films (34 features and 106 short films) through Thursday, April 28, when it closes with “Pali Road”, at Directors Guild of America.

Here are the Top 10 films I’m looking forward to seeing (in order of appearance at the festival): Continue Reading →

Twilight in the Garden: Little Tokyo Summer Concerts every Sunday in July at JACCC!

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by Tom Nguyen

If you’ve been to Little Tokyo lately, you’ve no doubt noticed the gleaming new buildings, construction and cranes on San Pedro St. and 2nd St. Easily overlooked just across the street, some steps away is the sprawling, open courtyard of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) and its Aratani Theater. The JACCC has hosted so many great recent events to showcase our diverse communities, like Fandango Obon, the fusion of Japanese, Mexican and African traditional music and dance and the Aratani World Series which drew thousands to an eclectic series of world music and dance performances the past 6 months. Now, they are doing another first: Opening up their beautiful James Irvine Japanese Garden to Twilight in the Garden: Little Tokyo Concert Series! 4 intimate, outdoor Sunday concerts in July, featuring Quartetto Fantastico, Buyepongo, Ethio Cali and Shafiq Husayn & Dove Society along with DubLab DJs! In addition to an amazing lineup of LA’s finest live music, there will be food and special curated summer drinks by Far Bar. This first-time series featuring an eclectic lineup of some of the best musical talent in LA playing in an intimate garden will be a unique musical experience and perfect way to wrap up your summer weekends in July!

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Rebels, Dissenters, and Visionaries…The People’s Voice is finally heard!

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by Cindy Ly

Rebels, dissenters, and visionaries; that’s who is represented in the 10th Anniversary Edition of Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s Voices of a People’s History of the United States, an anthology book series that documents, through primary resources, speeches, writings, poems, and songs the voices of those often unheard; the every day heroes who have fought —or are still fighting— for social justice.

In front of a packed house, the 10th year anniversary performance took place in Los Angeles at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. Hosting duties were up to Mr. Arnove as he narrated and introduced each performance, all of them executed by a start-studded cast of activists who moonlight as actors and musicians when they’re not busy inciting revolutions.

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Memorial for Yuri Kochiyama: Celebration of a Powerful Life devoted to Social Justice

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by Katie Smyser

August 31st, 2014: A sunny and quiet afternoon. Outside the Japanese American Cultural Community Center in Little Tokyo, a crowd of all kinds began to gather and file into the Aratani Theater. Elderly Japanese Americans dressed in their Sunday best walked through doors held open for them by young Black student activists sporting ‘End Racism’ t-shirts. To a casual observer, it might have been an odd sight. But in fact, the extremely diverse crowd of all ages was a perfect testament to the legacy of the powerful soul everyone had gathered to honor: Japanese American radical human rights activist, Yuri Kochiyama.

Inside the packed theater, a photo montage projected images from an incredible life: snapshots of a young Yuri in her Japanese American family home in San Pedro; portraits of Yuri and her twin brother in their US Army and War Medic uniforms; Yuri and her husband Bill Kochiyama smiling over their adorable brood of six children, packed in their Harlem apartment. But interspersed among the familial pictures were photos of another kind: Yuri leading civil rights marches through New York city streets; Yuri and Mutulu Shakur on a stage before a crowd of protesters; Yuri in old age, wheelchair adorned with ‘Free Mumia’ stickers and surrounded by student activists. Truly, this was a human spirit who had touched countless lives in very real, powerful ways. This was a person whose passion and love had ignited more of the same in all whom she met. One needed only to look at the gathered crowd to see living proof of a woman who reached across all boundaries of race, class, and nationality to foster activism and a lasting will to change the world for the better.

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