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Unformatted text preview: Cultural Politics: The African American Connection in Asian American Jazz-based Music 1 Susan M. Asai Introduction The incipient period of Asian American jazz-based music is a compelling site for studying the African American influence on Asian American politics and culture more broadly in the 1970s and 1980s. The cultural politics of Asian American musician–composers on both the east and west coasts present a view of this Afro-Asian connection. In particular, Asian American jazz-based music in the 1970s and 1980s demonstrates the strong pull both politically and musi- cally of Black Nationalism and its attendant art form, Free Jazz, at a time when Asian Americans were beginning a process of reinventing themselves.The early music of Glenn Horiuchi and Mark Izu of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Asian Improv Arts Collective and New York musician–composer Fred Ho narrate the rise of a politicized music. All three artists, well known within the Asian Ameri- can music world, share a sociopolitical stance, a penchant for improvisation, and an approach that explores the nuances of traditional Asian music. The political viewpoints and performative practices of African American jazz musicians in the 1960s did initially inspire and shape Asian American poli- tics and creative music, but starting in the late 1970s into the 1980s a number of musician–composers began to chart new musical territory that embodied their own political and cultural consciousness. Asian Americans identified with jazz because it served as a collective voice of urban African American communi- ties, and it played an important role in the development of a Black aesthetic. The aesthetic revolution in Free Jazz, resulting from a sociopolitical shift in African American communities in the late 1950s and 1960s, proved particu- larly appealing (Kofsky 1970:137). Thus began the journey toward creating an Asian American jazz-based music that would express the shift of Asian Ameri- can communities toward social and political empowerment. © 2005 by the University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713-7819 88 Asian Music: Winter/Spring 2005 The Politics of Culture In her book Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (1996), Lisa Lowe is persuasive in identifying U.S. national culture as the dominant politi- cal force shaping American citizenry. 2 This premise reinforces Franz Fanon’s assertion that culture is linked to nation: ‘‘The nation is not only the condi- tion of culture, its fruitfulness, its continuous renewal, and its deepening. It is also a necessity’’ (Fanon, quoted in Palumbo-Liu 1999:307). Lowe (1996:2) defines the role of culture as not only a means for one to identify and con- nect to a ‘‘national collective,’’ but a site through which one reconciles one’s past history, and in the case of Asian Americans, ruptures the universals of that national collective. In the United States, a unified national culture serves to gloss over past inequities and to mold its citizens within a culturally plural-...
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