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Arts and Entertainment: An Interview with Nomi from Power Struggle | The Post Racial Times

Arts and Entertainment: An Interview with Nomi from Power Struggle

With the release of his new album, “In Your Hands“, Nomi from the hip hop group, Power Struggle sits down with PRT to talk about music, organizing, identity and stealing your girlfriend. 

                                                                                                          Photo by: Leo Docuyanan

Explain who you are and what you do.

My name is Mario Demira. My pseudonym or artist name is Nomi. I’m in a group called Power Struggle. We are a hip hop group that’s been labeled as a progressive, political, socially conscious hip hop group, if you want to label us. By day, I work at the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco as a worker’s rights advocate and also I organize migrant workers in the Filipino community. Yeah. 

What came first, the work or the music?

The music. I’ve been rapping since I was in the 9th grade. I started writing songs by the time I was 18. I was a full time musician in my early 20s. Did the touring circuit and was in the independent label scene. So definitely the music.

Was your music always socially conscious?

I think there were levels of it. At first I don’t think everyone comes out with a sharp analysis on life, on the world or on politics but I always questioned things, like authority, and inserted it into my music. And you know, it’s a process of development and there’s definitely phases where I just liked to talk shit, brag, and talk about how awesome I was —

Was?

Or I am (laughs). Or how I could take your girlfriend ’cause she didn’t like you anymore, when she heard me rap. You know, immature things like that. Or, you know, how I was tough. And then I went through a period of when I was melodramatic and melancholy, depressed and just wanted to be gray, gray all the time (laughs).

Why do you think it’s important to document and expose yourself as an artist?

I think it’s good for the individual. For the artist it’s therapeutic, cathartic. But I don’t know for the wider range of listeners if it makes for good music all the time. Particular listeners like it. I remember people would joke around a lot about our first album “Arson at the Petting Factory” as being this dark, avant garde, rock-ish album, which it was, with a lot of personal stuff, a lot of internal struggles and just going through moving to the Bay Area, not really knowing anybody, trying to get my bearings and going through that kind of experience. And a lot of people were like, to simplify it, it was a really emo album. And it kinda is. There were kids out there that really liked it. I remember when I was touring, I’d play in weird little towns here and there and there would be kids that would come out to the shows and really liked the album. And when the music started to transition when I got into community work and organizing, the music started to have more political messages and themes. I got this long message on Myspace from a kid in Nevada and he was so sad. He was supportive and said, “I think it’s positive, what you’re talking about now but there’s a lot of people out here that really appreciate your other work, it’s touched us and I think you should bring it back.” You know, and he was probably some emo kid and there were some kids that liked it and it probably benefited them but sometimes when I listen to that music, I really don’t like it anymore.

It’s not you anymore.

Yeah, yup. Yes. People change, we mature and we sometimes see things through a bigger lens and I think that’s what was important for me. You know, it’s changing. Even now, the way Power Struggle music has been within the last 3 or 4 years has a lot of the same themes.  The content is similar but the sound is constantly changing. I don’t want to stay the same. I want to continue to evolve in weird directions. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I don’t want to make super popular music. And you know, I’d love to be famous and hit those heights but in reality I don’t really like that much attention and really want to just keep making music that I enjoy making. And so it’s going to be weird to some people. It’s not going to be really poppy.

Can’t please everyone.

Don’t want to.

You have a new album out. Tell us about it.

We have a new album on Beatrock Music. It’s called “In Your Hands.” Produced by DJ ET from Long Beach and Fatgums from LA. And there are guest appearances on the production tip by ESTA, also Rachel Lastimosa has played on some of the tracks and it’s a really dope album. Honestly, I used to hate listening to my own shit. I’d be around and people would play Power Struggle and I’d be really self conscious and say, “Ugh, turn it off,” or “change it.” It wasn’t until “Remittances” , with all the groups I’ve been a part of I’ve made close to 8 albums, and it wasn’t until this last album that I was like, “This is a solid piece of work that I can stand behind and I actually like listening to.” “In Your Hands” I feel is the same way and even better than “Remittances”. It’s more focused, tighter and more unique. Even Fatgums said since the four years we’ve released “Remittances”, we’ve just grown so much technically . We’ve learned new tricks, new styles. It’s just really concise. It’s not very long. It’s an 11 track album. The sound is just really influenced by rock. DJ ET and I are really big hip-hop heads, that’s our main music but we also have an affinity for multiple genres of rock. And I think that’s one thing we’ve really connected on. We would always send each other albums that would just come out or ask each other about rock albums from the past, so we have that similar taste. When he would send me beats, he would take samples from rock groups, it inspired me. On that tip, I think it’s really interesting. The title “In Your Hands” has 2 meanings. One meaning is, it’s up to you, fate is in your hands to decide how you want to live your life, how you want to construct your world or the world. And it’s also a kind of love message. When you give yourself to someone or something you’re dedicating yourself to someone or something, you’re placing yourself in their hands. So the songs are seemingly love songs but love as a bigger concept than romantic or sexual love, love as a political love, community love, love in camaraderie or solidarity. And those are heavy themes in the album. Even though the album cover is a big heart, it’s about those different aspects of love, not just the traditional Valentine’s day love.

Are you working on anything else?

I also finished a really short EP, I think about 6 songs, with Digital Martyrs, that was done about a year ago. I’ve been focusing on “In Your Hands” this past year that I kind of just put that on the side. There are a lot of good songs on there, one of which we used on “In Your Hands” . I’ve always wanted to put something out with Digital Martyrs, they’re a dope group from the East Bay. We’re going to do an online release to follow up.

I mentioned we released this album with rock influence, I want to work with producers that are very different. I want to get some beats that are bangers. Completely different from the set of beats that I’ve worked with in the last year.

Are you basically putting an ad out right now?

Yeah! (enthusiastic) Holla at me.

You talked about Arson being rock and this latest release being rock but they’re completely different.

Really different in tone. The Arson album was really dark and brooding, angsty and angry. And also, the set of samples were coming from punk music. DJ Detox, when we first moved here in 2004, we were living in the East Bay, where there was a really rich punk and rock scene. He was digging at a lot of thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets and he was finding a lot of interesting samples. The difference between that sound and “In Your Hands” is that the samples are from a lot of contemporary sub-rock, sub-pop groups, a lot of current indie rock groups that are out right now.

Is that something you actually want me to disclose?

I don’t care. (laughs) I mean, you know if we were to get ceased and desisted, that means that we’re making waves and a lot of people are listening, which is good. Like in hip-hop, you haven’t made it until you get a sample lawsuit, crossing fingers.

Your music talks about a lot of social justice issues, workers rights, a lot about the Philippines too. Aside from being Filipino, what compels you to write about these stories?

I recognize that I’ve had the privilege to travel back and forth {to the Philippines} a lot so physically, the Philippines is very relevant in my life. I go back almost every year. My parents live there. I go back and do political and community work there so I’m very connected and so the stories and experiences I have there, I really cherish and I bring back. And I learn about the conditions in the Philippines that brought me to America, my family to America, and other Filipinos to America; the economic degradation, the corrupt politics, et cetera. And so I recognize that those are important things to talk about, to share and educate people on. But I understand for some people, like the broader community, doesn’t know anything about the Philippines. And the same goes for Filipino-Americans as well. They may identify more with being American, which is fine. I feel it’s my duty to share these stories, share this analysis and {listeners} don’t have to agree with me but hopefully they’ll be aware that this alternative perspective exists. And then there’s the fact that we are Filipinos in America, that no matter what generation we are, we’re still connected to the Philippines. We’re still a part of that migratory experience, that as a community we still have to understand the relationship that we have with the country, beyond our personal and family ties, but the political aspects between the U.S. and the Philippines, historically and contemporary, through government, through past events, through treaties, et cetera. I think that people have to understand that the Philippines is still very connected to the U.S. And it’s people. I really think it’s important to share those stories and that’s why I write about it.

You say you don’t believe in post racial times.

No, not at all.

Why do you think people believe in it?

People believe that because they see tokenism in the super structure, meaning the system. The best example is people see a black president, people see more people of color, minorities and women in different positions of power and they think that, “okay, well that means groups are no longer excluded from certain things. Now we all have access.” I think that’s incorrect and a tokenism perspective to think that just ’cause you see a person who looks like you, in this position, that everything’s all good. I think the more intelligent thing to do is to analyze what that person is actually doing. To see does this system actually work and benefit the majority of people or does it still marginalize a great deal of people. I think that’s more important than being like, “Hey, we have a Latino mayor in L.A. Now, everything’s going to be perfect. Woo!” Or, “We have a black president. Woo!” Or, “We have women presidents in the Philippines.” Which we have had two and they were both pretty bad, especially Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. That’s not equality, that’s not justice just because you have people that look like you in a position of power.

On one end, I think it’s important that we not focus so much on race. We have to also focus on class. In America, obviously being the melting pot of the world, race is a major issue in this country. Too often we, even progressive people of color, forget to have a class analysis on how things are. For me, I’ve met wealthier, upper middle class, people of color, that do well {for themselves} and have really bad politics and have really conservative values. I have more in common with trailer park white people, that are struggling to make a living, struggling to get by, struggling with rent, than I do with some masters degree, liberal, or conservative Filipino that is all about, “Lift yourself up by the boot straps.” I think the ongoing class and also the racial dynamics of our society need to be considered.

And on the most basic level, racism is still here. In San Francisco, one of the most so-called progressive cities in the country, I still hear and see racist comments and actions all the time. It’s a farce.

Class and race aren’t mutually exclusive. There’s a direct correlation to people of color being below poverty level or low income. You see the same thing in prisons. And these are the communities that are under served and not benefiting from the same level of education, health and protection compared to more affluent neighborhoods. It’s systemic. What would you say to someone who is inundated or overwhelmed by these issues?

Everything is a process. It takes steps. It’s up to the individual or group of people to decide and be decisive in how much they want to learn or know about something. I think that if people feel overwhelmed about what’s going on in the world, take it piece by piece. It’s about taking the time to analyze things and study them from the different perspectives that are out there. If you were to look at the prison population and see why the majority of those incarcerated are Latino and black, you have to look at what opportunities they have or don’t have in their communities and upbringing and see the disparity between that community and privileged communities.

Basically you’re saying that racism is institutionalized.

Oh yeah. Definitely. It’s institutionalized. Race, to me, is a product of class division. We live in a class based society. Racism is used to separate working groups. Instead of having a united group of workers that will fight to improve their working conditions, to maybe own their production, race is used to divide people, so that they could point the finger and say one group is more advanced than the other. One group has more privilege than the other. Racism is a product of classism.

What is race? Some people think that it’s this construct that we made up in our imaginations. Some get it mixed up with nationality. What are your thoughts on that?

I think race is man-made. Basically our ability to procreate means we’re all the same. We can switch our organs out and it doesn’t matter what race we are. It’s a man-made concept. But I think it’s also important to value culture. That’s the beauty of humanity, is the ability to experience and appreciate other cultures. That’s why we travel. That’s why we like to go on vacation, it’s to see different things and learn about them, be in new spaces. Humans are hungry, as dumb as it seems we are, we’re actually really hungry for knowledge and enlightenment and I think we get that from experiencing other cultures. Society constructs these concepts of race. They’re not an actual product of nature. You can take people from the Philippines, this is just an example, erase their memories and give them new names, and put them in Peru, they wouldn’t look any different from a native Peruvian. If this question is based on what we look like, people can look so similar. It’s the culture that makes us different.

That’s what defines us.

Yeah. I go to the Mission bro, sometimes, you know it’s crazy. This guy was telling me how to fix my car all in Spanish. (laughs) 

Well thank you for sitting down with PRT, Nomi.

Thank you.   

 

Power Struggle: In Your Hands Album Release Party

Friday April 18, 2014
@ Bindlestiff Studio
185 6th Street, San Francisco
Performances by Dregs One, Little Sister, and Power Struggle 
$12-15 (Sliding Scale) at the Door. All Ages.
Doors at 830, show starts at 9pm


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