Tuesday, May 29, 2007

News Straits Times article: 'They shared children’s dreams'

A father's day special article written to recognise and show how family support can make such a difference in one's life. Joe Flizzow's father talks about his son and his chosen life path.

Source: New Straits Times (Online and Print)
by K.P. WARAN: They shared children’s dreams

"DAD! Can I stop schooling and become a singer?" This statement at the breakfast table is bound to make you drop your steaming cup of coffee on your lap and scream: "What! Are you crazy?"

All parents want the best for their children and that means the offspring have a limited choice — be a doctor, lawyer engineer or accountant. All other vocations fall by the wayside until the kids grow up and find that they have little choice but to grab the first job that comes their way.

Of course, there are some who want their children to become civil servants — as my grandfather used to quote a saying in India: "Even if you are clearing rubbish make sure it is a government job". Unfortunately, corporatisation has put paid to this ambition for some.

What we see in reality shows, with hopefuls fighting tooth and nail to win a singing competition so that they can carve out a career in the entertainment industry and make tonnes of money, is something most conservative Malaysian parents would not dream of for their children.

After all, in the swinging 1970s, did we not lug guitars, accordions, synthesisers and other paraphernalia to weddings and parties and make the audience tolerate our music, only to leave the instruments in the storeroom to gather dust upon realising that we need a "decent" job to put food on the table?So it was inspiring over the week to meet two dads who not only encouraged their children to become musicians but actually forked out money to get their careers going.

The common factor in the case of Haridas Pillai and Ishak Nengah is that they insisted that their boys fulfil one condition — get a decent education before they could go on stage and rock the world.

Haridas says he does not mind losing his identity.

"It is a small price to pay when people refer to me as Reshmonu’s father than Haridas," said the 60-year-old ex-flight engineer who is now flight operations adviser to Fly Asian Xpress.

He says Reshmonu always wanted to be a pilot.

"I was happy that he wanted to step into my shoes and dreamt of the day father and son would be sitting in the cockpit taking the DC 10 into the skies while chatting about what mum is cooking at home."

But Reshmonu’s astigmatism (a refractive error on the lens of the eyes) dashed that hope and his focus turned into becoming a sound engineer.

"I was in tears on his graduation day. I hugged him and thanked him for fulfilling my dream of earning a degree and soon enough realised it was the wrong choice of words.

"He led me to a chair, told me to sit down and said that since he had fulfilled my dream of getting a degree, it was time for him to fulfil his own dream — to cut an album."

He caught me at my most vulnerable moment. Since I was reeling with joy, I told him I would support his endeavour," he says as he points to his braided-haired son’s photograph.

Haridas reminisced of the days when he was a busker in Scotland to pay for his studies after his father died.

He knew that the road to glory in the entertainment world is paved with obstacles, hardship, trials, errors and one has to pay a huge price (including the ones involving currency notes) to become a successful artiste.

The first order of the day was to convert a room in the house into a sound-proof studio with instruments and equipment which Dad paid for. Preparations, writing the songs and recording, all with the help of friends, included burning the midnight oil.

After the songs were recorded, it was off to the United Kingdom to meet with Streaky of Soundmasters fame whose long list of collaborations include Depeche Mode, Sheryl Crow, Aaliyah and Britney Spears.

After some "softening" of the tracks, with the help of Streaky, it was time for the big launch.

"I was proud of him; he even designed the cover. I admired the enthusiasm, professionalism and energy that drove him. I was in awe when he performed at the launch of the album. In my heart, I knew it had been the right decision to back my son all the way so that he could fulfil his heart’s desire," he says.

Dad helped to fund the music videos for the first three albums, including a trip to Morocco. Since then, there has been no turning back as Reshmonu has made a name for himself.

"Parents should be facilitators and guides. They should not be cooped up in their own world. Parents have to know what the trends are out there. Children should be allowed to go with the flow, with some correction if necessary.

"My expectations for him is that he should not be complacent and think his current success will guarantee his future. He has to adapt to the changing face of the world and music. And he has to give something back to society, maybe to budding singers. He is blessed with a good life and I want him to care and share," said a proud Haridas.

In Ishak Nengah’s case, he realised his son’s talents when he sang into people’s hearts at the age of two. Even at a tender age, Joe Flizzow was a showman and loved to have an audience.

"My wife and I encouraged his involvement in music but insisted that he finish his diploma in advertising so that he had something to fall back on. When he wanted to record his first album together with some friends, we decided to back and fund him.

"We are not very rich but believed that the kids should be allowed to do what they do best. They should take up the vocation of their choice seriously. Being run of the mill is not good enough. They must make an impression that is meaningful and have to be above others," he says.Joe and Malique make up "Too Phat", a successful local hip hop group which is spreading its wings into the regional market.Ishak says he has no regrets backing the group and went into it with the aim of helping some kids achieve their dreams.

"All my son’s talents could have easily been killed, gone to nought, if he was not allowed the opportunity to pursue his dreams, which would have been a total waste," adds the 54-year-old who is often head-hunted for choice master of ceremonies and enjoys his public relations stints.Joe’s parents make it a point to turn up at all his major concerts and also continue to remind him that the message he spreads to his fans has to be generally positive in nature.

"This is important as their music moulds the minds of their audience and many of them are kids. My wife and I enjoy jumping and screaming at Too Phat’s performances, two old fogies reliving our youth but we will not miss it for the world.

"Watching your son perform to a huge and appreciative audience and seeing that he is enjoying what he does best, is good enough for me. Whatever we give our children, we inform them it comes with a responsibility for them to continue it with honesty and dignity.

"I am happy that the core religious and family values that we have inculcated remains strong with him. He knows the importance of having his feet firmly on the ground and that popularity and stardom can go as quickly as it comes," he says.

Rather than inhibit their sons, Haridas and Ishak motivated and strengthened their determination and helped turn their boys into a success.It was Freddie Mercury, the glam rock lead singer of Queen, who said: "I always knew I was a star. And now, the rest of the world seems to agree with me," while David Bowie said: "I’m an instant star. Just add water and stir."If your children have what it takes, be there for them. After all, remember the old expression: "Anyone can be a father; it takes someone special to be a daddy."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Joe Flizzow's Book Review:'The Rose That Grew From The Concrete'

Last May 2007, Joe Flizzow was invited by the Star newspaper (Malaysian daily) to contribute a book review for the 'Bookshelf' section. Joe, an avid reader himself, was more than happy to do so. For his review, he chose Tupac Shakur's 'The Rose That Grew From The Concrete'. Joe's article came out on the 27th of May 2007. Read on for the full review. Enjoy!

Source: The Star

Sunday May 27, 2007
Glimpses into the soul of a rapper
Guest Reviewer: By JOE FLIZZOW
The Rose That Grew From The Concrete
By Tupac Amaru Shakur
Publisher: Pocket Books, 151 pages
(ISBN: 978-141-651-1656)

THE last time I wrote for a newspaper was an obituary. I was 17 years old when rap superstar Tupac Shakur died. I felt compelled to tell the world, in my small way, what we had lost and immediately sat down to pen my contribution. It was published. For an aspiring rapper, it was an honour I couldn’t describe.
His death shocked the hip hop community who had waited and prayed when news of him being wounded during a drive-by shooting was announced.

Many were sure that Tupac, ever the fighter, would be back on his feet in no time. After all, this was the Tupac who had earlier survived five gunshots in a Manhattan studio attack culminating in that famous image of him laid out on a stretcher, all bandaged and covered in blood, but showing a defiant middle finger to paparazzi.

But this time he didn’t make it. Tupac, or Pac as he was affectionately known to his close friends, succumbed to respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest on Sept 13, 1996, after a seven-day coma. He was 25 years old.

I am revisiting this subject for the sole love of one of his legacies. The Rose That Grew From Concrete is a collection of poems written by a young Pac from 1989 to 1991. Arguably one of the most controversial and misunderstood artistes of our time, this book shows a side of Tupac which is often forgotten – a loving and sensitive side.

The book starts with “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” which he describes as an autobiographical poem. Just like the rose, Tupac’s life had always been a struggle and a fight right from the time his Black Panther militant mother, Afeni, carried him in her womb while in jail, to his demise. It was always him against the world from the start – from lawsuits, periods of incarceration to rape accusations.

Part one of the book shows a young and innocent side of Tupac who was often disappointed, sometimes lonely and frustrated. In “Sometimes I cry”, Tupac shares honest and intimate thoughts which are uncharacteristic of his “Thug Life” image. In “Life Through My Eyes” he talks about the violence and poverty a young black male had to go through in the ghetto and how his only way out was “unless my destiny comes through.”

Tupac knew that he was destined to go on to something big, and realised at an early age that he could make a difference; or rather he had to make a difference. “What Is It That I Search 4” asks questions of what he seeks, and whether he’ll succeed in his missions.

Another poem from part one that stands out is ‘‘If I Fail”, showing an insecure side of Pac as the title suggests. Tupac also wrote poetry dedicated to Marilyn Monroe in “The Shining Star Within” and to Vincent Van Gogh in “Starry Night”. In “God” he talked about his the deep relationship and belief he had in the Almighty, to whom he constantly turned to, to ease all the hard times and the pain he went through.

Part Two continues with “Nothing Can Come Between Us”. I do not know whether the poems were compiled according to chronological order or by themes, but this chapter shows a more responsible, confident and assuring Tupac. In the first poem, dedicated to his friend John, he invites us to revel for a moment in the camaraderie shared by best friends. He also dedicates a number of poems for presumably the women in his life at that point, showing off the smooth and charming charisma that would make him a sex icon later in his life.

In “1st impressions”, dedicated to Irene, he tells her “your eyes attracted me first, but you reeked of sultry confidence, I couldn’t wait to touch lips, and kiss with my heart’s intentions”.

But amongst all the poems dedicated to the ladies in his life, be they flings or crushes, one poem caught my attention. “Black Woman”, written for Marquita, tells of his admiration for this strong black female presence in his life and how her spirit, purity and strength were an example to him.

Tupac also wrote a number of poems for actress Jada Pinkett, with whom he had attended the Baltimore School of Arts. In the documentary Tupac: Resurrection, Tupac says, “Jada is my heart. She will be my friend for my whole life.” In return, Jada calls Pac “one of my best friends. He was like a brother. It was beyond friendship for us. The type of relationship we had, you only get that once in a lifetime.”

Poems “Jada” and “The Tears In Cupid’s Eyes” were written and dedicated to her in the book.
In part three, “Just A Breath Of Freedom”, dedicated to Nelson Mandela, shows a politically-conscious young Pac. It is written presumably just before Mandela’s release after 27 years of imprisonment and the injustice that shrouded it all.

“Can U C the pride in the panther” exclaims Pac, showing love and glorifying the movement synonymous with his black pride and afro-centric roots. He continues to do so, again addressing social issues such as crack (drugs) in “U R Ripping Us Apart!!!” and teenage pregnancy in ‘Tears of a Teenage Mother’. These were the foundations laid down for his future hit songs such as Brenda’s Got A Baby and Keep Your Head Up.

Tupac continues this journey into his soul with the fourth and last part of the book, “Liberty Needs Glasses”. He goes deeper with “Nightmares” and “The Unanswerable”, still searching for the meaning of life and his own words, the path of purity and positivity.

But the most haunting poem in the whole book would definitely have to be the final one, “In The Event Of My Demise”, in which he openly predicts his untimely death. He says, “I will die before my time, because I feel the shadow’s depth, so much I wanted to accomplish, before I reached my death.” It is evident that his fascination with the subject of death started early. He would go on to record tracks such as If I Die Tonight, Death around the Corner and Something To Die For later in his career.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it not only to hip hop fans but also to poetry lovers. It makes a great leisurely read, one that I’ve kept coming back to ever since getting hold of it last October. Each poem is accompanied by the original as scribbled by the author himself, complete with ideographs and even drawings on some. (See above). It’s like reading the diary of someone you already know, only to find a whole new person in the process.

I really do believe that this book proves the literary importance of the most successful rapper ever, eclipsing even Bob Dylan, in my opinion.

Even in death Tupac continues to elevate the game which is the epitome of a true rapper, MC or lyricist. After all RAP does stand for “Rhythm And Poetry”. And what would rap be if it had not been graced by Tupac Amaru Shakur? We miss you, rest in peace."

Review by Joe Flizzow