Event Review: Fred Ho – a Night with the Dragon. Film Screening & Book Signing at Museum of Chinese in America

20130425_MOCA_HO_v4Date: April 25, 2013
Venue: Museum of Chinese In America (NY)
Event review by Dawoud Kringle and video by Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi

When someone lays claim to the title of “Dragon,’ it is automatically assumed that they can back it up, or else. Fred Ho backs it up.

Ho cuts a flamboyant figure; a large and powerfully built man who wears clothing of his own design, Ho is a true renaissance man. He is a saxophonist, composer, bandleader, playwright, writer, and social activist.

Ho is the first to combine Chinese opera with traditional African American music. Many of his works fuse the melodies of indigenous and traditional Asian and African music. Some of his early releases include Monkey 1Monkey IIThe Underground Railroad to My HeartWe Refuse to be Used and Abused, and Tomorrow is Now! He leads the Afro Asian Music Ensemble and the Monkey Orchestra, and has recorded for the Koch Jazz and Soul Note labels. Some of his new works include Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon, Voice of the Dragon I, II, and III.

His literary achievements include having co-edited two books: Legacy to Liberation: Politics and Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America, and Sounding Off! Music as Subversion/ Resistance/ Revolution; and wrote Legacy to LiberationDiary of a Radical Cancer Warrior: Fighting Cancer and Capitalism at a Cellular LevelThe Raw Manifesto: Change Your Body, Change Your Mind, and Change the World by Spending Almost Nothing, and Yellow Power Yellow Soul.

Ho made many contributions to the Asian American empowerment movement. He is a co-founder of several Asian American civic groups such as the East Coast Asian Students UnionThe Asian American Arts Alliance in New York City, The Asian American Resource Center in Boston, and the Asian Improv record label. He holds a B.A. degree in sociology from Harvard, and in 2009, he received the Harvard Arts Medal.

On August 4, 2006, Ho was diagnosed with colon cancer. After chemotherapy, his health improved, but a second tumor was found on September 24, 2007. He has been as creative and relentless in his exploration of health and treatment of his cancer as he has in his other endeavors – and frankly, looks the picture of health. He practices meditative martial arts – the principles of which he applies to his music – and is a vegan.

If you are having difficulty understanding him, picture an opinionated and uncompromising Asian American version of Charles Mingus. The standard he aspires to with his music is that of Joshua; to bring down the walls of Jericho.

The film, Diary if the Dragon, produced directed by Tylon “U-Savior” Washington, has the feel of a jazz documentary. Interviews with his family revealed an artistic, strong, and charismatic personality in the making (his mother’s description of jus birth was hilarious). Mention was made of Ho’s cancer, there was interviews with his health care providers. Sometimes, the film would jump between one subject and another; but perhaps this was the deliberate effect the director was looking for. Ho’s political beliefs were prominent throughout the film.

Fred Ho speaks how he feels about music and its importance in his and people’s lives

The screening was followed by a reading from Yellow Power Yellow Soul, followed by a reading from an essay about Ho. The Q&A that followed was riveting.  Ho answered the questions the audience put to him in a complete, eloquent, and easy manner that displayed a clear inner vision of what he believes himself here to do in this life.

Ho’s ideologies permeate all aspects of his life and art and put into practice a holistic view of existence. In Ho’s estimation, art is not a reflection of reality; it is a tool to shape it. He feels strongly about social responsibility, a responsibility of the individual to the collective, and the responsibility of the collective to the individual.

Fred Ho speaks about musician issues

All this while, creating music that embodies his personal beliefs; without losing the quality of natural beauty. Ho’s music is described as “avant garde:” and while it is certainly not “mainstream” (whatever that means) it is sublime and requires more than passive listening. Ho’s music is rich with meaning, and fearless in its exploration of the union of dissimilar elements. Yet at the same time, it is not inaccessible or elitist in the sense that it places impossible demands upon the listener. This, it is clear, is part of his ideology of inclusion and to uplift all people. All this while succeeding in playing Asian music on a western instrument, adding western elements to Asian music, and transcending them.

I will give Ho the last word.

“Revolutionary art must inspire a spirit of defiance, or class and national pride to resist domination and backward ideology. Revolutionary art must energize and humanize; not pacify, confuse and desensitize…. Art can fill us with love, with hope and with revolutionary vision… Artists play key roles in affecting consciousness and can help to transform the working class from a class-in-itself to a class-for-itself.”