We Rock Long Distance weaves together the sounds and stories of three Twin Cities hip-hop artists – M.anifest, Maria Isa, and Tou SaiKo Lee – as they journey home to Ghana, Puerto Rico, and Thailand to create unique and unexpected cross-generational collaborations.
Starting in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, one of the best-known sites for underground hip-hop, we follow M.anifest to his home in Accra, Ghana, where he undertakes his first musical collaboration with his grandfather, legendary ethnomusicologist Professor J.H. Kwabena Nketia. In addition, he will criss-cross the country on a 10-city tour, interviewing and collaborating with important figures in Ghanaian popular music along the way.
From Accra, we return to St. Paul to join self-proclaimed “Sota Rican” Maria Isa as she traces her musical and familial genealogy through the NuYorican Lower East Side to Puerto Rico, performing at places like the NuYorican Poets Café and some of the island’s biggest music festivals. In all three places, we hear Maria building upon the connections between hip-hop, reggaeton, and the folkloric arts of Puerto Rico she was raised on, bomba and plena.
In Laos and Thailand, we follow Tou SaiKo Lee’s ongoing work using hip-hop and poetry to create new and stronger bonds between Hmong Americans and Hmong in Southeast Asia, as well as between youth and elders – some of whom have never heard of hip-hop before. Tou also develops his own skills in kwv txhiaj, a Hmong practice of oral poetry that he performs on stage with his Grandmother, Youa Chang, as “Fresh Traditions.”
In addition to overturning dominant stereotypes and creating unexpected cross-generational connections, each of these artists are well-known for strengthening their local and global communities through their words, music, and actions. Whether founding hip-hop spaces to keep youth away from gangs or protesting unjust incarcerations half a world away, these artists harness the power of hip-hop in achieving aims of social justice.
We Rock Long Distance amplifies their stories, offering an intimate look at the process of creation while engaging artists and audiences in conversations about music, home, tradition, and family that resonate long after the recording sessions have ended and planes have left.
This activity is funded, in part, by the Minnesota State Arts Board through the arts and cultural heritage fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the Legacy Amendment vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.