Journalists love a topic they can milk for multiple pieces. Edward Murrow had Joseph McCarthy; Lowell Thomas had T.E. Lawrence.
Me, I’ve got recent Western graduate Quoc “Q” Pham. In my year and a half with the paper, I’ve written no less than five or so pieces on Pham-related events.
So what’s the latest and greatest from this event producing juggernaut? It’s the latest iteration of Bob Marley Tribute Week.
Last year saw Pham and the rest of the Western Sound System Federation bring everything from a Carribean potluck to ska legend Rocker-T to the February festivities.
“We saw what worked and what didn’t work,” explains Pham.
“This year is sort of an upgrade. People already know the concept.”
I sat down last Tuesday with Pham and Sterling Riber at Callaloo, the new Caribbean restaurant on State Street. As an alumni, Pham has to take more of a backseat, advisory role in the planning this year. He’s handing off the torch to a gaggle of WSSF members, including Riber, Ryan Greigg and Andrew Clarke (of Captain Seahorse fame).
The Western Sound System Federation was born out of a dancehall party at a local coffeehouse in the spring of 2004. In Jamaica, sound systems were the sonic delivery weapon of choice, delivering the music to the masses. It was a natural name for Pham’s musical-cultural organization. The WSSF is dedicated to bringing cross-cultural music and events to campus, exposing students and the community to not just the music but also the culture that goes along with it.
Since its inception, the WSSF has been instrumental in bringing a litany of high profile musical acts to campus— the aforementioned Rocker-T, Seattle rock-reggae outfit Nuffsed, San Fransicans Afrodesia, Seattle hip-hop crew the Blue Scholars, St. Croix natives Batch and Ras Attitude; the list goes on and on.
With that kind of track record, it’s no wonder campus anticipation for this year’s event has reached almost a fever pitch.
“Lots of people have come up to us for posters,” said Riber.
Some iconophiles have taken a more dubious route, appropriating the posters straight off campus posting boards. The WSSF has been forced into constant distribution, constantly reseeding posters to the most prominent boards.
Lately, they’ve even taken proactive measures. “Every poster we put up,” explained Riber, “we’ve had to rip (the corner) to keep people from taking them down.”
According to Pham, the base, subconcious appeal of the poster’s image [a large portrait of Marley himself] is integral to the events themselves.
“The concept behind this campaign we’re doing,” said Pham, “is just put it in your face— put Bob Marley in your face.”
“When you give that to people, it just screams out what it is.”
It’s all a part of what Pham calls “deconstructing the icon.”
“This was the concept we started with last year; taking the Bob Marley icon and exploring... the issues and the cultural and musical traditions that go with that, and go behind the icon.
“This year,” said Pham, “I think we really achieved that goal.”
This year’s Tribute Week kicks off with an opening reception Monday evening, serving complimentary food from the aforementioned Caribbean restaurant, Callaloo. It’s co-sponsored by the Afro-Caribbean club and promises to be a delightful time of free music and food. It starts in Viking Union 565 at 5:00 p.m.
At 6:00 p.m. that same night, the opening reception transitions to a presentation from Vernon Johnson, a political science professor here at Western. Johnson will be discussing pan-Africanism and its relation to and influence on Rastafarianism.
“(Johnson) was really involved in (South African liberation),” explained Pham. “He did a lot of work founding student unions and he was a principal member in Students Against Apartheid.”
“What’s going to be interesting about this event is looking at black liberation as a global movement. You can narrow it down to the Jamaican experience and view it as a subset of this movement.”
Tuesday night features the only returning event from last year— Jeremy Marre’s documentary “Rebel Music: The Bob Marley Story.” Riber describes “Rebel Music” as a sort-of “Bob Marley 101.” Pham agreed, adding that it worked great for the previous year’s week. It’s being shown in Science Lecture 110 at 7:00 p.m.
One of the uncomfortable associations for modern Jamaican music is with homophobia or glorification of a culture of violence. On Wednesday night, the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force and the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Alliance will host an open discussion looking into the sometimes uncomfortable relationships between racial and gender issues and popular music, both here in the States and across the Caribbean.
As Pham explained it, this darker wing of the broader reggae experience evolved out of a reaction to the positive vibrations most US citizens associate reggae with.
“People kind of got tired of this one love, rasta thing. They were still super poor and were like, ‘hey! We want to have fun. We want music that fits our culture— the whole gun trade and the drug trade. It’s a much more explicit and hardcore type of music that tells what’s going on in the streets, what’s going on in the ghetto.”
“The goal of the event is not to solve the problem but to expose people to the scope of the problem and the complexity of these global issues.”
The discussion is in Science Lecture 110, and runs from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday night also includes a dancehall performance in the Underground Coffeehouse by DJ Yogoman, introduced by anthropologist and dancehall expert Norman Stolzoff. It runs from 8:00 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The second movie of the week, “Life and Debt,” screens Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. “Life and Debt” is a documentary from filmmaker Stephanie Black exploring globalization and its effect on the cultural and economic lives of Third World citizens.
The film will be introduced by Davis Geddes, a Western communications professor and native Trinidadian. Geddes spent four years working in Jamaica and will attempt to provide a personal context for the documentary.
Friday night brings San Francisco’s own Groundation, which warrants its own article (directly to your right!).
“It’s not a band that’s just trying to do Bob Marley covers,” said Riber. “They’ve got totally their own style to them.”
Added Pham, “I’d take Groundation over the [current incarnation of the] Wailers.
“What people can expect is Marley lyrics and Marley theme, but just crazy jam solos.”
Pham describes the band as “reggae jazz virtuosos.”
Still not sold? What if sweetened the pot with some giveaways? Every event you attend grants you a ticket to drop in an end-of-week raffle for a new 4 gigabyte iPod Nano. Attend all the events, and that’s a whopping eight chances. Holly Street veterans SOAPBOX will also be in attendance, gifting out t-shirts, DVDs and the like.
The diverse event line-up really lives up to Pham’s cross-cultural, cross-interest goals for the WSSF.
“The great thing about this event is that it appeals [not just to those with musical interests],” said Pham, “but also people that have interest in social issues or people that have interest in political issues.”
In Pham’s mind, the music kids get exposed to the social issues while social kids get similarly pollinated with music.
How can the Western Sound System Federation possibly top itself for future Marley Tribute Weeks? Quipped the outgoing Pham, “the only way we could really improve is getting one of the Marley brothers.”
Keep your eyes peeled.