Come See The Afro Asian Music Ensemble North American Tour

Come See The Afro Asian Music Ensemble North American Tour


The late Fred Ho, founder and bandleader of the Afro Asian Music Ensemble, was a one­of­a­kind revolutionary Chinese American baritone saxophonist, composer, writer, producer, political activist and leader of several music ensembles. For three decades, he had innovated a new American Multicultural Music embedded in the swingingest, most soulful and transgressive forms of African American music with the influences of Asia and the Pacific Rim. As Larry Birnbaum writes in Down Beat “Fred Ho’s style is a genre unto itself, a pioneering fusion of free­jazz and traditional Chinese music that manages to combine truculence and delicacy with such natural ease that it sounds positively organic.”

From April 19th­April 26th, the musicians of his band for over three decades, the Afro Asian Music Ensemble, will take Fred Ho’s Afro­Asian music and radical politics to venues in Western Massachusetts, New York City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Vermont. Throughout their performances, they will be joined by special guests and longtime collaborators of Mr. Ho, including singer and theatre artist Youn Jung Kim; in Chicago, by dancer and professor Peggy Choy, and theatre artist Marina Celander; and in Hampshire College in Massachusetts, Magdalena Gómez, life­long cultural organizer; author of S​hameless Woman​(Red Sugarcane Press), poet, playwright and co­founder of Teatro V!da. The Afro Asian Music Ensemble includes royal hartigan on Drums, Wes Brown on Bass, Matan Rubinstein on piano, Masaru Koga on the Alto Saxophone, David Bindman on the Tenor Saxophone, and Ben Barson on Fred Ho’s Baritone Saxophone.


April 19th: Hampshire College Music and Dance Building, Amherst | 7pm | Free

April 20th: Fred Ho Revival at the Commons, Brooklyn | 7pm | $10 |

April 22nd: An Die Musik, Baltimore | 7:30pm and 9pm sets | $18 advance / $21 door

April 23rd: First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh | 7:30pm | $16 advance / $20 door

April 24th: Association of Asian American Studies Conference, Chicago | 3pm |

April 24th: We Refuse to be Used and Abused: Anti­Colonialism, Gentrification and the Struggle for a New World | 7pm | $10 donation | Chicago, IL |

April 26th: ArtisTree Arts Center, South Pomfret, Vermont | 3pm | $20 | For more information visit:­asian­music­ensemble

The Enduring and Ever-Changing Legacy of Fred Ho

DSCN2618editSteveATlecturnApril 12 marks the one-year anniversary of the passing of Fred Ho, the subject of my documentary, Fred Ho’s Last Year. Although he was my friend of over 20 years, I would say that he made the greatest influence on me in 2013-2014, where I had the honor of chronicling some of the highlights of some of his last months on Earth. I often look back on our time together, which had an indelible imprint on my life, and in a sense, defined my identity as a filmmaker and gave my life a renewed sense of meaning. But even the meaning of Fred’s impact changes, as I continue to learn more about his life, and the people who represent his living legacy meet the challenges of carrying the struggle on. In other words, Fred’s legacy continues to change, because the dialectic among people in Fred’s circle continues to be fluid.

Fred Ho fought to overturn every field which he entered, striving to question their premises and holding others to the rise up to the principles they espoused. Although he adamantly promoted his arguments, he was well known for radically changing his position. He developed over many years unquestionable achievements of provocation in the fields of politics, Asian American identity, and music, with very little separation among the three. Spreading his creative efforts over such diverse fields, rather than dissipating them, served to combine into a quantum force that impacted whatever he said, whatever he did, whatever he created with an undeniable revolutionary energy.

Provocation as a Career Management Style?

l_237_article-small_41268What does it take for Asian Americans, who are mostly ignored as artists, to make their mark in any artistic field? Fred Ho’s approach is legend. The hard-ass way he set about achieving his goals, has drawn as much attention and sparked as much debate as the achievements themselves. Did Fred Ho’s acerbic temper contribute toward the formation of a disciplined band of musicians and wonderful collaborations with librettists and directors? Or did he achieve his goals despite his outbursts, and the subsequent resignations or firings of key collaborators? In the same way as the genius Charlie Parker lost gigs because he couldn’t control his drug habit, did Fred Ho give up national fame because he was a control freak?

Since the counterfactual is always a weak argument, Fred Ho wins the argument. Since it is improbable that an Asian American man would rack up such a unique set of accomplishments, it follows that these things would not have been achieved were it not for his discipline, his demanding the best from the people around him, his provocative style, and his (sometimes unfair) critiques of people. He is the Asian American Tony Robbins, because he shows how the positive of positive thinking can overcome even racism. He demonstrates that if you want to accomplish anything difficult, you have to be prepared to be difficult.

Towards an APA approach to art.

“Key to Ho’s compositions was the notion of ‘the popular avant-garde,’ a formulation that sought to resolve the contradiction pondered by Clement Greenberg, Theodor Adorno, and other cultural radicals. At its heart were two truths: that there is nothing intrinsic in “popular culture” that requires it to be so woefully manipulated by the narrow horizons of the market, and that the avant-garde should not only be the purview of the elite.” Alexander Billet, “Fred Ho’s Far Out, Radical Journey,” Jacobin, 4/21/14.

Fred struggled with the question of how one makes Asian American art. His initial answer was to incorporate authentic Asian instruments and musical forms into the African American musical forms of “jazz.” When Fred Ho began the Chinaman’s Chance and The Bamboo Strikes Back, he sought to bring in Asian instruments, not in a superficial way, but by using them as intended, with the cadences and the tunings indigenous to the instrument, while creating a fusion with African American forms — an Afro-Asian multicultural music.

But when you leap to 2013, in the latest performance of Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon, directed by Sonoko Kawahara, Fred Ho nearly abandons the project of fusing authentic asian forms. Instead, Ho and Kawahara focus on the subjective experience of Asian culture, as filtered through television and manga. Fred said that the show answers the question, “How does an Asian American kid experience Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon for the first time?” and so, instead of looking for the objective Asian culture, he explores the subjective experience of an alienated Asian American on the periphery of culture, who is trying to construct an Asian American identity with very little access to Asia.

The Project of Afro-Asian Unity in Struggle

Yuri_Kochiyama_June1Fred’s passing took place in the same year as the passing of the celebrated Asian American activist Yuri Kochiyama. Both figures were admired by college students who sometimes misunderstood them as self-caricatures (Fred, as the crazy-dressing iconoclast with the giant saxophone, and Yuri as the nice, civil rights supermom who survived the bad old days of Japanese internment). But they defied these stereotypes for those who looked deeper. In fact, both of my friends were super-knowledgeable uncompromising leaders of the radical left, who forged a link between Asian American and African American struggles, and were accepted in both communities. This Afro-Asian component was one of the themes which defined them, and which is often lacking in the struggles of today. Today Asian Americans on campus define increasingly themselves by ethnicity, such as Filipino American or Chinese American, with much less interest in pan-Asian unity. With interest in Asian unity fading, these students are two steps removed from the Afro-Asian consciousness that Fred and Yuri represent. Has their message been lost? We need it now more than ever.

In my experience as a lawyer, a person with a lot of assets invariably leaves a lot of conflict in his or her wake, as many claimed heirs argue over the inheritance. Fred’s assets were greater than most, because he left his message, his art, and his recordings, and the whole world legitimately has a claim over this legacy. The bottom line is that there will be an ongoing dialectic over the carrying on of the Fred Ho legacy and what that exactly means. And this is fitting. Fred is as controversial now as he was at any time in his life, and it is likely to stay that way.

Most of those controversies have to do with Fred’s existing audience. For my part, I have had the honor to introduce Fred to new audiences in theaters on the East and West coasts. And it is fascinating! Because along the way, I invariably meet people who knew an entirely different dimension of Fred Ho. For example, I have recently had the pleasure of hanging out with Jon Jang in San Francisco, who not only collaborated with Fred on eight recordings and performed all over the Bay Area, but was a loyal cadre in League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS), and drew Fred deeper into that organization. In fact, I am pretty sure that they were best friends, as Fred would stay at Jon’s home during his many long visits to the Bay Area in the days of LRS.

And Jon Jang has nothing but terrible things to say about Fred! I sensed that Fred is permanently under Jon’s skin, and I would not be surprised if the feeling had been mutual. Perhaps Jon’s grievances have merit, because no one can doubt Fred’s infuriating nature. But what must really eat Jon up is the realization that in fact, Fred often meant to infuriate. Perhaps Fred might have smiled at Madonna’s statement, posted today: “If you don’t like me and still watch everything I do — you’re a fan.”

It doesn’t seem so long ago that Fred passed away. I often think about how much of an effect he has had on my life, that he gave me the discipline and the confidence to accomplish a feature film project (and now I am deep into two more projects). I think about the excellent friendships I have made through the making of the film. I think about the people he has influenced, how they are all still engaged in doing great work: Jon Jang, Anne Greene, Ben Barson, Joseph Yoon, Youn Jung Kim, royal hartigan, Sonoko Kawahara, Diane Fujino, Marie Incontrera, Quincy Saul, Marina Celander, Spirit Child, Kanya Almeida, Masaru Koga and Winston Byrd, to name only a few. And I think of all the people who continue to be inspired by Fred Ho who will never get to meet him, and how perhaps his music will live long after any of us.

Steven De Castro

Fred Ho is at CAAMFest!

Good news!  Last year, Fred Ho’s Last Year premiered at great film festivals in Los Angeles (LAAPFF), New York (AAIFF/Cinevision and IFFM), and Boston (BAAFF).  But the screenings are not over!  We are now screening at the largest Asian American Film Festival in the country, CAAMFest in San Francisco, March 17 and 21.  Buy tickets here:

It is great to see that the Kearny Street Workshop and the San Francisco State Asian American Studies Department have signed on as co-presenters to the screening of this movie.  Fred Ho’s Last Year continues to introduce Fred Ho’s life and music to new audiences around the world.  And Fred’s close collaborator Masaru Koga is guesting with a musical performance at the end of the March 21 show.

Fred’s legacy will have such a large impact in the coming years that I have received an announcement that a charitable trust will be established to move his legacy forward in the generations to come.  In March, the film is screening at CAAMFest.  In April, the Afro-Asian Music Ensemble will be playing limited engagements throughout the Eastern U.S.  (more to come on that).  In late April, the ensemble and theater artists are making a presentation at the Chicago Asian American Studies Conference.  And in August, I’m sure somebody is planning something for Fred’s birthday.  I’ll keep you up to date.

Meanwhile, if you are around San Francisco on March 17 or 21,  feel free to check out Fred Ho’s Last Year.  Here is all the information:

Watch the trailer:

Francis Wong Remembers Fred on NBC News Site

Somehow I missed that the film received a mention on the NBC news site:

“His legacy of thought and art is a rich resource for anyone interested in social justice,” notes composer and activist Francis Wong, “He contributed to cross-cultural understanding and presaged the diversity and multiculturalism that we have today….He looked at African American music for inspiration and tied it all back to the origins of the US.”

Click here for the full article.


Here On Earth: Radio Without Borders

On November 17, 2008, Fred Ho gave a radio interview while he was an Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence at University of Wisconsin-Madison.  After an extended musical introduction, this interview is a relaxed, entertaining and eloquent example of Fred’s philosophies on society and opinions on musical style.  He gives an extended discussion to his opera with Ann T. Green, called Warrior Sisters, an fantasmic opera riffing on the story of Assata Shakur’s flight from the prison.  Check it out:

Here On Earth: Radio Without Borders.