By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (January 22, 2010) – The Center for Hmong Arts and Talent held its quarterly ICE Open Mic LIVE! Event at Hamline University last Friday – drawing a range of youth and adult performers that had many guests in awe of the raw talent in the community.
The CHAT Open Mic event has evolved into something of a late night talk show with entertainment for the Hmong community – but it has also kept its amateur feel with a first-come, first-serve sign-up board. The result is a mix of first-time to well-experienced performers that do everything from spoken word, to hip-hop dancing and music.
The event is taped for broadcast on “I Am Hmong TV”, a new online television service in St. Paul operated by Mitch Lee, executive producer. Eventually, the shows will be accessible online at www.iamhmongtv.com.
CHAT volunteers created a talk-show set complete with a desk and back-drop for co-hosts Sai “The Funnny Guy” Vang, a Blaine area comedian and Sonic Rain, who played the sidekick but spoke the lingo that had the crowd going. They also host the CHAT Hmong Radio hour on KFAI FM each Monday evening at 8:30 p.m.
The two are accustomed to public performances but said the talk-show format is a challenge to keep it fresh and fast-paced. Both said that it went well and that they are excited to see how far they can take it with future open mic shows.
Sonic Rain said the two had some material ahead of time but that it only goes so far in this type of show and they need to improvise. Vang said the show is still really about the performers and that he likes to keep the attention on them.
Regular performer GaoSong Vang, 16, took on a new role as the “cue card girl” to keep the crowd producing the appropriate assorted emotions at the right moment for the benefit of the TV audience. She also sang, showing off some of the talent that won her first place in the Hmong New Year singing competition last November.
Sai Vang took over the cards during her song, waving the “sway back and forth” sign to the crowd for “The Love and the Family”, a song her mother helped her to write in Hmong.
Local artist Katie Ka Vang, who is now a part time Artist Advisor for CHAT, said the event is open to anyone who wants to perform, whether its singing, performing an instrument, dancing, reading poetry or event comedy.
Another volunteer, Josh Capodarco literally dawned the sign up board to walk around with in a hard hat and meat packers plastic jacket. He also helped to build the set.
CHAT Managing Director Angie Hardy and volunteer Josh Dyrud ran the sound for the show, which meant cuing all that digital audio for the singers and dancers. Or, they ran the mics and levels for the performers that played their own instruments.
With each open mic there is a featured act. For this show, the Twin Cities alternative pop band, Venus On Fire, lit up the stage with original songs from their recently released EP, “Clone Factory”, before sitting down for an interview with the hosts.
“We hope to reach more people with events like this (CHAT performance),” said Vladimir Xiong.
The band features vocalist Victoria Vang, Leng Moua, guitarist, David Yang, drums, and stand-in bassist, Frankie Guerra of Albert Lea.
Victoria has been singing since age 17, and joined the band last year at 21. She plays the keyboards and writes many of the songs.
The band’s origins date back to Leng and David, who met through a mutual friend in high school and played a gig together. The two formed a music partnership again the following year and together formed the foundation of the band that was made more complete last year with the addition of Victoria.
Leng said Venus On Fire has since taken baby steps to get where we they are now – on the verge of joining the national Tour Hot Tropic, a national tour for bands promoted by an online company. Now on the verge of becoming a fulltime band, Leng recalls working side jobs to buy instruments and to pay for promotions and recordings.
Intermittent bassist Frankie Guerra met band manager Vladimir Xiong when both were graphic design students and sat in on a couple of sessions. Now he is set to play on part of the tour.
The Venus On Fire Web site is at www.venusonfire.com. They recorded with Shock and Audio at Lake and Lyndale in Minneapolis.
The evening was not without it talented youngsters. The crowd didn’t need the cue cards to cheer wildly for the kids.
Kayling Yang, 9, danced to “Arrow” by Mariah Carey.
Zonci Lee, 11, sang “When You Say Nothing At All”, a song she learned by listening to the Alison Krauss version.
MC Soulfull and MAlicious Assasinz, Lee, performed a rap bit that talked about Hmong history from the perspective of American raised young adults. They rapped about current event and social trouble in tough economic times.
They followed with a bit about Hmong youth that cling to an identity lacking direct experience with the old world of their parents that they can only “appreciate and not comprehend.” They talk of pride built of “heart, blood and a name” that says they are still Hmong.
“Chue & Danny” performed an original song, “Long Legs.” Danny said that he didn’t know but was excited about performing on TV.
Chee Lee sang the Rob Thomas song, “Some Day”, with back up vocals from Chong Moua.
Pung Vang performed a cover of a Hmong language song, and said he worried about mixing up his Green and White Hmong.
Another highlight performance came from Moua Meng Yang, a guitarist and vocalist who who performed “It’s Just That Simple”, a song he wrote for the Kang Vang feature film, “Fallen City.” Look him up at www.myspace.com/deardeardaisy.
Josh Wallin, a CHAT staffer who speaks Hmong, has performed on the cello and the Guzheng instruments at past events, but this time chose to read poems about his experience visiting children in Laos a few years ago. He has since learned that children he was close to have died or are ill and cannot stop thinking about them.
Othere performers included Chee Ly, Bunny, Ge Meng Lor – the Last Soul Poet, local rapper MightEE Mike, songs from Isaiah and Cheng Her, Mimo, Sonny T. Sloane, Joe Vang. Matt, Mailinh Yang, Andrew Le, and spoken word from Tou Ger Pha.Kathy Mouacheupao, executive director, CHAT, said the ICE Open Mic was created to “nurture, explore and illuminate the Hmong American experience through artistic expressions.” It is CHAT’s vision of a vibrant community where Hmong American artists are inspired to share their perspectives, feel their creative contributions are valued, and to be empowered to push their boundaries.
For more information on future open mic events visit www.aboutchat.org.