Feature: Casey Wong

This week we’re PROUD to present our next Reflection and Response Feature artist – Casey Wong. A student of the world, beatmaker, wordsmith, martial artist, and educator, Casey powerfully and creatively challenges social injustices through his various forms of craft, expression, and action. A genuine and inspiring person to all those around him, Casey guides us through an insightful Reflection and Response interview, followed by a presentation of his music..

While you can expose your own reflections, only you can know the whole story, feel me? Only you know the true colors, the font, the images, the ideas in their wholeness.

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

CW: Home has always been where my family’s at, so since my parents passed away, home has been elusive.  I grew up in San Bernardino and Colton, but since no one I know really lives out there anymore, they really aren’t places that feel like home or places I go back to now.  I have an older brother who lives in San Diego and a younger sister who lives in the Bay Area, and I feel the most at home when I’m with them.  Berkeley and Oakland have a special place in my heart because I spent so many years out there living, going to school, and working, so I definitely got to shout out Oakland and Berkeley when I acknowledge where I’m from.  Another area where I feel at home is this little California beach town outside Los Angeles called Playa del Rey.  It was rare, but every once in a while our Mom used to take us to see her adopted Mother (we used to call her “Aunt Garth” because she didn’t like Grandma) and it was always a good time.  We reconnected with her in recent years and it’s always great going to visit.  So most of the time when people ask me where I’m from, due to all the above, I just say “California.” Right now I’m living in Brooklyn, NY, and it’s great, fa sho! I got to know some special people out here, but I’m def ready to head back to California!

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

CW: Reflection is kind of a heavy word… the first thing that comes to my mind is the legendary project Reflection Eternal by Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek.  They do an incredible job elucidating that word, “reflection.”  That track “Memories Live,” you feel me?

But on the philosophical tip… I believe that reflection should pre-empt any serious action that you take.  A serious move for the most part requires premeditated contemplation in order to be effective.  Reflection is a manifestation of your dreams, desires, worries, and critical thinking, amongst the other processes reeling through your head.  Reflection is also very personal.  While you can expose your own reflections, only you can know the whole story, feel me?  Only you know the true colors, the font, the images, the ideas in their wholeness. What we tell others is really just an outline of the entirety of our reflection, a piece of the whole project which came to unfold during our very personal meditation on self, our placement and relationship to others and ideas in the world.  There are some masters who have managed to craft their reflections into the physical world in some remarkable ways.  Right now I think of James Baldwin, Nelson Mandela, Nas, Chimamanda Adichie, Bruce Lee, Nina Simone, Emory Douglas, I could go on . . .

While some would attach response to reflection, I don’t think every response is a result of reflection, but that doesn’t invalidate such a response or the meaning that such a response can have.  Take for instance a race riot.  A race riot is usually a spontaneous response to a dehumanizing action related to race made up of accumulated anger and frustration, without reflection.  However, that race riot can serve as a powerful response, though destructive, which hopefully can inspire reflection to change the unjust circumstances which caused that race riot.  When a response is tied to a reflection, the response often takes on a character which is more complete and cohesive, although that is not always the case.  It should not be a surprise that a response to a reflection often comes out in the form of art or a project which pays more serious attention to the details and different dimensions, however that response is articulated . . .

How do your beats “Sound of the Beast,” “Thug Life,” “Meant to Love You Baby 2.0,” and “Feel That Music (Trust In Me Remix)” fit in with that definition?

CW: The beats I’m posting here are responses to my own reflections upon injustice, music, reflection itself, and of course love. “Sound of the Beast” is a brief interlude expressing my own response to my reflections on the New Jim Crow, the police state, the use of force, both physical and symbolic, against particularly people of color and poor people. In the track I pay homage and respond to a piece that all you heads should recognize by KRS-One. “Thug Life” is a piece I made while working at a local middle school in Oakland, CA.  I worked with an MC there, and a lot of that beat is inspired by our conversations.  More specifically, the beat is my response to my reflection on a brief excerpt by 2pac which appears at the beginning of the track. “Meant to Love you Baby 2.0” is on the love tip.  The track is on and about a relationship, about the words, the feelings, and the passion. “Feel That Music (Trust In Me Remix)” is a quick and dirty, reflective conversation I had with a track by Slakah the Beatchild (I don’t even think I could call it a remix).  I was feeling the beat, which I barely altered, and I just infused some familiar voices that captured the story going on in my head when I heard the track. Enjoy!

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

CW: In the beatmaking game, I recently expanded my collection of tools, and I’m looking forward to seeing how these new tools help me to evolve as an artist.  I am hoping to acquire more high quality recording equipment to allow me to expand into the realm of producer.  Also working on up-ing my DJ skills to inform my craft!

Who or what inspires you?

CW: I am inspired by the passionate change-makers of the world.  I am inspired by those self-aware dedicated men and women who see social inequality and make it a point to confront it in collaborative, creative, honest, and powerful ways.  Probably the most notable inspirations in my life right now are Dr. Pedro Noguera, Martha Diaz, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Bruce Lee.  My Mom of course continues to be an inspiration to me in the way she dedicated her life to confronting injustice, something which she worked hard to instill in me from a young age, and my Dad for the compassion he lived by, day by day, until the day he passed away. As an artist, Nas definitely has been a big inspiration in moving me to understand the world with a critical eye.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

CW: The secret not so secret moniker I go by is Phakamani (pronounced pa-ga-ma-nee).  It’s an isiZulu name I acquired while studying isiZulu at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Pietermaritzberg), South Africa from my Professors there, BabuTsangase and Mam’Nonhlanhla.  The name was created during Apartheid, and the closest translation to English is “Everyone stand up.” That’s me.

While beatmaking is a form of expression I’m very passionate about, I also live my life as a martial artist.  Recently in seeking to progress my self-cultivation as a martial artist I have been studying Wing Chun for the past year with Sifu Henry Moy.  The Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee continues to be a guide in my learning to honestly express myself as a martial artist.

Also I can’t end this interview without expressing my passion for teaching children (and for making their education more meaningful, fun, safe, and equitable), especially through the arts, particularly music.  The youth are the truth!

Shout out to…?

CW: I have to give a shout out to my sister who is another passionate educator in the family, utilizing dance, the arts, and her amazing linguistic talents to grow the youth! Shout out to my humble brother constructing the future as an engineer, always keeping your eye out for how you can help others!  Shout out to Ms. Mercy Agyepong, constantly checking me, and inspiring me with the wisdom you hold, and for your remarkable ways of distilling knowledge with a raw perspicacious flavor that the world needs to keep in touch with, can’t wait to call you Dr. Agyepong! Of course shout out to my boy Vicken, living life by the truth, you’re a beast for continuing to strive to open the world through your empathy and love of the arts.  Shout out to Emmanuel for inspiring youth through the love and that film thing.  Shout out to Martha Diaz for your faith and passion for equity and justice, helping to develop me and open the door of opportunity for me anytime and whenever you can, I could go on!

Reflection and Response.

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