Friday, September 2, 2011

Words with Bambu De Pistola

Bambu de Pistola is no stranger to trouble. He spent part of his youth as a member of one of the largest and oldest Filipino gangs in Los Angeles. The streets of Watts were not kind to him and robbed him of several things; his safety, his freedom, his independence and the lives of his cousins. After a few stays in correctional facilities, Bam was given the chance to transition out of the gang life and was advised to join the US Marine Corps. Since then Pistola has taken his life back and this father, MC and community organizer has dedicated himself to the people and is using his music a tool to spread the word for social change. He sits down with us and talks about his journey in music and life thus far as he prepares his final solo album, One Rifle Per Family.
“A lot of people glorify it,” Bambu said about living as a gang member, “It wasn’t for me. I hated waking up, scrambling, thinking about who’s going to fuck with me today.” His exit from this lifestyle came in the form of service as a marine. He was relieved of his duties to the country before the events of September 11th and began his career as a recording artist in 2002 with the release of his first album, Self Untitled.

The response to the underground effort came as a surprise to Bambu.
“It was kind of an accidental success which was cool for me,” he said about his first album, “I got more offers and the lure to leave my day job and go full time with it. It was really apparent when the Native Guns happened and then it really took off.” Bambu joined forces with fellow MC Kiwi and DJ Phatrick to form the Native Guns. The group released their debut album, Stray Bullets Vol.1, in 2004. Their last collaborative effort, Stray Bullets Vol. 2, was dropped in 2007. Since his rap career took off, Mr. Pistola has traveled across the country and internationally, sharing the stage with other acts such as Common, X-Clan, Medusa, Dilated Peoples, Psycho Realm, Planet Asia, Zion-I, The Blue Scholars, Immortal Technique, The Visionaries and Pac Div.

Hip hop was always a present influence in Bam’s life. He grew up in the era of West Coast versus East Coast rap. It was all around him in the hood. He used to rhyme with friends in his younger days. “I’ve always been a fan, growing up it was always there,” he elaborated, “we’d freestyle and rap about the gang and the neighborhood.” He gets more politically and socially conscious with his flows than mainstream hip hop. He calls his music “what gansta rap should be.” “I tell the whole story,” he explained “it’s really easy to tell the story of drugs and selling drugs…there’s a whole other side to it that’s not being told.”
Pistola is currently working on his last solo outing, One Rifle Per Family. His career is approaching its 10 year mark and writing music had become an easier task. “The creative process has become more organic, I’ve learned to write fast and have concepts down,” he said. For Rifle, he has chosen a more cerebral path for album construction as it is his last individual piece. “For the last album, I’m doing something different and planning it out – first I’m mapping out subjects I want to touch on, then matching beats for each track and then I’m writing the songs,” he said.

Aside from garnering a large underground following, Bam’s music also caught the attention of mainstream media – winning “The Freshman” contest on mtvU for his video “Crooks and Rooks” and having a few of his other videos in rotation on MTV2 and MTV Jams as well. Recently, he was invited to tell part of his life story in Chapter 45: The Philippines of Frank 151. He decided to take readers of the magazine back to the streets. “I wrote about the Filipino gang era in Los Angeles in the ‘90s,” he explained. “It’s such a short period in Filipino American history that gets brushed over which was huge in the ‘90s for us but since has been washed away.”

Although he’s been exposed to the masses, Bam chooses social communities over media giants. “I grew up as part of the MTV generation,” he elaborated, “being played on the channel was cool but the internet trumps all that shit. The hits from the internet have been far better and it feels more personal – I can actually look at my YouTube page and see people talking about it or I can look on my Facebook page and people can directly to me about how they feel about my music. I’m an accessible guy and I love to hear from and interact with my fans.”

Community is one of Pistola’s personal anchors. Aside from rapping and performing, he works with inner city youth and juveniles, mentoring and inspiring the younger generation to deter from the path of his early years. After his rap career is over, Pistola will continue to dedicate his energy to the people. Bam added, “Community organizing is always something that’s going to be needed, there’s always going to be a need for change.” He would also like to take his involvement to another level by opening a martial arts and community space within the next five years.
Looking back at his works as an artist, Bam has a few regrets. He explained, “There are lines that I definitely regret, where I’ve used language that I wouldn’t have used now, where I spoke on issues where I probably wasn’t as schooled up as I should have been.”
 He compares writing music as an artist to writing in a public personal journal. “You could write in your journal and nobody has to read it – stick it underneath your pillow and nobody ever has to know how you feel. You could read back 10 years ago and see how much you’ve changed where as an artist you have your journal for everyone else to read. I want people to see I’ve changed a lot, somebody might pick up my record from 10 years ago and say ‘God, this guy just dropped this word, this guy is a fuckin’ asshole.’ That’s since changed; I have to write a new entry. I wrote a song called ‘Out the Gate’ where I challenged language of oppression as remedy to those old lyrics,” he clarified.

Looking ahead, music will still be present in Pistola’s immediate future as he plans to collaborate with other artists and maybe even reunite with the Guns. “I’ll probably do another Native Guns record, another Prometheus Brown x Bambu record, maybe another Bambu versus Muggs record and possibly release an EP with Duke from Psycho Realm.”
You can catch Bambu de Pistola live on the Cinemetropolis Tour along with the Blue Scholars this fall. Check out the dates here and for more info on Bambu check out his sites: BAMBU / Twitter / Tumblr / Facebook / Beatrock Music

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