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“I pen stories like a script writer / open bottles with a Bic lighter
til it’s hollow and I’m sick and tired…”
Honesty in artistry is hard to come by nowadays, especially in rap music. A scene once admired for its fearlessness and originality has essentially been boxed in by the very beast it fought so hard to go against: the mainstream. What was once considered “underground” is now on display in boutique windows; what bougie-ass folks used to fear and misunderstand has become safe for consumption. Rarely does someone come around who throws all of these norms out the window, and challenges the status quo with their own voice, vision, and story.
Enter Nomi from Power Struggle. Now, sometimes I can’t tell whether Power Struggle is a group or a person, but that’s beyond the point. Maybe it’s simply what the name implies: a fight to gain power. Or in the case of poor and working class people, the battle for equality and dignity. And with Power Struggle’s music, beneath all the hard beats and vocal stylings are words and experiences that clearly reflect that.
Having paid dues onstage and in the studio (as a solo artist and with groups like Oddjobs and Kill the Vultures), Mario “Nomi” Demira has also earned his respective block stripes as a community organizer at the Filipino Community Center (FCC) in San Francisco’s Excelsior District. Terry Valen, the Center’s director, elaborates: “We have witnessed Nomi add an entirely new dimension to the nonprofit work of the FCC, focused on supporting working class Filipinos and their families.”
Now, one doesn’t have to listen too hard to see the influence that this work has had on his music. However, don’t write off the brother as some self-righteous, preachy soapbox emcee. On the contrary, Nomi brings his own contradictions to the forefront, balancing this reality with the politics, and weaving it all together with his distinctive Midwest baritone and working-class swag. Throw in some Mr. Rey (Denizen Kane) and Fatgums (Counterparts) beats, and you have the makings of something special. Introducing Power Struggle’s latest album, “Remittances.”
In the Filipino community, the term “Remittances” refers to the money that we send to support our families back home. This is a regular part of our culture, regardless whether we are well-off or not. These “gifts” not only serve to help our families, but they also help sustain the economy and infrastructure of the entire Philippine nation. Perhaps an appropriate metaphor for this project; one man’s contribution to help sustain our people all over the world, to keep us connected to one another’s struggles.
“Blood of my Heart” (the first song leaked from the album) is a sonic gem that transcends the typical love song and outlines the challenges and complexities of building a relationship amidst all the struggles of the day-to-day: “It’s all work with no time for romance / No time to go dance / Hold hands / with no plans / She’s got a rally, he’s steady buildin / they got no money, keep putting off children…” Somehow captured in all of this is the beauty of the grind, the small victories that arise during times of uncertainty. There are no flowers or bubbles here, no false romanticism or lofty pedestals. Just the hustle that it takes to love.
However, the track that got me right away had to be “Artofficialfreedom.” The ascending organ chords and booming drums usher in the listener to church, setting it all up for the heat to come in: “My big homie told me, I need to slow down / I need to wake up, I need to look around… “ Easing us into the song, Nomi describes the various obstacles he’s faced on the path to enlightenment, and what it has taken to get to the point he’s at now:
“Still believe in god, but god don’t believe in us
Cause we trust the dollar bill more than the will to love
Write my will in blood, and I’ll leave what I got
A couple silver bullets that never got shot
Call me superstitious, I’m a ship without a dock
A soul without a body, wandering the block…”
Rounding the album out, joints such as “Traveling Man” (a semi-autobiographical portrait of Nomi’s nomadic journeys) and “Inspired by Dream” (an dedication to the late great Bay Area Pinoy graf writer) have particularly grown on me. And it’s hard not to want to bust out into a two-step to the groovy “United in Struggle.” All in all, every song is meticulously put together, yet still maintains that intangible essence of soul and feeling. And for the icing on the cake, the album features some well-picked cameos by folks such as Bambu, Bwan, and Pele. The common thread with all the songs is that, although there is nothing formulaic about any of them, that good ol’ hip hop feeling of something fresh and raw is still induced with each listen.
Nomi is obviously loved for more than just his music, but now is his time to shine as an artist. “Remittances” is sure to be bumped continuously by folks from our generation and beyond. Poet Bao Phi (who remembers Nomi when he was first coming up in Minnesota) sums it up best: “As an artist, he’s really grown into his own voice – I can’t think of many artists of any genre who can so skillfully combine their talent with social-political commentary. His music is rare, in that it rocks the body, and at the same time it’s something I’d want my baby daughter to listen to when she grows up.”
Purchase the album here or find it on iTunes.
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