Pacific poets Brandy Nālani McDougall and Craig Santos Perez have teamed up with the producer team of Hawaii Dub Machine to create an album of recorded poetry from their respective collections: The Salt-Wind, Ka Makani Pa‘akai (McDougall), and from unincorporated territory [hacha] and [saina] (2010, Perez). Recorded using only the poets’ voices and some creative reverb, distortion, and layering, and often offering dubs and remixes of some pieces, the album creates a range of effects, from the minimalism of a straight reading to ornate superimpositions of voices over voices and lines over lines.
Undercurrent’s themes focus on Native Pacific Island culture, as well as its historical and ongoing collision with the attitudes of the colonizer, from the brutal militarism of eminent domain—which overtly claims and subjugates—to the insidious branding of local traditions by tourism and the fetishization of culture by anthropologists who don’t recognize the inherent absurdity of questions like, “Do you now, or have you ever practiced human sacrifice, and/or eaten your enemies, or your friends/family?”
Though McDougall and Perez are most passionate and powerful as readers of their thornier works, there is also un-ironic and unselfconscious sweetness in tracks like “He Mele Aloha,” where myth and story and poets and listener are bound inextricably into a timeless now, and then cast forward, so that it becomes clear why poems are the bodies our stories choose to inhabit.
Like any good album, Undercurrent also contains the catchy track destined to become an earworm: in this case, “Spamification, [Hot & Spicy Remix]” will be difficult to shake, along with the tongue-in-cheek revelation that SPAM might, in fact, stand for Some People Are Missing.
Final word: Billed as amplified poetry, Undercurrent is a great companion to the authors’ respective books, but the remix idea could have been pushed even further. Consider it ripe for collaboration, ready for some of you poetry-loving, dub-step sorcerers to drop in some wobbles, breaks, and beats.
By Brandy Nālani McDougall and Craig Santos Perez
Produced by Richard Hamasaki and H. Doug Matsuoka