Boom Bap Village 2011 festival to showcase Hmong hip-hop culture

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Artists and enthusiasts will unite in St. Paul July 1 for Boom Bap Village 2011, a Hmong hip-hop event featuring breakdancing, documentary screenings, Hmong food, and a community arts project for attendees to participate in.

“It helps us to become more recognized in society, because we can dance with people from other backgrounds, we can be seen as equals,” event organizer Tou SaiKo Lee said. “It’s very inspiring.”

The name Boom Bap Village reflects the roots of many Hmong hip-hop artists’ originations from villages in locations such as Laos and Vietnam. The event’s creation grew partly from Lee’s belief in hip hop’s power to navigate youth toward a positive form of self-expression and away from activities such as drugs and violence.

“[It’s about] wanting to legitimize what these youth are doing,” Lee said. “Some people’s perception is that they’re just playing around, it’s not something serious.”

St. Paul’s annual Hmong Sports Festival is also scheduled for this weekend, which will make this Boom Bap Village’s third consecutive year. Lee created the event in 2009 to coincide with the Sports Festival.

“I created it because of the sports tournament, which brings Hmong families and sports players to compete in Minnesota every year,” Lee said. “There would be dancers and they didn’t have a place to dance.”

Boom Bap Village is not to be hindered by the wavering certainty as to whether the Hmong Sports Festival will go on this year, though.

“We’re going to do the event either way,” Lee assured. “Our event is the day before; people that might not come for the festival might not come, so attendance might be down a little. But the dancers and local supporters will for sure come.”

While last year’s two-day Boom Bap Village affair attracted approximately 400 guests, Lee expects around 300 at this year’s one-day celebration, welcoming all ages and backgrounds.

“It brings people who are supportive of the Hmong community,” Lee said. “It’s an event for any dancers to come compete, not just Hmong dancers.”

Hamline University will host a breakdance competition in the Student Center Ballroom from 5-10 p.m., with an entrance fee of $5. Beforehand, attendees can view the free debut screening of Among B-boys in the Hub at 2 p.m.

“The documentary follows Hmong dancers from California—Merced and Sacramento—their lives and how they embrace this art form, use it as self-expression and how to stay out of trouble,” Lee said.

Following the Among B-boys screening, the six-year project’s director, Christopher Woon, will host a discussion with some of the documentary’s dancers, Lee said.

Additional, free documentary screenings of Among B-boys and Travel in Spirals will take place July 2 at Concordia University in the Buetow Music Auditorium. Travel in Spirals documents the experiences of Lee’s journey to Thailand in 2008, covering everything from poetry, arts and hip hop to his relationships with family members, Justin Schell, who worked with Lee to create the documentary, said.

“It shows some of the differences he felt being in Thailand as a Hmong person but being raised in America,” Schell said. “As he says in the documentary, [it’s about] the spirals of the Hmong tapestry, tracing the lines of his life and his heritage back to where he comes from.”

“For a Hmong audience, it’s a way of reconnecting to a heritage, and where they came from,” Schell said. “As for a non-Hmong audience, I think that it’s to show that there are differences…learning more about the Hmong experience, and what it’s like as a Hmong living in Minnesota and as a Hmong living in Thailand.”