BY KASEY CHEN
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
Award-winning spoken word poet and rapper, George “G” Yamazawa has spent the majority of 2016 hopping between college campuses. Last month, he made pit stops in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and California before taking the stage at UAS on Saturday, October 22.
The show kicked off with a performance from Christy Namee Eriksen, a local poet and co-founder of Woosh Kinaadeiyí, a non-profit arts organization that hosted a poetry grand slam at the Juneau Arts & Cultural Center where Yamazawa was introduced as a special guest performer the night before.
Yamazawa was on the mic next, immediately riling the audience up by telling them, “When I say spoken, y’all say word.” As instructed, the crowd followed his prompt, and then, with the energy high, Yamazawa launched head first into his opening poem. Soon after, he had the house lights turned up, allowing him to better engage with the audience. That crowd connection was palpable throughout the rest of the evening and present in everything from the light sprinkling of personalized anecdotes to the heavier material that drew tears from many an audience member.
Yamazawa’s poetry is largely centered on his experience as the American-born son of Japanese immigrants. Growing up in Durham, North Carolina, he felt removed from the Asian-American community and searched for other ways to define himself. At a young age, he discovered hip-hop and his love of spoken word developed soon after. He was never a stranger to creativity, experimenting in drawing, painting, dance, and writing. His parents were strict and pushed him in school, as well as towards a traditional career, but they understood he had other plans. Following the death of a friend at 13, Yamazawa began his foray into poetry. Four years later, he started participating on the competitive circuit, and further developed his style upon entering community college after he was exposed to the concept of performative poetry.
After helping to form a slam poetry team in Durham called The Sacrificial Poets, Yamazawa began touring and despite the low pay, he realized he had found what he loved. He gained new perspective from travelling, seeing larger Asian- American communities in his crowds than he had ever experienced before. Rather than having it shake his confidence in his abilities, he learned that his art could have an effect on a wider range of people than the ones he had grown up around. Following that first tour, Yamazawa made the move from Durham to Washington D.C. where he won the National Poetry slam with his D.C. team, Beltway Poetry Slam. Soon, Yamazawa shifted gears, moving to Los Angeles in 2014 in order to work more intensely on his career in hip-hop. While continuing with his spoken word tour, Yamazawa released a crowdfunded hip-hop EP featuring tracks backed with music, distinctly different in style from his poetry, but carrying some similar themes.
Over the course of the night, Yamazawa detailed his parent’s immigration to the United States, his relationship with his father, and even some after-hours antics from the back of their family-owned sushi restaurant. In a crowd favorite, “Dear Grandma,” Yamazawa weaved together a touching tribute to his grandmother, beginning,
“You were at the hospital when I was born, there must have been something about three generations being in one room that made history seem tangible. So easy to touch. So easy to hold. You see, my grandmother’s frail fingers casually carry 87 years of her life, and her arthritis tells stories. Her index finger crooked and gracefully points me down memory lane to a time when I first saw her dance. When I first saw her hands, painless, holding a traditional Japanese fan, moving crowds like wind. A five foot tsunami dressed in a kimono, face paint, and culture.”
As the show drew to a close, Yamazawa gave the crowd a chance to ask questions, furthering the back-and-forth nature of his relationship with the audience. He closed with a rap piece, performed sans accompaniment and was met with a final round of boisterous applause. Then before leaving the stage, Yamazawa insisted on a taking a photo with the audience on a newly purchased “selfie-stick.” When the room-full of smiling faces gathered around the front of the stage, drawing close for the photo, it was clear Yamazawa had made an impact on UAS.
“In Poetry and Hip-Hop, George ‘G’ Yamazawa Found His Self.” NBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.
“Gyamazawa.” Gyamazawa. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2016. <http://www.gyamazawa.com/>.