Hidemi is a timely and relevant release, an album accompanied by a special edition chapbook. While the name of the label is American Dreams, the subject of the album is dashed American dreams. Patrick Shiroishi‘s grandfather Hidemi was incarcerated along with other Japanese Americans during World War II. And since the beginning of the pandemic, violence against Asian-Americans has exposed buried bigotries, flamed by the very government sworn to protect all of its citizens. The pain is evident across the essays of the appropriately-titled Tangled, as Asian-American artists wrestle with their love of a country that has in many ways betrayed them. And yet, while one might expect the overall tone to be injured and accusatory, Shiroishi uses his platform to educate and encourage, while sharing an uplifting surge of saxophone energy that serves as a dual metaphor of heritage and perseverance.
So let’s start with the music. The album begins with three long blasts, like a foghorn, or a ferry to Ellis Island. But just as quickly, “Beachside Lonelyhearts” turns wistful and gorgeous, layer upon layer of breath-infused notes sounding a clarion call, the promise of a new beginning. The center of Shiroishi’s quintuple saxophone cake is joyful, its far edge reflective.
What must it have been like for people with such high hopes to find themselves behind barbed wire? “Tule Lake Like Yesterday” builds on the phrase, “I remember it as if it were yesterday,” the anguish rising to the surface generations later when Shiroishi asks his grandmother about the experience. The music is confrontational and dramatic, swirling like dueling thoughts.
“What Happens When People Open Their Hearts,” Shiroishi asks a couple tracks later, providing the first solid hint of hope. In essay after essay, poem after poem, a wide array of authors convey their own internal struggles while memorializing the external struggles of their recent ancestors. Kozue Matsumoto’s “This Moment in My Life” is a legitimate blast of anger directed at those who sympathize more with a white shooter than an Asian victim. But she is also a teacher, responsible for the molding of young minds. Given the choice of bitterness or resolve, she lands on the latter, despite the emotional toll.
Another respite arrives in “Without The Threat Of Punishment There Is No Joy In Flight,” a title which may spark debate, but a song that sounds like listening, a rare feat. Shiroishi writes in his essay that the time for gaman ~ “to endure the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity” ~ is over, although for years it was considered a virtue. Through Tangled, he provides an platform for artists to unload their experiences: classmates pantomiming Asian stereotypes and repeating ugly names; parents sworn at by bigoted cashiers; loving a country while perpetually labelled as foreigners instead of, as Dustin Wong writes and hopes, humans.
I will play music and break stereotypes, writes Matsumoto. These artists ~ poets, essayists, and musicians ~ make declarative statements of pride, energy and determination. What better way to honor Hidemi’s post-incarceration life than to live, truly live? In the closing track, Shiroishi shouts into the whirlwind, “Is this the end of the storm?” The finale’s title, “The Long Bright Dark,” leaves the ending wide open. But the entire project leads to this shining thought: these artists are not just looking forward, but walking forward, leading so that others may follow. (Richard Allen)