What sound comes to mind when you think of Asian-American music? That’s a question Gingee has been trying to figure out herself.
“I grew up going to raves, hip-hop shows and punk shows. That's my identity and I'm going to express it through my music,” Gingee says. “Then I'm going to filter that through my own Pinay experience.”
Marjorie Light — the DJ, producer and poet better known by her stage name, Gingee — was born and raised in Los Angeles, more than 7,000 miles from the country of her ancestors, the Philippines. Despite the distance, she had a passion to learn more about her Filipino heritage and to incorporate its music into her own. She created a bridge between traditional Philippine percussion and the eclectic sounds of the City of Angels with her 2015 global bass–influenced Tambol EP and her latest track, the moombahton-based “La Filipina.”
For Gingee, the universal appeal of electronic dance music is a way to expose new audiences to different types of sounds, such as not-so-commonly-heard Philippine instruments. As for the title of her latest track, it's a reference to the impact Los Angeles has had on her music. L.A. County holds the highest population of Latinos and Filipinos of any county in the nation, and both cultures seep into her music.
“I chose the title ‘La Filipina’ so I could honor my Filipino roots while acknowledging the influence that Latino culture has had on my music,” Gingee says of her new release. “It’s my way of gaining more exposure for Asian-American sounds while speaking the musical language of the majority of the people I DJ for, who are primarily Latino.”
Currently, the city provides a creative playground for Gingee, but back in her early teen years, when she began practicing poetry, she felt isolated in the arts. “I was really into punk rock and riot grrl stuff and I wasn’t seeing anything that was really reflecting me and my culture,” she recalls.
It wasn’t until she met award-winning Filipina-American poet Irene Suico Soriano that she was introduced to a local enclave of Filipino-American writers, visual artists and musicians. Just 15 years old, Gingee found herself performing at festivals and participating in literary journals and other projects, such as LA Enkanto Kollective's In Our Blood, a recording of L.A.-based, Filipino-American spoken-word artists.
“When I was exposed to that, it was very empowering. It was like, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m part of something bigger than me,'” she says. “It’s such a powerful experience to see yourself reflected in a work of art or show or in music. It’s so personal. It just hits you.”
In 2006, Gingee and her siblings started Magic Garage, a community art and music show that began — as you might expect from the name — in her mom’s garage in Eagle Rock. The show grew year by year and eventually moved into a bigger venue, the Airliner in Lincoln Heights, best known to electronic music fans as the home of Low End Theory. On Saturday, May 21, Magic Garage celebrates its 10th anniversary. And with May being Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, Gingee reached out to get other Filipino and Asian-American artists involved.
One of her biggest achievements for the event is getting FilAm ARTS, the organization responsible for the annual Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture (FPAC) — a festival she’s been attending with her family since she was a child — to sponsor. “It’s a stamp of approval from the community,” she says.
Music and art naturally run in Gingee’s family. Her mother is a multimedia artist, her brother is a muralist and her sister plays in a touring band. It was while she was a music student at Pitzer College that Gingee developed an interest in Southeast Asian music and began playing the Philippine kulintang, an ancient instrument made of gongs that you can’t find at your local audio store.
“My dad is the one who got it for me. He knew somebody from the Philippines who worked with the native groups that played that instruments and was able to purchase one and send it to me,” she says. “I got very lucky because you can't find these instruments here. I think that's a dilemma for Filipino-American identity. A lot of the traditional instruments and clothing, a lot of things aren't really available here.”
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Gingee is hopeful that her unique sound can introduce more listeners to the music of her culture in a way that still works within the context of contemporary club sounds and the growing global bass scene.
“It's a conscious decision to create an Asian-American and Filipino-American sound. There's a big void there. What do you think of when you think of Filipino or Asian-American music?” she asks. “Is there a sound that comes to mind? I'm just wondering why are we so invisible. Why can't we join the party? I'm here to join the party. I'm here to make noise.”