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Taken from Green Left Weekly (January 26, 1993)
Disposable Heroes: oppression is a universal language
by Sean Malloy

Rono TseThe Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy are serious about what they say and do. During their tour of Australia and New Zealand, they took time to learn about the respective countries' politics. On Tuesday the 26th Michael Franti and Rono Tse attended the Invasion Day concert in La Perouse, Sydney, talking to people and finding out about the struggle for Aboriginal rights.

Rono spoke to Green Left Weekly about US politics, the group's political development and their musical influences.

On the new US president, Rono said that Clinton's "whole political platform has been talking about education, abortion rights, health insurance; these are basic things that America is really lacking.

"I think the changes for women's rights, abortion rights, are real changes, but I can't personally just rely on someone in the White House. It's not my house or my backyard.

"Clinton can definitely make some changes, but you can't rely on that person to make these changes in your own backyard or even in the world. The system is going to run on its own. I don't care if it's Clinton or myself, if I was elected, I'd be saying, `Hey man, I'm changing this thing up' -- that will get me killed."

The new vice president's wife, Tipper Gore, is a prominent advocate of censorship. "It is a very scary thing now that she is in", says Rono. "I look at the kids who buy records. They buy records because they have explicit lyrics.

"As an artist I have to voice my opinion that censorship is bullshit, because we should be able to express what we want to say."

Reviews of the Disposable Heroes often mention Gil Scott-Heron, a 1970s jazz-funk revolutionary poet who in many ways was a precursor to modern rap and hip hop.

"Gil Scott is always mentioned because people say Michael's voice sounds like Gil Scott. But my music background, and Michael's music background, has always been very soulful music, R&B, Commodores, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and so on and the rest of the Motown greats."

Rono said that they hadn't heard Gil Scott-Heron's work until a friend bought them a record.

The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were formed out of the Beatnigs, an earlier group Rono and Michael were involved in.

"When we started to do music as the Beatnigs, we did things straight from our heads", said Rono. "We did it at home with drums, scrap metal, junk, just stuff because we had no money to buy the `bits', the electronic equipment."

The politics of Disposable Heroes, like their music, have also evolved from the Beatnigs days.

"Saying fuck the government, fuck this, fuck that -- what does that mean? Meanwhile the government is saying, `Yeah, we are fucking you'.

"At the time of the Beatnigs we were really angry; we threw political issues and topics at your throat while we were treating people badly. Some of the band members would yell at the sound man, and then doing our show we would say, `We must muster our souls and our strengths, we must come together as one'.

"I think you really have to work on all forms of politics. I have to agree with the personal side, you've got to be personal. If it's not personal, then what is it? Is it just acting?"

Rono believes that communicating progressive ideas through music can help make a change. "If I can get popular music and mainstream and really input these things and ideas, then I can help make these changes."

Disposable Heroes also work with Jello Biafra, the radical musician/activist of Dead Kennedys fame.

"We've got some political ideas that are similar", says Rono of Jello. "We talk about the big system, our history and the need to go get our history back.

"Jello is from the older crowd, the punk crowd, it's a little different from the rap crowd but at the same time you could say it's the same because it's the same type of frustration.

"What they are talking about, why they are angry, is similar to what we're talking about. If you can unite with all these people, that's a strong force."

On Disposable Heroes' next album, Rono says, some of the tracks will be of a more personal nature, about relationships, experiences growing up and being a Green Card holder.

Discussing the impact of hip hop and rap, Rono describes the music as "a way for us to communicate. I understand that hip hop now is a product. It is ratings, it is good for the spreadsheet. Now that I understand that, I'm going to make some music that includes some information, that talks about where I come from, that talks about relationships, that talks about the government and the cops who are fucking around killing and pushing people around and pushing me around."

I asked Rono about some of the contradictions in the lyrics of rap and hip hop, anti-racist on one hand but often sexist or homophobic on the other.

He stressed the need to look at the music and the conditions that give rise to some of the shallow lyrics. Rono adds that these ideas need to be challenged and that "after they do one song, hopefully they grow.

"My experience with politics has always been on the streets. I sold drugs, I stole. But then I started really thinking, `Hey why am I doing this?' If I get a job it's only going to pay $4 an hour; by the end of the day I can't afford a pair of shoes or even go out for dinner. Meanwhile I see the government spending millions of dollars for a party. It's not making any sense.

"A lot of people never look deeper into the situation. When you start asking questions, even stupid questions, something will come out of it."

The critique of society doesn't stop in the US for the Disposable Heroes.

"My impression is that it doesn't matter if you are here, Hong Kong, Japan or Africa: oppression is a universal language.

"Captain Cook, what did he do? Christopher Columbus? As young kids we drew pictures of him and said, `He was great, he came with the corn, he was really nice'. Meanwhile he had a knife in one hand and alcohol in the other.

"When you don't know who you are, there is no purpose. Society makes a purpose of just being rich, driving a good car -- that's the whole portrayal of America. I'm trying to say this is all bullshit: don't waste your life and your time, because that is not the true meaning of life.

Green Left Weekly has a double pass to see Disposable Heroes at Selinas Coogee Bay Hotel in Sydney, on Friday, February 5, for the first caller who rings 690 1220 after 2 p.m. on Friday, February 5, and can name the Disposable Heroes' debut album.


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