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PERPETUAL CHANGE — Ryka Aoki de la Cruz

| Jul 5, 2010
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ryka1The diversity that the transgender community keeps presenting never ceases to amaze. I know I’ve said it before in this column (…to the point where it sounds like the proverbial old broken record…), but I’m always intrigued by artists who are hard to categorize. Ryka Aoki de la Cruz is not only a musician, but she’s also a poet, performance artist, and is a professor of English at Santa Monica College.

She has been featured at the National Queer Arts Festival, the National Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival, Ladyfest South 2007, Atlanta Pride, UCLA’s OutCRY, and Fresh Meat. In 2005, she had the honor of being the inaugural performer at San Francisco Pride’s first Transgender Stage. She has worked with the American Association of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors, and has been honored by the California State Senate for work with Trans/Giving, a performance series in Los Angeles dedicated to trans, genderqueer, and intersex artists. She has also coached judo at UCLA and Cornell Universities.

Ryka is a very talented and engaging personality, and we’re pleased that she has taken time from her schedule for her first interview with TGForum/Perpetual Change.

TGForum: If you don’t mind, could you provide some basic background? There was little on your site…

Ryka: I am a rare Los Angeles native! Born in Hollywood!

TGForum: Education?

Ryka: BS in Chemistry from UCLA and an MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell.

TGForum: Who are your influences in both music and literature?

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(Click pics for larger view.)

Ryka: Hmmm…Kate Bush, Lou Reed, Lady Gaga, T.S. Eliot, John Milton, James Baldwin, Sylvia Plath, David Attenbourough, John Coltrane (biggie!), Annie Lamont, Suzanne Vega, Bjork, Patsy Cline.

TGForum: You are also a creative writing professor, correct?

Ryka: I actually teach basic skills, such as composition and critical thinking. I much prefer teaching basic skills to creative writing. Poets will find a way; the good ones are passionate, resourceful and love what they do. But for students who hate writing, giving them basic competence will provide opportunities they have never imagined.

TGForum: Is your family artistic as well?

Ryka: Not really, at least not as they express it. They really don’t understand that part of me. I kind of had to fight for this. I remember being told I should not be a writer. I remember my parents laughing when I sang. Forget ever showing them poems. However, when Cornell accepted me into their MFA program, well, not even my parents could discourage me from that.

TGforum: Do you regard yourself more as a performance artist, rather than a poet or musician?

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Ryka: It’s funny, I think of myself as a poet first and foremost…but I keep getting invited to perform…and being in front of an audience is such a privilege. I love music and performing, but never thought they would become such vital parts of my work.

At first, I felt torn between the written and performance work, but as I grow, I realize they are all part of the same process. My first poetry book is due out this summer, so I’m really happy about that! However, how I structure and inform the poems-even if they might be “literary,” comes from barnstorming on the queer circuit.

TGForum: In one interview posted on your site, you were described as a “…Japanese-American Goth dyke…” That’s an interesting combination. What are your thoughts on this, and would you describe yourself this way?

Ryka: This is kind of calculated. As a performer/speaker, wearing a lot of hats can make one a lot more appealing (bookable). College groups pool their resources, so having queer and Asian and maybe, martial artist in my description gets me more of a chance to book a gig. Plus, goth is just fun (in a dark way.) In the end, though, it’s just me.

For anyone doing the college gigs, use any label you have to for your advantage. People are calling you these things anyway-you might as well get paid for it.

TGForum: How old were you when you started dealing with your gender issues?

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Ryka: That’s a hard one. I always knew something was wrong, but I didn’t have the vocabulary. I never did the doll thing or the dress thing. I’m a child abuse survivor, so I was more worried about the day-to-day survival. But I used to wish I were gay, because at least then I would know what was different about me. I wasn’t fully aware that my issues were gender related until I was in my late thirties, and since then, life has been much more comprehensible, if not always easier.

What’s weird, in looking back, as I suppose many of us do, I wonder how on earth I could have missed it? But not having even a vocabulary…I guess I have to give myself a break.

TGForum: I’m not really sure how to ask this next question, but I’m intrigued by something. Being part Japanese, how is the acceptance of trans people in the Asian community? How has your acceptance level been with family, long time friends, and co-workers?

Ryka: Ick, ick, and ick. I wish I could tell you something more encouraging, but ick, ick and ick!

On the good side, my colleagues are fine. Some of them are a little confused, but they are fine. Long time friends…well, I had to start over with many of them, but the weird thing is that some of them have been really good.

TGForum: Your performances are well covered in the media, but I’m also interested by our work with the American Association of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors.

Ryka: I don’t have much of a role right now. I’m not sure how they would accept me as a woman. But they are a wonderful group of people, totally pacifist, who tour schools to share what they saw through their own eyes. That’s where I met them; they spoke when I was at UCLA. I wrote two songs for them, and they were played every year for awhile.

Many of them were American citizens when the bombs hit; it was not uncommon for Japanese-Americans to send their children to Japan for primary schooling.

They’re all getting on in years, but they continue to preach the messages of peace and forgiveness.

TGForum: On the two tracks listed on your site, who plays bass on She Talks of Suicide Bombers and who plays on I Tell Myself It’s Me? And, any future recording plays?

Ryka: I pretty much play everything on those tracks. If it makes a noise, I can find a way to use it. I use guitars and basses and keyboards, and lap steels and glockenspiels and autoharps, and have a great deal of fun with harmonica and Japanese flute.

One thing I would really like to find is someone to help me with recording. I think I can do much more with my recordings if I could get a little help.

TGForum: You’ve been involved with Tranny Road Show, and you’ve also involved with the Fresh Meat Festival. This brings up a couple of questions. Will you continue to be involved with either? And, in your opinion, how effective are such festivals and tours in bring the greater GLBT community together? Do they strike an effective balance between entertainment and education?

Ryka: Ah! There is a difference between performance art and entertainment. I don’t think of what I do as entertaining, (though I do hope people have a good time.) Performance art, however, also attempts to deliver insight, a different view of the world, or an issue.

Often, good performances result in silence, or some crying, or sighs of recognition. As a performer, one learns not to be afraid of those things. A quite room is often a thoughtful one.

These festivals and tours are barnstorming revival affairs in the best sense of the word. They foster dialogue, visibility, and thought. It’s fun going to a city and having some beautiful person come up to you and say, “You don’t remember me, but I saw you perform…and I came out because of you” And you just are thinking wow…thank you…wow.

TGorum: What advice would you give to other artists, writers, musicians, trans or not, who are just starting out?

Ryka: Value and guard your creativity. No one else will miss the song you never wrote, you are the sole advocate for every poem or song within you.

Work hard. Practice and practice and practice. Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy for your art. Dance to the songs only that you can hear, but also write them down, practice them and play them until someone else in the room listens. Get better and better until people have no choice but to applaud.

Don’t say no to a performance opportunity and don’t be afraid to screw up. Respect other performers and if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. I have noticed that the performers who are most critical of others are also the ones with the most stage fright. If you treat everyone well, then when you are on stage, you feel everyone doing the same to you. Mock everyone else’s mistakes and…well…all I can say is good luck to you. Mistakes are where we learn, and we all make them. Smile at everyone, show up on time, and say thank you.

TGForum: In closing, any final thoughts?

Ryka: The gender thing has been an interesting and fun trip. I’ve had to find new friends and some people still aren’t speaking to me. But I learned I can survive. This has been so valuable to helping me find my artistic voice. I am a lot braver, and trusting in my own perspectives.

For more information, check out Ryka’s website . She’s also on MySpace.

ALSO THIS MONTH…

Georgie Jessup
Georgie Jessup

Georgie Jessup announced that the documentary film about her life and career as a musician, Woman In A Man’s Suit, by Anthony Greene and Paul Steinmetz, won the Pride In The Arts International Film Festival in Roanoke, VA. (June 25, 26, 27)

Sara McLachlan’s new project, Laws Of Illusion, is her first studio album of new songs in seven years; her last being Afterglow in 2003. She’s gone through a lot of personal changes since then, and many of the album’s songs reflect McLachlan’s ups and downs during this time.

The album opens with Awakenings, which manages to be a hybrid of rock and new age, with the singer hitting her higher register. The first single from the album, Loving You Is Easy, is upbeat and piano based, reflecting one of the better moments of the last few years for her. Sample lyrics are:

“I”m alive and I’m on fire
Shot like a starburst into the sky.”

Forgiveness, one of the stand out tracks of the album, is “…about the loss of relationship and drawing a line in the sand”, McLachlan says. Just a brief lyric sample hits home:

“Through the years, we had it all
Midnight whispers, the midday calls
The house of cards, it had to fall
You ask for forgiveness but you ask too much
‘Cos I’ve sheltered my heart in a place you can’t touch”

(Personally, I think she sounds a lot like Carol King on this one, in both vocal and writing style. Just my four cents worth…)

Other stand out tracks on Laws Of Illusion are Heartbreak, which in spite of the title is a kind of “up” tune; River Of Love, a good ballad with excellent guitar work; and Bring On The Love, which contains excellent harmonies set against a more simple piano dominated backing.

The album also contains a “hidden track”, a re-working of another cut on the project called Love Come. This track is simple piano/voice and what makes it worth mentioning is the fact that it’s nice to hear McLachlan’s voice on it’s own.
Laws Of Illusion is produced by long time McLachlan collaborator Pierre Marchand, and features some excellent guitar work by Michel Pipen. For more about her check 0ut Sarah’s website or her MySpace page.
…and all this dovetails nicely into our next short review…

Lilith 2010 Tour Compilation CD
It’s been 11 years, but the Lilith Fair tour returns this summer starting June 27th in Calgary and ending in Dallas on August 16th. The Lilith Tour 2010 CD has just been released and features both well known artists such as the aforementioned Sarah McLachlan, Norah Jones, Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna, and Ke$ha; along with new acts such as Corinne Bailey Rae, Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles, Brandi Carlile, Courtyard Hounds, Ash Koley, Tegan and Sara, Nneka, Kate Miller-Heidke, Chantal Krevaizuk, and The Weepies. For a list of all artists performing live, please visit the Lilith Fair website.

Lilith Fair is the only tour of its kind — a total celebration of women in music. From 1997 through 1999, it was also one of the highest grossing, with over 1.5 million fans attending, and over $10 million raised for national and local charities. (Along with the official tour web site, also visit LiveNation.com for further information.)

Body Talk Part 1 by Robyn

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Robyn

We’ve mentioned solo artist Robyn before with the inclusion of the remix disc of her single Dancing On My Own. Well, her album, Body Talk Part 1 is finally out, and it definitely contains a lot more than what the single represents. Of course there are some great drag queen moments included, Two cuts in particular, Fembot and Dancehall Queen should be finding their way to drag shows near you soon.

Robyn does an acoustic version of Hang With Me, and I personally regard is as one of the stand out tracks because it’s nice to hear her voice without that ubiquituous 4/4 beat all the time.

Her other best vocal moments are Cry When You Get Older, which is also one of the more musically interesting, and of course the single of Dancing On My Own.

Perhaps the most unusual, even unexpected track is the sung in Swedish Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa (or, I Know Of A Lovely Rose). This is a traditional Swedish folksong popularized by jazz singer Monica Zetterlund on her 1964 album Waltz For Debby. Zetterlund passed away in 2005 at the age of 67, but her impact has obviously been lasting if a newer artist such as Robyn chooses to cover the song. Robyn even went so far as to record her version on the same microphone Zetterlund used. Now that’s respect and true artistry (not only for the music, but for the type of recording techniques that make the older records sound so good in the first place.) Production credits on Body Talk Part 1 are Klas Ahllund, Patrick Berger, Royksop, and Diplo. Check out the CD insert for proper musician credits. Robyn is online at www.robyn.com; also on MySpace and Twitter.


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Category: Music

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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