Fred Ho is a well-known artist, activist, musician, and scholar. He is the leader of the Afro Asian Music Ensemble and Monkey Orchestra, and has been deeply involved in civil rights activism and women’s rights activism through avant-garde artistry. He was the first Asian American to receive the Duke Ellington Distinguished Artist Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also been fighting colorectal cancer since 2006.
Since January 2011, filmmakers have been documenting his life and interviewing his closest confidants in the attempt to put it all into one documentary film, Diary of the Dragon: The (R)Evolution of Fred Ho. Filmmakers move through his entire life—his early childhood, his music, and his battle with cancer. The group BW Moving Images, who is producing this film, has a nice description of the project, the film, and the group’s need for funding here. For further information on the project and its significance, we’ve interviewed producer Iyanna Jones.
Q&A WITH IYANNA JONES
1) The film’s Facebook page explains that Fred Ho’s life “has been a constant experiment in truth.” Can you elaborate?
Fred Ho is a person who is dedicated to serving the truth. He will not compromise that journey for his personal wants or to pander to anyone else’s will. There are very few people who strive actively for this ideal. He has a strength of will and a level of discipline that is very rare.
2) Is there a singular event that makes Fred such a revolutionary figure?
There is no singular event that makes Fred Ho such a revolutionary figure. Rather, it is the sum of his parts. Every time you learn something new about Fred, you become that much more enthralled. Fred refuses to conform to societal pressure to join what he calls the capitalist matrix. There are many things that make Fred revolutionary:
-He easily gave up sugar and processed food to battle cancer. He did it without a second thought once he judged it necessary.
-He managed to have a successful music career without becoming enmeshed in the mainstream music industry.
-He is a prolific musician, author, creator and composer and has amassed a body of work that is as experimental and courageous as it is entertaining.
-He is a man in support of matriarchy. He strives to use no technology that is poisonous to humanity or the environment.
-He decided to educate himself about and treat his cancer himself when he realized how toxic traditional treatments are.
-His personality is strong and well-defined and not based on ego at all.
-He is brave beyond belief and still manages to maintain a vulnerability that allows him to learn from others.
-He gives tirelessly and shares of himself, his ideas, his thoughts and his music that will make him live forever, but he is least concerned about this.
-And most revolutionary of all: He does every single thing he says he’s going to do.
3) Why “The Dragon”?
While Western culture characterizes dragons as destructive monsters to be slayed, the traditional Chinese dragon is a benevolent symbol of strength, wisdom, good luck and power. In Chinese daily language, exceptional individuals are often referred to as dragons. Fred Ho is such an individual.
4) Who were some of Fred’s major influences?
Fred cites Sonia Sanchez, The Black Liberation Movement, and Amiri Baraka.
6) How has cancer affected Fred?
Fred has been battling cancer since 2006. He has accepted the idea of his own mortality in as much as someone can accept their own death, but he has decided to use whatever time he has left, whether he can beat the cancer or not, to cement his legacy as an artist, to fight capitalism, which he defines as the ultimate cancer with every breath he takes and to strive for the impossible.
Fred Ho is author of Wicked Theory, Naked Practice: A Fred Ho Reader.
“Fred Ho writes as a revolutionary Asian American artist-activist for whom his music and his politics are inseparable parts of his identity. All his life, he has been seeking to navigate between the Scylla of a Marxist universalism that ignores oppressed nationalities and the Charybdis of a cultural particularism that ignores the urgency of political action. His search has led him to advocate a struggle for matriarchal socialism. This is urgent reading for all serious activists.”
—Immanuel Wallerstein, Yale University