It’s 6:00 and the hot Guam sun has just set. A warm but comfortable wind blows steadily through the evening air. As nighttime and the accompanying darkness begin to envelop the area, streetlights and the various neon and fluorescent light-boxes lining the roadside flicker on. I’m standing in the middle of Dededo in a dark spot right off of Marine Corps Drive. The signs of the various stores and businesses along Rt. 1 have turned on, but where I’m at, it’s getting dark pretty quick. Moments later, a crackle of electricity is heard through the air, and a dozen 30-foot tall light posts switch on. I’m at the Dededo Skate Park, and tonight, the park is alive with the sound of laughter, cheers, and the constant echo of polyurethane wheels and maple skateboards smacking against the hard concrete.
The skate park is a home away from home for many of the youth of our island. However, people of all ages are here at the park, its not just children and teens. There’s a few 20-something-year-olds with their boards showing that skating isn’t just for the young but also for the young at heart. There’s a young woman with two younger children teaching them how to skate on the smaller ramps, one of the children is even shorter than an average skateboard. The skate park is full of fun, full of excitement, and full of life.
While mainstream media throughout the world has labeled skateboarding and the skating subculture and associated subcultures such as graffiti and punk music as delinquent, law-breaking, or violent activities, this small slab of concrete seems to be the most peaceful place on Guam. Many people of various races, cultures, backgrounds, and age are able to come together to skate, hang out with friends, or to just watch.
Even tourists stop by, and surprisingly enough, some of the Japanese tourists bring their own skateboards! And just as there are many people skating in the park, there are people outside sitting on the benches or leaning against the fence watching the happenings within the skate park. Graffiti, here in the park it is art and not vandalism, is emblazoned on all the surfaces of the park.
Whether it be white correction fluid on the jet-black railings, spray painted tags and stenciling on the concrete ledges/ramps/bowl, to the large mural in remembrance of Joanna Jasmin – the teenage girl who was killed by a drunk driver while walking across the park to eat with friends – the art serves as a reminder of the yearning for artistic expression from the youth that call the park their kingdom.
Since the dawn of the surfing and skateboarding cultures, music has joined with them hand in hand. This brings us to why tonight is a busier night than usual at the park, and for good reason. Matala is performing at the park. The Sk8 Guam organization has helped Matala to put on a free 2-hour concert at the park. One of the main reasons Matala wanted to plan this event was for the portion of the band’s fanbase that is unable to watch Matala at their usual gigs which are held in bars and clubs. As Matala’s roadie, technician, sound engineer, and one of their biggest fans, I was there to help set-up and record their performance as usual.
It’s 6:30 — Matala lead singer and vocalist, Ryan Shook, and I have arrived. After making my rounds and saying hi to the familiar friends and acquaintances that are at the park tonight, whether to skate or to support Matala, I proceed to set-up the area we’ll be playing at. I got the canopy set-up with the help of a few friends and the equipment is beginning to unload from the cars. We’re just waiting for the rest of the band members to arrive so we can start on time at 7:00. Bass player Robert Caguin arrives, and second guitarist and vocalist Jordan Hardy arrives shortly thereafter. RJ Aguon, Matala’s drummer tells us he’s on his way, and so we patiently wait.
We continue to set up all the gear, but we’ve run in to one major problem… the power outlet keeps tripping. We end up running extension cables about 100-feet from our staging area to the skate park’s restrooms. Power stays on for a few minutes then it shuts off once more. The frustration is consuming us all! With the aid of Ryan’s father, Jack Shook, we continue to troubleshoot the problem. After a good 10 to 15 minutes I find the problem, a bad multi-outlet/surge protector is causing a glitch in the chain of power, so out it goes. It’s already 7:20 and we’re behind schedule. RJ arrived during the power fiasco, and everyone’s set-up. With everyone in place and the power steady…it is now time to rock!
While we may be starting late, things continue smoothly from then on. No rain, no noise complaints from the neighborhood, no bad vibes at all. More and more familiar faces fill in to the park to skate or to watch Matala. A handful of the musicians from the various local rock, punk, and alternative bands come to support their musical brethren. Throughout the night we distributed free t-shirts courtesy of Sk8 Guam! To obtain a shirt, the skaters had to join in on some friendly competition. Whoever lands the best trick on a certain part of the park gets a shirt. The free giveaways did spark friendly competition as a few skaters attempted their best tricks. There were no grudges or arguments between any of the people there. There was good vibes floating through the air.
Matala played a highly energetic and entertaining set of various songs and styles. From their opening song, an instrumental dub song “Bay vs. Leonard” by Dub Trio, the raw energy and emotion of the musicians catalyzed with their instruments to form a powerful and fascinating sound. Ryan’s lead guitar playing and soft vocals harmonize with Jordan’s vocals and swoop down and grab you off your feet while Robert and RJ’s rhythmic low-end syncopations resonate with the sound of crashing skateboards that would raise you towards the heavens.
While Jordan may have had a cold and his voice sounded off, he still sang and shouted through the mic with such fierce energy on songs such as “Suzy Tried to Kill Me” which was a song written by Jordan’s former punk band Shinjo. While Shinjo stopped a few years ago, there were still people singing along who knew the song, a testament to the influence these local rock musicians have had on the lives of some of the people in attendance. Matala played a few hard rocking punk tunes such as their original song “Let it Bleed” and covers of songs by the Rx Bandits, Queens of the Stone Age, Ben Kenney, and a specially requested song by Blink-182. They also played softer songs such as their instrumental song “Saturn”, a great rendition of “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins, and other soft and melodic songs by A Perfect Circle and the Arctic Monkeys.
No matter the song, original or cover, the crowd response was positive. The skaters and the spectators are seen singing-a-long not to just Matala’s covers, but even their original songs. Matala has many fans within the skating community, and they’ve made many more tonight. Everyone’s having a good time at the park grooving to the tunes of the band. Robert, who’s usually stiff and camera-shy was smiling and posing as I took pictures of the band. The younger children in the crowd would sit right in front of the band with their legs crossed, their jaws slightly dropped, and their eyes staring in amazement. Whenever Jordan would do a funny face or crazy antic like jumping or spinning, the kids would laugh or stare in awe.
Some eyes turned to RJ during the last song when he jumped backward off of his drum throne and then leaped back onto his drum kit while hitting his cymbals. All in all, it was a very memorable night. This skate park event felt different than most other events I’ve coordinated, there was a real feeling of freedom, peace, and most of all unity amongst diverse groups of people. And as the chorus to Matala’s original song, “Unity” goes:
Now everyone sing this anthem - I know how to be free
I know how to be free and that is by Unity
Also, continuing February 13th, the Guam Musicians Initiative and Sk8 Guam will be bringing bands to the park each month for everyone to enjoy (if all goes according to plan ).
By: Jayton Okada
Taken from www.guamology.com
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