Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 9-22-2015

Embargo Period


Event Date

September 22, 2015; September 24, 2015


MDOCS, event, We Rock Long Distance, Justin Schell, audio, live performance, event coverage, music


Justin Schell and hip hop artists Tou SaiKo Lee, Maria Isa and Reskape came to Skidmore for a 3-day residency co-sponsored by MDOCS and the Music Department. Schell screened his film, We Rock Long Distance (2015), lead an MDOCS workshop on documenting music performance, and along with Lee, Isa and Reskape visited Music, Doc Studies and Art classes on campus. The visit culminated Thursday evening with a hip hop performance (co-sponsored by Lively Lucy's) that workshop participants filmed.

We Rock Long Distance (2015) weaves together the sounds and stories of three Twin Cities hip-hop artists – M.anifest, Maria Isa, and Tou SaiKo Lee – as they journey home to Ghana, Puerto Rico, and Thailand to create unique and unexpected connections across generations and geography.

Event details:

9/22 @ 2:30-5pm: MDOCS Workshop: Documenting Music Performance

9/23 @ 6pm: Screening of We Rock Long Distance with Schell, Lee & Isa

9/24 @ 10pm: Performance: Diasporic hip hop concert with Tou SaiKo Lee, Maria Isa and Res KP


Justin Schell is a filmmaker, writer, and Learning Design Specialist for the University of Michigan Libraries. His first documentary, Travel in Spirals, tells the powerful story of Hmong hip-hop artist Tou SaiKo Lee’s journey back to Thailand, 30 years after he was born in a refugee camp there. His other video work has been shown in the Walker Art Center, Twin Cities Public Television, and online at the Huffington Post and the Progressive and screened in the Twin Cities Film Fest, Twin Cities Underground Film Festival, and the Qhia Dab Neeg Hmong Film Festival. He regularly teaches courses on documentary production, interviewing, and editing. Schell has written journalism for the Walker Arts Center, Rain Taxi, Mshale, Twin Cities Daily Planet, and his history of Twin Cities hip-hop is published in the Hip-Hop in America. His PhD is in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota, where he also helped found the Minnesota Hip-Hop Archives as part of the University of Minnesota Libraries. You can see more of his work at his website, 612 to 651.

Tou SaiKo Lee is a spoken word artist, mentor, hip hop emcee and community organizer residing in St. Paul, Minnesota. Born in a Hmong refuge camp in Nongkhai, Thailand, he moved to Syracuse, New York when he was one month old, then moved to Providence, and finally came to St. Paul, Minnesota in his early teens. He founded the first socially-conscious Hmong hip hop group, Delicious Venom, with his brother Vong, and now works as a solo artist as well as being a member of the funk-rock band PosNoSys (Post-Nomadic Syndrome). Lee regularly performs with his grandmother, Youa Chang, as “Fresh Traditions,” mixing his own hip hop and spoken word with his Grandma’s style of oral poetry, kwv txhiaj (traditional Hmong Poetry Chanting).

Lee has worked in schools around Minnesota and around the country, and with non-profit organizations such as the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT), Hmong American Partnership, and In Progress on projects as various as the Fong Lee police brutality case, mental health and Hmong Americans, and The H Project, an album created to increase awareness about the Hmong genocide occurring in Laos. Lee received the Jerome Foundation Travel Study Grant in 2008 and is a 2009 Intermedia Arts VERVE Spoken Word grant recipient. He organizes an annual Hip Hop event that includes a huge b-boy jam in July called Boom Bap Village to coincide with the Hmong Sports tournaments. In 2008 he was featured in an online video documentary in the New York Times called "Hmong Hip Hop Heritage." He was more recently featured in another online documentary in 2010 through National Public Radio called State of the Re:Union - Twin Cities: Hmong Hip-Hop.

Maria Isa is a singer, songwriter, actress, rapper, activist and international recording artist born in Minnesota to NuyoRican (Puerto Ricans from New York) parents. Raised on St. Paul’s West Side, Maria soaked in the melting pot of Latin American culture and channeled it into performing arts and activism at an very early age. Her first foray into performance was through the El Arco Iris Center for the Arts program in St. Paul where she quickly transformed from student to teacher as she honed her craft at an early age. After receiving the SASE/VERVE grant for spoken word in 2007, Maria acted as the Artistic Director for El Arco Iris from 2009­2013 where she shared with young children her passion for Latin music, percussion and dance and taught them the importance of preserving and respecting their culture. At 15, she had already formed the Afro­Latino ensemble Raices, whose mission was to conserve ancestral Puerto Rican heritage through folkloric music and dance. Along with Raices, Maria co founded the LLC Sota Rico, which served as a launch to help develop, promote and represent Latin Hip Hop emanating from the Midwest.

Maria has been nominated for and received multiple awards and recognitions as a performer and activist; most recently for Best Breakthrough Performance at the TC Film Festival for her filmdebut as Angie Garcia in the Latino Independent Film StrikeOne(2014), with Danny Trejo. She also stars in the 2015 Justin Schell documentary We Rock Long Distance. In 2010, Maria Isa received the National Hispana Leadership Institute's "Rising Latina Star" award for her outstanding work with Youthrive on behalf of working and educating incarcerated youth throughout the Twin Cities. She has also been honored for her involvement with Peace Jam on behalf of hosting several Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and dedication towards presenting motivational performances and HipHop Activism workshops to over 10,000 youth across the country. Isa also received the Univision 13 Best Urban Artist Award for her album Street Politics, along with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Governor of Minnesota for her outstanding songwriting and contributions to the Latino Community; and the David Laffyette Award for her dedication towards youth and the peace movement through the Hip Hop and the Performing Arts. Maria received great reviews for her role as Mimi in the Broadway Musical "Rent," at the Guthrie Lab Theatre, and whether she's selling out the historical First Avenue Mainroom to dominating New York Cities' S.O.B's BMI Publishing Latino Alternative Music Conference showcase, Maria continues to spread a message and create contemporary music fusing Latino rhythms, R&B Soul and HipHop to create a catalog of work which has been featured on numerous of National network shows such as ABC’s The B in APT 23, MTV’s Punk’d, The Paulie D Project, SNOOKI AND JWOW; E’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Oxy's The Bad Girls Club,allowing her music to reach audiences around the world. In addition to winning the National Target "Mis Sazones" song jingle competition, Maria Isa received the Cedar Cultural Center's 416 Club Commissions grant provided by the Jerome Foundation in 2013, where she executive produced and directed the Latina Ritual Project, compilation and concert dedicated towards the recognition of the Latina arts movement in the Twin Cities. Her latest album, Valley of the Dolls, is the manifestation of everything Maria has experienced on her musical and spiritual journey. Never one to bite her tongue, Maria isn’t afraid to express her personal view point through her music on a number of social and political issues such as technology, voting rights,racism, sexism and police brutality among others. This has been viewed as her finest work to date.

Maria has shared stages with a “who’s who” list of international musicians (The Roots, Plena Libre, Los Pleneros de la 21, and Semisonic to name a few) and has recorded with some of the top producers in the industry. She was recently the only performing artist featured in New York City’s Viva Latino Film Festival, Chicago’s Latino Fashion Week and shared a stage with Grammy Award Winning Chilean recording artist Ana Tijoux. Whether it is wowing an audience with her passionate vocals, attitude infused raps, virtuoso percussion work or astute sociopolitical commentary, she continues to leave her mark. The Valley of the Dolls project is the art of a woman who wears many masks, but each mask is a representation of who she is and where she came from, and Maria is unwilling to compromise those core values as they are attached from her music to her soul.

Rapper Reskape (from the French "rescapé," or "survivor") hails from Dakar, Senegal, where he has appeared in national festivals, televised competitions, and hip hop awards ceremonies. Reskape's 2009 debut album, Dafa Jot - It's Time (Optimistic Productions) combined local instrumentations and vocals with contemporary hip hop beats and socially conscious lyrics in French and Wolof to create a touching musical commentary on daily life in Senegal. His more recent releases include "Souy Ballet" (video available on youtube) and "Goumbe yuy Lambaatu." Reskape's latest single, "Show Me" (available on Itunes), will be included on his EP SARAX/offering, coming in January 2016. SARAX leads the way to his upcoming album, TUKKI/Voyage: a musical and spiritual journey in search of a better world without war or child soldiers, without discrimination or hate; a journey to reveal a face of Africa not depicted in western media; a journey of discovery and acceptance of cultural difference and divergent beliefs; a journey of good vibes (album to be released in 2016).