Gwah Gai: Crossing the Street – A Musical Collage in Four Movements by composer Marcus Shelby was created in collaboration with visual artist Flo Oy Wong. The work premiered on June 7-8, 2013 at the ODC Theater. The piece explored the poignant memories of Edward K. Wong, aka Baby Jack, Flo Oy Wong’s husband. Ed Wong lived in Augusta, Georgia at the time of segregation when Chinese Americans were identified as “honorary whites.” Flo Oy Wong’s grew up in Oakland California’s Chinatown near West Oakland, the historical district where many African Americans resided. 

The idea for the project arose from an evening in 2011, when Ed and Flo Oy Wong attended the Marcus Shelby/Jon Jang “Meditations on Integration” concert presented by APICC.  At the concert, Flo Oy Wong had a vision that Marcus Shelby would be the one to compose original music to accompany her Baby Jack Rice Story installation, which visually chronicles a Chinese American’s experience of growing up neither Black nor White in the segregated South.  Gwah Gai: Crossing the Street, a collaborative performance presented by the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC), is based on Wong’s creative non-fiction re-imagining of her husband’s younger years.  Marcus Shelby weaves Ed’s stories of Georgia into a musical expression that captures the spirit of the African Americans of the Wrightsboro Road neighborhood who were so consequential to Baby Jack throughout his entire life. Flo’s Oakland Chinatown experience is threaded through the performance narrative written by dramaturg Andi Wong.  Gwah Gai: Crossing the Street explores the vexing social issues of now and long ago.

Gwah Gai: Crossing the Street – “A Musical Collage in Four Movements,” presented by the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC),  was made possible with grants from the Creative Work Fund, San Francisco Arts Commission, California Arts Council, and the support of community partners, ODC Theater and Rooftop Alternative K-8 School.

A website was created to document the development of the project:

Gwah Gai at the 2013 Chinatown Music Festival

Selections of from Gwah Gai were also performed in Portsmouth Square for the 2013 Chinatown Music Festival on August 18, 2013.

A Slice of Life on Ellis Street

On November 9, 2013, Ellis Street was closed for A Slice of Life at the Luggage Store Annex/Tenderloin National Forest, and the music of Gwah Gai had people dancing in the streets.