Hip hop and poetry

Melvin Won Pat-Borja is a spoken word poet, slam poet and hip hop artist, and teacher, now serving as president of the Department of CHamoru Affairs.  Spoken word poetry is performance-based poetry that is presented as a narration, as if the poet were engaged in a conversation. Won Pat-Borja recites originally composed poetry with a rhythmic presentation, akin to hip hop style. Unlike rapping, however, spoken word poetry does not usually incorporate music.  Like many spoken word artists, the subject matter of his poetry reflects issues in social justice, education and identity.  Won Pat-Borja has been competing in poetry slams since 2003.

Won Pat-Borja was born on Guam in 1981 to Melvin B. Borja and former senator and speaker, Judith T. Won Pat.  He has two sisters, Ahtoy and Ana Maria.  Won Pat-Borja has two children Ka’isa and Ma’ina. A 1999 graduate of Southern High School in Sånta Rita-Sumai, Guam, Won Pat-Borja went on to graduate from the University of Hawai’i-Manoa in 2006, where he majored in Secondary Education.

Won Pat-Borja’s passion for slam poetry began with his love for hip hop music.  While in middle school, he was introduced to hip hop by his cousins in Hawai’i.  Soon afterward, in high school, Won Pat-Borja began writing rap lyrics but had few chances to record them.  Those lyrics, however, would soon become a means to compete in poetry slams in Hawai’i.

Won Pat-Borja was working at a teen’s literature festival when acclaimed poet and storyteller Kealoha Wong invited him to a poetry slam.  Wong holds the honorable title of Hawai’i Slam Master and is the founder of 1st Thursdays Poetry Slam and Youth Speaks Hawai’i.  Won Pat-Borja competed in the poetry slam and was initially unsuccessful.  However, he continued performing and competing, driven by the desire to advance and to represent Guam well.

He overcame the challenge to perform well by developing his identity as a Pacific Islander.  Won Pat-Borja studied and researched Hawai’i’s history and found similarities with Guam’s past, which he saw as a history filled with struggles of an oppressed indigenous people.  Won Pat-Borja connected his knowledge of the pasts of Hawai’i and Guam to his personal experiences about social injustice, and found inspiration to create poetry intent on awakening apathetic minds to a present or future that can be shaped.  He found great support from his family and fellow artists, with both sources continually pushing him and giving critical feedback to help him improve.

In 2003, Won Pat-Borja began competing in poetry slams.  By 2004 and for two consecutive years, he was a member of Hawai’i’s national team.  As a member of this team he won the finals as Grand Slam Champion in 2005.  That same year he co-founded “Youth Speaks Hawai’i,” a nonprofit organization offering poetry writing and performance workshops for youth.  He coached teams for the national competitions at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival from 2005 to 2007.

In 2007, Won Pat-Borja returned home to Guam and established a youth poetry slam competition in Guam along with Kie Susuico, Fanai Castro and Jovan “the Oddchild” Tamayo.  The “Sinangån-ta Youth Movement” has since provided poetry writing and performance workshops for teens and hosts a monthly competition.  Its staff was Won Pat-Borja, John “Metaforce” Sarmiento and Dominic Taimanglo. The Chamorro term sinangån-ta means “our spoken word.”  Through the “Sinangån-ta Youth Movement,” Guam was able to compete nationally and made the semifinals at Brave New Voices 2011, ranking in the top 20 out of the 50 teams participating.

The group has worked with students at all the island public high schools and averaged about 100 people at each qualifying “slam” event.  The grand “slam” final sold out at the GATE Theater on Tiyan in 2008.  Students who have excelled at this medium include Sarmiento, J RAE Tedtaotao, Ittai Wong (who performed on Broadway), Jamaica Osorio (who was invited to perform for Obama at the White House), and back to back Brave New Voices Champ Alaka’i Kotrys. While Won Pat-Borja’s intention is that the “Sinangån-ta Youth Movement” raise youth consciousness; he believes that only time will tell if it has.

Won Pat-Borja has not forgotten his love for hip hop music. He continues to write rap lyrics, perform at events and is in the process of recording an album. Won Pat-Borja performs and is recording music with Tamayo.  His ambition is to produce good “conscious rap music” that informs or makes the audience aware of certain social issues in hopes of bringing about positive social change.

By Nathalie Pereda

Melvin Won Pat-Borja Video Samples

Melvin Won Pat-Borja Video Links

Won Pat-Borja, Melvin. “Hawaii Music Supply- Youth Speaks Hawaii – “Unfit” – Melvin Wonpat-Borja.” HigherGround808. Streamed live on 20 July 2008. YouTube video, 3:47.

––– “Poetry Slam (4 of 4).” KuamNewsExtra. Streamed live 3 January 2007. YouTube video, 3:50.