“Yungin'” is a phrase Ulani Mafate’s little brother used to say frequently.
Mafate said “yungin'” – meaning to be young on the outside and grown on the inside – is a perfect illustration of how societal discrimination affects the life and behavior of black people.
The second-year English student titled her Spring Sing duet with third-year political science student Kevin Jang after the slang word. The original song stems from the men Mafate grew up around, and Jang said it exemplifies the duo’s mutual interest in social commentary. Jang, who will accompany Mafate’s vocals on the piano, said they aim to highlight the difficulties African Americans face.
“In the song, (Mafate) describes how black men are fetishized a lot, but people at the same time don’t recognize the marginalization they face,” Jang said. “We want to examine a different side of the black experience.”
The performance comments on how the racial stereotyping, fetishizing and romanticizing of black people can lead to a loss of identity, Mafate said. “Yungin'” introduces these ideas with the first couple of lines: “Dreadlocks, gold chain, and his face looks blue in the moonlight.”
This specific image of black people often contributes to them being seen as cultural commodities, Jang said. The song, Mafate said, moves from the initial image people associate with black people, into a more realistic portrayal of black life in America with the lyric: “25th Street on the East Side, broken lights, he don’t know no other life.”
“We’re basically painting a picture of what is seen on the outside, which is very beautiful and very personal to (the black community) yet it goes a lot deeper than that,” Mafate said. “Black people are more than just their physical appearance, but they are oftentimes reduced to that. I want to bring that to light.”
Black boys are forced into manhood at a very early age, she said, as they face the harsh realities of a country where black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated than white people. Mafate said she drew on such statistics while writing the song, made especially resonant as her little brother has now personally experienced the American prison system.
Mafate and Jang, who met as members of Awaken A Capella, said they want every audience member to have their own awakening regarding social and racial issues. Awaken president Danielle Singer, a third-year communication student, said she has not heard their song yet. However, she said she is interested in seeing what they have been up to since their departure from her club, and what message they will present in the song.
While “Yungin'” has an immediate meaning to black communities, Jang said it also carries a universal theme. Audiences should realize people are not one-dimensional, he said, and should be understood beyond their physical appearance by looking instead to their personal backstories and origins.
Mafate hopes the duo’s passion in preparing for Spring Sing will pay off at the show. She is specifically looking forward to the joy of sharing the song she and Jang have poured their hearts into during the past year.
“It’s a song that stresses how important it is to know who you are in a world where there’s hegemony.” Mafate said. “And I want (people) to understand that while the song applies to black men, it can also apply to everyone because the theme is universal.”