Heroine Chic

Fred Ho, a kick-ass composer and baritone saxophonist, is also a formidable political activist against racism.

A New Yorker, he was in San Francisco on September 10, giving a benefit concert for the Jericho Amnesty Movement. He flew home late that night, just in time to wake up to the atrocities of the next morning. But barring further unforeseen events, he'll bring his opera Warrior Sisters: The New Adventures of African and Asian Womyn Warriors to Arizona State University's Gammage Auditorium on Saturday, September 29.

"The incipient idea for Warrior was my family history of domestic violence," Ho, a Chinese American, said in New York a few days after the World Trade Center's collapse. "For a long time I was in denial of it. But as younger people made me more aware of issues of violence against women, I came to the conclusion it can only end when women defend themselves."

Ho -- whose fascination with legendary women warriors has led him to create a "Sheroes" calendar -- began composing his opera in 1994, when he learned about Fa Mu Lan.

"She was an archetypal Chinese warrior, a cross-dressing female avenger during the Boxer Rebellion," said Ho. For his cast of characters, he drew on women like her: Yaa Asantewa, an Ashante warrior queen; Sieh King King, a community organizer who smuggled herself into the United States when laws prevented Chinese women from joining their men; and Assata Shakur, leader of the Black Liberation Army.

Like a cinematic action-adventure score, the opera's music "blends Chinese, West African, and American influences from jazz, new music, 12-tone, soul and pop." Its dazzling martial arts and dance -- and familiar, but challenging, vocal styles -- appeal to children and adults.

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Merilyn Jackson