Monday, April 21, 2008

What is an Asian American Musician, Really?

In trying to complete this assignment, I came to the realization that though there are some famous Asian American figures in American music, they have, for the most part, not made their name as "Asian" music genre singers. There are musicians and singers such as Sanjaya Malakar, William Hung, Yo Yo Ma, Tila Tequila and Mike Shinoda, who we might say are the more visible faces of Asian American musicians, but they are for the most part, not famous for their "Asian" music, but rather for being musicians and singers that happen to also be Asian American. That is not to say that the music that they create is not "Asian American." Rather, it is just that it is in contrast to Hispanic and African American rhythms, which have been incorporated into the genres of rap, R&B, reggae, and other popular genres. However, the same cannot be said for Asian American musicians and Asian rhythms/melodies. It is true that Hispanic and African musical undertones have persisted in American music for far longer, partially explaining their strong influence on American music, but the surprising lack of an "Asian American" brand of music with influences of Asian rhythms/melodies begs the question, why is this so?

I think that the lack of Asian music in the mainstream follows the trend of American perceptions of Asians still as somewhat alien in American culture. Take movies for example. Many a movie can start with a rap or R&B song, and that conveys a type of American feeling to the film, but if a movie begins with an Asian melody, one is compelled to think that the film is exotic and perhaps foreign in some way. Even as an Asian American myself, I feel that way when I hear Asian melodies and rhythms, as opposed to the feeling of contemporary American which arises when I hear rhythms and sounds in rap or R&B which originated in African music. Perhaps part of the lack of use of Asian musical themes by Asian American musicians represents their aversion to seeming foreign to a mainstream audience.

To this end, I found myself looking for Asian American musicians who are not just musicians that happen to be Asian American. On the recommendation of a friend, I encountered upon Vietnamese American singer Kristine Sa (see She is currently "living out of her suitcase," touring around North America performing, and she has recorded an anime remix CD in Japanese. I found her to represent the type of Asian American musician that I would like to see more of. She is distinctly American through her use of the thoroughly American journey/roadtrip, but she also incorporates Asian undertones into her music. She also writes her own songs and plays the piano as well. I feel that in her expression of herself, she creates music that is distinctly Asian and American at the same time, a type of music that I hope one day in the mainstream as the African and Hispanic undertones of rap, reggae, and the like.


No comments: