With No-No Boy: A Multimedia Concert, Julian Saporiti and Erin Aoyama seek to illuminate the Asian American experience through Saporiti’s original songs, which are performed against a backdrop of projections featuring archival photographs and moving images. The result is an immersive experience connecting the diverse but interconnected histories of World War II Japanese incarceration, southeast Asian emigration, and hyphenated identities.
The seeds of the No-No Boy project were sown while Saporiti was living in Laramie, Wyoming, for graduate school. He made several trips to the Heart Mountain concentration camp in the northwestern part of the state, where the US government had incarcerated more than 10,000 people of Japanese ancestry during the war. These visits had a profound impact on him. Saporiti began interviewing camp survivors and researching the music that was performed in the camps. The No-No Boy project was later born from those interviews and Saporiti’s thinking about his own displaced family of Vietnamese refugees.
Saporiti went on to enroll at Brown University in Rhode Island to complete a doctorate. There he met Erin Aoyama, also a Ph.D. student. For the project, Aoyama draws from her academic research on the parallels between Japanese American incarceration and the experiences of African Americans in the Jim Crow South. Aoyama’s work with No-No Boy is also profoundly personal. Her grandmother was incarcerated in the Heart Mountain concentration camp during the war.
The music they create unmistakably draws from the storytelling traditions of folk and country music. However, there are indie-rock tendencies mixed in. This makes sense considering that in the early 2000s, Saporiti found critical acclaim as the singer of the Berklee-trained indie-rock group The Young Republic. Lyrically, No-No Boy’s songs are sharp and pointed commentaries on identity politics, privilege, academia, and history, delivering what NPR has called, “revisionist subversion.” For example, in Two Candles Dancing in the Dark they weave a story inspired by Aoyama’s grandmother about the joy of finding romance inside an American concentration camp while stressing the horrors of Executive Order 9066, which cleared the way for the incarceration of Japanese Americans. Nonetheless, there is a purposeful buoyancy to the songs that acts as a counterbalance to the serious topics they tackle. With this dose of levity, the music is enjoyable on its face as modern American music and doesn’t require in-depth historical or cultural knowledge to appreciate it.
See No-No Boy: A Multimedia Concert at JANM on Saturday, November 3 in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum. Make sure to stay after the show for a Q&A with the band. Included with museum admission. RSVPs are recommended; you can sign up here.
I have a friend in Tokyo. His name is Shin Miyata. For the past 17 years, Shin has been running an independent music label called Barrio Gold Records. He primarily distributes groups from across Latin America, but his specialty is Chicano music from East Los Angeles. He also brings bands from East LA to Japan to perform live.
Nobody else in Japan is doing this kind of work.
I met Shin back in 2000, when I had the opportunity to go with the band Quetzal to Tokyo to document their tour. I learned that Shin had lived in the East LA neighborhood of City Terrace as a college student in the mid-1980s, doing a study-abroad home stay. He had been deeply inspired by Chicano books, films, and music—specifically 1970s bands like El Chicano and Tierra—and he had come to LA because he wanted to experience the Chicano culture first hand. He even took Chicano Studies classes at East LA College.
On a recent visit to Los Angeles, Shin told me that it was his dream to bring over musicians from Japan so they could perform with musicians from East LA. Specifically, he wanted to bring Japanese musicians that play different types of Latin music. He believed that audiences would appreciate the heart and soul they put into the music, and that it would be amazing to see this sort of collaboration.
The Japanese American National Museum, located in Little Tokyo just across the bridge from Boyle Heights and East LA, would be the perfect venue. Shin would curate the event, drawing on some of the many Chicano bands he has worked with, and also selecting musicians from Japan to participate. The event would celebrate his work as a cultural ambassador while also encouraging unity and collaboration during a time of great political and ideological division worldwide.
Each of the featured artists has benefited from Shin’s work, but they also share a deep affection for him. He has worked to create cultural exchanges and understanding between East LA and Japan for many years, and in doing so, has built a strong network of loyal friends.
Along with all of this incredible music, the Okamoto Kitchen food truck will be there, along with a beer garden by Angel City Brewery. Concertgoers will also be able to check out the exhibitions inside the museum till 8 p.m.
Transpacific Musiclands is supported by Los Angeles County Arts Commission. It is
held in conjunction with the exhibition Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo, which is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty. The presenting sponsor is Bank of America.
Most people I know of Asian descent who came of age in the 1990s have a deep appreciation for hip hop music. One of the most visible examples of this is chef and iconoclast Eddie Huang, whose boyhood is the subject of the hit ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat.
Based on his bestselling autobiography of the same name, the sitcom repeatedly emphasizes young Eddie’s identification with hip hop as empowering music for outsiders. As Huang’s generation came of age, they began making music of their own, and today, there are many successful Asian American hip hop acts.
Back in the early ’90s, however, it wasn’t so easy for musicians of Asian descent to gain acceptance in the field. The hip hop genre was heavily coded as African American, and Asians were perceived as not fitting into the culture. Attempts to perform or compose beats were typically disparaged—by audiences, by music producers, and by industry executives.
In 1996, a trio of Chinese-American students at Penn State University entered a national singing contest sponsored by Sprite, and won. Their slick rhymes expressing their love for the soft drink wound up on the radio as a 60-second commercial. Executives at Ruffhouse Records—known for producing albums by The Fugees and Cypress Hill, among others—liked what they heard and approached the group for a deal.
The Mountain Brothers—CHOPS (Scott Jung), Peril-L (Christopher Wang), and Styles Infinite (Steve Wei)—named themselves after a group of noble bandits depicted in a classical Chinese novel. They soon became the first Asian American hip hop group to sign with a major label.
Unfortunately, the group’s path was a rocky one. The record label saw their ethnicity as a disadvantage, and even suggested that they satirize their heritage onstage by wearing karate outfits and playing a gong. Although their music was critically acclaimed, it was difficult for them to get gigs if they did not initially conceal their Asian identities. After releasing only two albums—Self: Volume 1 in 1999 and Triple Crown in 2003—the group disbanded.
Today, the Mountain Brothers are considered important pioneers who paved the way for the many Asian American hip hop acts who followed. Although two of the members have since left music to pursue other professions, CHOPS continues to have a successful career as a producer and composer, working with artists like Nicki Menaj and Kanye West.
On Thursday evening, May 14, JANM will present a rare panel discussion with all the original members of the Mountain Brothers, moderated by sociologist Oliver Wang. Come and learn more about the band’s history and what the members have been up to lately, and hear their views on the past and future of hip hop music. Tickets are still available here.
On February 8, 2014, JANM held the Target Day Free Family Saturdays: Aloha from Hawaii with KoAloha Ukulelefamily festival. Every corner of the Museum was filled with music as KoAloha Ukulele led freeperformances, workshops, and more!
In addition to the performances and workshops, guests also enjoyed ukulele-related film screenings of My KoAloha Story and The Haumana; and a variety of craft activities.
Throughout the afternoon the Aratani Central Hall was filled with the sounds of spectacular ukulele performances by exciting young performers Jason Arimoto, Tj Mayeshiro (from Hawaii), and Ryo Montgomery (from Australia!).
Many guests brought their own instruments for free ukulele classes with KoAloha Ukulele staff and artist partners. These lively classes were enjoyed by guests of all ages and all levels as a number of classes were offered by different artists.
Check out these photos from February’s Target Free Family Saturday. Click on the thumbnails to see the full image larger.
Thanks to Russell Kitagawa, Mike Palma, Caroline Jung, Tsuneo Takasugi, and Tokumasa Shoji for taking amazing photographs!
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Save the date for JANM’s next Target Free Family Saturday on May 10th! In celebration of the new Dodgers: Brotherhood of the Game exhibition (opening March 29!), bring the whole family out for free baseball-themed crafts & activities…sure to be a home run! Stay tuned for updates on janm.org/target.
“As a Japanese American National Museum, why are we hosting a documentary premiere about a Korean American adoptee?” Koji, Manager of Programs at the Museum, asked during his introduction for the screening. “Personally, I identify myself as Asian American first, and Japanese American second.” Having said this, Koji explained that “to understand the Japanese American story you have to understand the Asian American story, and to understand the Asian American story you have to understand the Japanese American story.”
TheakaDAN documentary follows Los Angeles-based musician and Korean American adoptee DANakaDAN (Dan Matthews) as he reunites with his biological family in South Korea during the summer of 2013. The documentary is full of interesting twists and turns, including the fact that Dan meets his identical twin brother that he never knew existed. This documentary was not only interesting, but engaging as it had you laughing one second, and tugging at your heart strings in the next.
Two screenings held in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum on the evening of February 1st were packed to maximum capacity. As Dan explained before the screening it was actually a 4-episode feature that was being screened as an 85-minute documentary.
An insightful Q&A session led by Angry Asian Man blogger, Phil Yu, wrapped up each screening. Producers, filmmakers, and the cast answered a variety of questions, ranging from personal questions about Dan’s experience as an adoptee, to technical questions about production.
Following the second screening was an after party in Aratani Central Hall hosted by YouTube celebritiesAmy Okuda and Ki Hong Lee. First to open up the after party was Travis Graham with a couple of mellow acoustic numbers. Following Graham was an exciting performance by Paul Dateh, popular for combining hip-hop with his skills on the violin. Closing out the after party was Dan, with words of gratitude, and a powerful line-up of songs from his upcoming album, Stuntman.
The akaDAN documentary was not only entertaining, but by sharing the story of a Korean American adoptee, it gave the audience a sense of how broad the Asian American story is. Being Asian American is a vast quilt-work of stories and experiences, and as Dan explores his story, it encourages viewers to look into their own story, whatever ethnicity they may be, and whatever background they may come from.
Check out these photos from the akaDAN documentary premiere and the Stuntman album release party:
Photo Credits: Richard Murakami, Esther Shin
JANM members received a special discount for this event! Sign up to be a JANM member now and support the Museum while receiving many benefits!
KoAloha Ukulele is coming from Hawaii on Saturday, February 8 to lead performances, workshops, crafts, and all things ukulele at our next Target Free Family Saturday. It’s FREE all day!
Bring your own ukulele to learn basic and intermediate ukulele with Brian Benevente of KoAloha Ukulele and other KoAloha artist partners (11:15am/12:15pm/1:15pm/2:15pm). The little ones will enjoy strum-along and sing-along workshops with George “Gibi” del Barrio as “Abba Geebz” (Grandpa Geebz) at 11:30am, 12:45pm, and 1:45pm. If you don’t have your own ukulele, Anacapa Ukulele will be on-site selling instruments!
There will be solo performances by spectacular ukulele performers Tj Mayeshiro, Jason Arimoto, and Ryo Montgomeryat 11:30am, 1pm, and 2:30pm. Plus an All-Star jam finale at 3:30pm with all three performers.
Plus, screenings of award-winning films: My KoAloha Storyat 11:30am and The Haumana at 1:30pm; make your own candy leis; send an aloha to someone special by making a valentine with a bit of a Hawaiian touch; and fold an origami Hawaiian canoe.
Acclaimed Japanese American pianist, and winner of the Van Cliburn competition, Jon Nakamatsu will be performing at The Colburn School on Sunday, September 29th at 3:00pm in Zipper Hall.
He will be presenting a program of Haydn’sTrio in E major, Kodaly’sDuo for Violin and Cello, and Mendelssohn’sTrio No.1 in D minor with Colburn’s two newest faculty appointees, and former members of the Tokyo String Quartet, Martin Beaver and Clive Greensmith.
Look! Evan has a new wooden harmonica and cardboard guitar!
Evan makes noise. Um, I mean, Evan makes music.
Don’t you want to be noisy… um, I mean, musical just like Evan?
Good news! You can! Come on down to the Museum this Saturday for our March Target Free Family Saturday. (March 9th). We’re ready to celebrate music with fun performances and lots of opportunities to make some noise! On the crafty side of things we’ll be making harmonicas and stringed instruments just like Evan’s.
There will be a drum circle for you to join and performances by the Turath Ensemble, who will perform traditional Middle Eastern music and drumming. A family day favorite, TAIKOPROJECT will perform as well. We’re all set for a JANM jam so come join us.
On top of all this musical excitement, we are also so excited to welcome our friend Sonya from the Arab American National Museum (AANM) in Dearborn, Michigan. One of our current exhibitions, Patriots and Peacemakers: Arab Americans in Service to ourCountrycomes to us from AANM. Sonya will be leading tours of the exhibition throughout the day with a special talk at 1:30.
Hope to see you!
Special thanks to Evan for such a dynamic demonstration of what fun we will have on Saturday. He deserves an award for being a good sport.