Being Asian has nothing to do with it.
That’s the message that Kollaboration 9, a talent show that celebrates Asian American empowerment through the arts, wants to leave us.
“I just want to be as good a musician I can possibly be, whether it’s an Asian American person watching me or any other person watching,” said Paul Dateh, a hip-hop violinist who will compete at the Kollaboration stage along with other musicians for some of the $10,000 in prize money.
Dateh was trained classically in the violin for 15 years before enrolling in a jazz improvisation class at USC. Soon, he began playing with a band in clubs, blending his unique style of virtuosic violin-playing with hip-hop. He soon worked with a disc jockey named Inka One on a YouTube video that has been viewed by more than 2.7 million people.
“I have no idea” was Dateh’s response when asked how his video’s popularity has taken off so quickly. His surprising recent success has allayed fears that he might not make it in such a tough industry.
Although his parents were initially concerned that he switched majors from classical music to jazz, Dateh’s current success and the launching of his first album, “Be More,” has convinced them to his way of pursuing musical identity, Asian or otherwise.
Dateh has also been writing and singing songs that cross the boundaries between musical styles like R&B and jazz, which reflects how Dateh’s own life has been a fusion of Japanese and Caucasian heritage.
“I don’t know what to call anything (I do),” noted Dateh on his current mix of musical styles. Dateh refuses to label his music as one particular genre, but instead relies on his current experience and musical influences to direct him to where to go.
“I’m still searching for where I am musically,” said Dateh. “In this album [“Be More”], this is the way I am, but in the next album, I may be completely different.”
This mixture of musical influences can also be seen in the work of another competitor in Kollaboration, Lilybeth Evardome.
Evardome has been singing in churches and choirs since the age of four. While attending La Sierra University, she sang Mozart’s “Exultate Jubilate” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She came to Kollaboration after being discovered by producer Roy Choi when she sang at a friend’s wedding.
“Singing for me is a side thing,” said Evardome, who teaches music to K-12 kids and has a three-year-old of her own.
Evardome brings a patience to her music that comes with years of dealing with “kids with hormones”—a patience that is reflected in her sonorous, full singing style.
Evardome, who is of Filipino heritage, was inspired by Lea Salonga’s pioneering role in “Miss Saigon,” which opened the door for Asian American singers in theater. But she doesn’t think of herself as an Asian artist.
“America looks at who is marketed the most,” said Evardome, who attributes the lack of Asian American vocal stars to the perception that Asian Americans haven’t found the right avenue yet.
Yet for her, the lack of popular success is not a problem.
“I think I’ll always teach,” said Evardome, who performs mostly independent gigs in the weekend.
One independent folk artist who is getting a lot of publicity around the Internet is Jane Lui, who will also be performing in Kollaboration 9.
“I have never seeked [sic] out an Asian following,” said Lui, who, like other competitors such as singer-songwriter David Choi and singer Kinna Grannis, thinks Kollaboration is a platform for advancing their budding careers.
“It’s not like I have this huge Asian pride in me,” said Lui, who sees herself as just “a girl who’s trying to do music.”
All this may sound contradictory to the basic premise of Kollaboration 9: to empower Asian Americans by introducing AAPI talent to a broader audience. But if we look closer, this kind of attitude is the only way to debunk racial stereotypes in the media.
It doesn’t matter being Asian, and it doesn’t matter being any other race either.
Kollaboration 9 takes place at the Shrine Auditorium on Feb. 21, 2009
By Ray Luo, A&E Editor. This article will also appear in the print edition of the Winter 2009: the dialogue issue.
Photo by Christophe Wu.