By Laura Ohata
Northwest Asian Weekly
This was a big year at Bumbershoot. Wu-Tang Clan, Foster the People, Elvis Costello, Lucious Jackson, The Replacements, and Los Lobos are only a few of the performers that took the stage. Alongside these legends, Asian and Asian American musicians and comedians made their mark as rising stars. If you managed to miss Bumbershoot, however, don’t worry. Many of these groups live and perform in Seattle year-round. Here are a few must-hear Asians and Asian Americans on the local and international scene.
Fans arrived early to grab spots near the front and hang over the railing to get the best view of the stage. The Seattle Space Needle towered over the stage, while a swarm of photographers buzzed down below. Yuna, a female singer-songwriter from Malaysia, has hit it big-time.
Born in 1986, Yuna Zarai began writing songs at age 14. She learned guitar in her teens, and began performing sets in public while studying in law school. Since then, she has recorded with indie label Verve Records and appeared on both Conan and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. She has recorded tunes for Hollywood soundtracks. She’s been covered on NPR and other national media outlets.
With regard to musical style, Yuna avoids classification. Her lyrics carry the earthy bite of truth like Bob Dylan, while her melodies conjure Coldplay. Above all, her pieces are danceable and brave. Rather than dwelling on heartbreak, she sings about gathering strength after a breakup, or memories of her first love. Her performances inspire hope and fun at the same time.
Yuna proves that you can observe Islam and be a feminist at the same time. In the West, we are quick to criticize the hijab as holding women back, yet her elegant hijab wraps cover her hair, but extend out and up in a defining fashion statement. Yuna’s modest but stylish clothes prove that you don’t have to be objectified as a sex symbol to succeed as a female musician. The fact that Yuna is beautiful is only an afterthought. In many ways, she turns feminism inside out and upside down, begging us to question our assumptions.
And yet, Yuna’s stage presence is top notch. Her smile is warm and open, miraculously pulling off confidence, kindness, and humility at the same time. Yuna is every bit the diva, without the diva attitude.
Although Yuna doesn’t live in Seattle, you can see her performances on Youtube. Her international discography includes Decorate, Yuna, Sixth Street, and Nocturnal. Check her out on Myspace or iTunes.
Locally produced music variety show, Hangin’ Tuff, is the opposite of modest. In each episode, a different Seattle band is interviewed in a hot tub, on a boat floating around Lake Union. The show opens with a brilliant but bizarre animation sequence similar to Monty Python. With regard to atmosphere, Hangin’ Tuff is like the Peewee’s Playhouse version of Gilligan’s Island. At Bumbershoot, we caught up with the show creator, Bobbi Rich, and her co-host Mike Ni. “I call him the ‘Sax Man,’” says Rich, “… because he is so sexy.” Ni frowns and nudges Rich with his elbow. Yet, true to form, Mike Ni played saxophone wearing shiny gold short-shorts and a smile for the Bumbershoot edition of Hangin’ Tuff. When asked what he likes best about the show, Ni says, “It is more about the music… We put the artist in an environment that they like to be in. It’s wacky… We make the experience fun, and they open up.” Hangin’ Tuff is a great way to get comic relief and learn about new music in Seattle at the same time.
Rich, a DJ, producer, and comic genius, blends skits and humorous characters into the mix. But parents, be warned. Watch the show after the kids go to bed. The humor is hilarious, but it is definitely adult swim.
Singer-songwriter Tomo Nakayama performs guitar and keyboards in Seattle. His compositions send modern, sometimes Asian-influenced melodies cascading over chord progressions that hint at retro Led Zeppelin or AC/DC. At Bumbershoot, Nakayama played with a well-balanced band, featuring Cory Gray on keyboards, Brian Wright on drums, and John Totten on bass.
Born in Shikoku, Tomo Nakayama was raised in a suburb of Tokyo. He moved to Seattle with his family at age 8. Today, Seattle is still lucky to call Nakayama a resident.
When asked about his influences as a composer, Nakayama says that he listens to a lot of Nina Simone, Chet Baker, and The Beatles’ Revolver and White Album. He also draws inspiration from his wife’s poster art, as well as movie soundtracks by directors Lynn Shelton, Kitano Takeshi (Beat Takeshi), Stanley Kubrick, Miyazaki Hayao, and Kurosawa Kiyoshi.
Nakayama got the help of Yuuki Mathews of The Shins to produce his upcoming album, Fog on the Lens, set for release on Oct. 15th, 2014. The collaboration was successful, and now the two plan to perform together in Japan, traveling the country by train. “I only get to go every two or three years,” says Nakayama. Then his eyes twinkle, “Going on tour is a great opportunity because it gives me a way to visit Tokyo.” Seattle will have to be patient while Nakayama is on tour, but his performances are definitely worth the wait. (end)
Laura Ohata can be reached at email@example.com.