Military Shoegaze: a preview of Aphasia's new album

Taiwanese shoegaze band Aphasia is releasing its first album The Crocodile Society of Aphasia on 9/12. Here's a sneak preview of a few of the tracks. I like it so far - a balance between sophistication and noise. Looking forward to hearing the rest of it.

Yellow Buzz reviewed Aphasia's performance along a silent film screening at the Taipei Film Festival this past July.


Rise up in midst of world politics: Hsu-nami @ the Beijing Olympics

Beside the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Hsu-nami is the next hottest topic of the moment. New-Jersey-based Hsu-nami’s track “Rising of the Sun” is featured at the Olympics to represent the Chinese men’s basketball team. At a festival organized CAPA (Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans) in New York's Union Square last summer, AZN Television picked up Hsu-nam’s performance. The broadcast impressed Jason Gilfillan, a NBA representative who later became the music coordinator for the Olympics. The band then signed over the rights to the Olympics allowing for airplay at the international event in Beijing this summer.

Jack Hsu and his band have since received tremendous media attention locally and internationally. On the surface, it may seem only “natural” that Hsu, the twenty-five-year-old Taiwanese-born American who now resides in Fort Lee, NJ, represents China. Jim Beckerman of northjersey.com assumes the ethnic similarity between Taiwan and China, claiming that Hsu will be “cheering on his countrymen” at the Beijing Olympics.

The story is far more complicated. China does not equate Taiwan, historically or presently. At least, not quite. The Kuomingtang (KMT) fled from mainland China to Taiwan in 1949 after the communist takeover of China. KMT’s leader Chiang Kai-shek and his son ruled Taiwan under military dictatorship for fifty years. Ethnically, Taiwan’s heterogeneous population is majority Han, but is now divided into two large groups: “Taiwanese” (bengxengren, 本省人) and “Chinese” (waixengren, 外省人). Most individuals who identify as bengxengren strictly claim lineage prior to the 1949 KMT influx; and, waixengren refers to those who immigrated to the island with Chiang around 1949. The “Taiwanese-vs.-Chinese” distinction has been politicized since the beginning of the democratizing movement in Taiwan in the 1990s. Still, this is only the Taiwanese side of the story. Today, many citizens of Mainland China, including the governmental officials, consider Taiwan as a part of China.

Hsu-nami’s representation of China at the Olympics has stirred controversy among the anti-China Olympics-boycotters within the Taiwanese American community. Inadvertently perhaps, Hsu-nami’s fusion-ist aesthetics entraps the band in the polemical debate over Chinese-vs.-Taiwanese identity, treading the thin line that marks the boundaries among China, Taiwan, and the United States.


I recorded a segment featuring Jack Hsu and lead guitarist Brent Bergholm on LaGuardia radio on August 12, 2008. This show features a few tracks off of their first LP Entering the Mandala, including the Olympics hit, as well as live, acoustic in-studio performances of two songs by the duo.

Incidentally, one of the first Yellow Buzz posts is about a Hsu-nami show in New York last year around this time. The return to Hsu-nami in this post marks the one-year birthday of Yellow Buzz. I’m happy to share this congratulatory moment with Hsu-nami.


Good Asian Drivers Speak Out with Power

Words and music - spoken and sung – embraced the hearts of hundreds at Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge, MA on the unusually chilly, rainy night of August 6, 2008. The spoken-word/acoustic duo Good Asian Drivers opened and closed the event “Outspoken: A Queer People of Color Spoken-Word Artist Showcase”, co-produced by queer social and arts groups Queer Women of Color, Queer Asian Pacific Alliance, and Truth Serum Productions. The bill also featured queer activists/artists such as Ignacio Rivera, Judah Dorrington, Kay Barrett, and Letta Neely.

Good Asian Drivers’ pluralistic performance format brought out the best of transgenderd boi slam poet Kit Yan and lesbian singer/songwriter Melissa Li, individually and together. Li and Yan took turns performing solo first. Over rapid Ani-DiFranco-esque guitar strumming, Li sang unapologetically about her love, ideals, and personal stories, criticizing the media conglomeration and the under-representation of queer Asian America. She professed, “they say I ain’t loud enough to be a rock star / but hey ain’t you sitting there listening to this song / would you rather I grow up at the top of my class / running a business online myself and really liking math / working for microsoft and meeting my Chinese American boyfriend…and would you prefer that I go quietly and shed my friends / and shed my desires.” Li didn’t attempt to write the next queer or lesbian anthem. Her humble, earnest words trekked the rugged range enveloped by the oppressive American dream compounded Confucian values.

Kit Yan presented a new poem, reading and embodying it with charisma. Yan told a story about the female-to-male transitioning experience of an Asian American man. “I am not THE man / although I am an Asian man, demasculinized and desexualized by the society / I am an out trans man / sometimes marginalized by my own community / you don’t see the everyday / everyday I still tell them that my name is Laura / the bankers, airport security, police, bouncers, liquor store salesmen / I’m still afraid what would happen inside the graffiti-stained stalls / even when I whisper, ‘it’s alright. It’s alright, Kit. No one can tell.” Each line cut through the uncritical, celebratory sham of gender performativity and unraveled the pain, frustration, and inner triumph of Asian trans masculinity.

To me, a frequent stranger, sociality in Boston always seems repressed. A swarm of heat between bodies and minds struck the club that night. I never believe in art for art’s sake. I witnessed the efficacy of music as a vehicle for expressing social criticism. Clapping and laughing along the Obama-supporting crowd, consisting of queer individuals and allies of all different hues of the spectrum, I felt an air for change. I’m not sure, how is this moment a remnant transformed or recycled from the 1960s legacy of the Cambridge-bound, new-left-associated Joan Baez? Or is this a neon-purple Warholian screenprint of Bob Dylan whose perennial-ambivalence is again infused with social vibrancy?

Social consciousness - as an art or act - can be contagious. Good Asian Drivers meld conscious words with good tunes and grooves. The Drivers united only 8 months ago as a duo to tour the country with the mission to raise the visibility for queer Asian Americans. In September, the duo will relocate to New York City to continue their journey. They carry with them power and radiance. I wish them best.


Read, Hear & Squat

In September, I will start contributing as a music reviewer for Squat, an online magazine "conceived by and for the Chinese" worldwide. I intend to cover interesting music by Chinese and Asians in the world from the ground up, extending and redefining "Chinese music."

My Squat contribution will appear on YellowBuzz (with a slight delay). Look out!

channel knowledge=power

I've been browsing the Internet through intense googling last couple of days. I discovered only scarce information about Asian American music and culture. So I decided to post the syllabus that I've designed for courses offered in the music department at University of Virginia. I taught Music in Asian America last summer; Race and Ethnicity in Popular Music this year.

I assigned mostly academic journal articles or book chapters, along with some non-academic pieces. Please let me know if you come across anything relevant to my teaching interest in identity, music, and politics. I'm always looking for stimulating and provocative writing.

Also, I'm in the midst of designing a fall course called Gender and Race in Popular Music. Once it's done, I will post it.