Asian-American or Asian-Transnational?

I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been browsing the web half-aimlessly. Perfect activity on a Saturday afternoon assaulted by 100-plus-degree heat. I’m looking for music events while planning for my research trip to New York next week. Myspace seems to be logical place to start as it highlights the local affiliations of musicians and music events.

This presents an curious encountering of an online-offline contradiction: regardless of how “virtual” the Internet environment is, people use this virtual social space to construct a sense of local belonging or ties. Not only that, while musicians have a permanent tie to a physical home base, many of them have a transient status of being “on tour” in regions of the US or the world.

I’ve noticed a particular pattern: many Asian American musicians, particularly those who perform in the format of an indie or rock band, are touring or have recently toured Asia. For instance, Asobi Seksu, a Brooklyn-based indie rock band fronted by Japanese American Yuki Chikudate, just finished their tour dates in Japan and Taiwan (last performance at Formoz Festival in Taiwan) in late July. Also, Johnny Hi-Fi, Taiwanese-American Eric Hsu’s Britpop-inspired indie band based out of New York, toured Taiwan, China, and Japan last September and are about to release a bilingual (English-Mandarin) album.

This makes me wonder if Asian American musicians could mobilize their Asian social connections or capital better than those non-Asian Americans. How much of the “Asian tour” has something to do with the personal connections that Asian American musicians have themselves, how much of it has to do with the ethnicity factor? Can ethnicity be translated into a form of social capital?

My speculation is not meant to discount the successful reception of American bands with Asian American members in Asia by all means. I’m sure that there are other reasons (such as a musical compatibility) for Asian listeners to dig music by Asian Americans. (Could this be the reason that Johnny Hi-Fi’s “Familiar Voices Pres…” reminds me of Taiwanese indie sound?)

My recent experiences of touring Taiwan with my band (Pinko Communoids) made me realize that without my personal connections to Taiwan, our dream of an “Asian tour” would be halted by a slew of logistical difficulties. Perhaps, with unsigned groups, the possibility of touring Asia would be augmented when a member of the group has some sort of personal or cultural connections to the country. The ability to speak the language and having distant relatives in other countries on a tour could facilitate the international communication and travel arrangement. Believe me, even with that, we still were warped into the alienating universe portrayed in Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Perhaps this is the kind of social contact that allows the identity of Asian-American and Asian-transnational to mutually reinforce each other.

If this is the case, why not? It’s not like Asians or Asian Americans dominate the music industry in either the US or the world.

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This entry was originally posted on August 4, 2007 on Yellowbuzz.

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