Tag Archives: video

performance research

Off-SEM2011 Video – How to Rock Asian America

This 3-part video addresses the issues of (in)visibility, Asian American identities, and reflexive performance as public scholarship. This video is based on a paper that would have been given at the Society of Ethnomusicology meeting in Philadelphia in 2011. In lieu of my physical presence at the conference, I have made a video to share my work in a form of a mass video.

Direct link to this video playlist on Youtube

event performance

Astounding Success @ Love 4 Haiti

Love 4 Haiti was event that I organized with UVa students and Charlottesville community artists to raise funds and awareness for Haitians in need. The planning committee came together over social media. In 6 days, we organized a large-scale event that comprised of a silent art auction and live performance lineup of 15 acts representing Charlottesville’s kaleidoscopic music and dance talent. The first graders at Burnley Moran presented their artworks related to Haiti and sold them for $5 apiece. 6 speakers, ranging from UVa student with Haitian families to university faculty with special relations with Haiti, and representatives from non-profit organizations begin quake-relief efforts, contributed to the educational component of the event. We also sold food donated by local food vendors.

We raised $8,500 for 4 organizations behind quake-relief efforts. Families, friends, students, and artists across social boundaries all came together showing their love, concerns, and support for those affected by the earthquake in Haiti. It was beautiful night in Charlottesville.

Here Peter Traub, my partner-in-crime, and I give a recap of the event. This is part 1 of a 3-part, 30-minute video documentary shot and produced by David Eklund. [parts 2 + 3 also on youtube] This documentary is also aired on Charlottesville Comcast Channel 13 on Friday 8:30pm and Saturday 11pm for the entire month.

The rebuilding and recovery processes will take years and decades. We hope that the event set off a local awareness and commitment to Haiti.

pop culture & media research

Searching for a Hakka Sound – Wu Sheng-Zhi of the Sunshine Band

In the last few years, I’ve been on a quest for music by Hakka people in Taiwan. My dad’s family is of Hakka descent. The Hakka people are known as migrants living in diaspora in East and Southeast Asia, more specifically, in various parts of Taiwan and China. Growing up, I always sensed and was fascinated by the Hakka ethnicity coming from my paternal grandparents. Both my grandparents (my grandpa=Ah-gung and grandma=Ah-ma) grew up during the Japanese occupation in rural northern Taiwan (south of the capital city Taipei). They would speak Hakka to each other only when they needed to communicate in privacy or intimacy. My father speaks very little Hakka as his siblings. I speak next to nothing in Hakka – knowing only simple phrases like “eating” and “rice.” My grandparents’ Hakka identification seems to me private whereas their Japanese acculturation seemed more exterior and public. Perhaps they associate their Hakka identity with their past, their early childhood and family.

This summer I attended conference for the International Association for the Study of Popular (IASPM) Music in Liverpool, UK. Serendipitously, I met and befriends a number of dear and friendly scholars associated with the Inter-Asia group of IASPM. They invited me in treating me as a junior colleague or young cousin/sibling. It was a fortuitous meeting of wonderful people and scholars of incredible resources and knowledge.

Among these scholars was 何東洪, H0 Tung-Hong. Yet another serendipitous turn – Tung-Hong lives in the town where both my grandparents were born and raised in. His wife is related to my Ah-ma’s classmate who later became a well-known writer. He introduced me to a number of musicians and groups that I hadn’t heard of. I bugged him with questions about the roots and historical practices of Nakashi. With patience, he told me a brief account of the history and iconic figures of Nakashi in Taiwan. He even wrote down names for me (because writing in Chinese has become more challenging over the years).

I was especially intrigued by early Hakka musicians. The name 吳盛智, Wu Sheng-Zhi came up. He was the leader, singer, and guitarist of the well-known rock group Sunshine Band (陽光合唱團). His band performed lots of “Western” songs (from British and American records) all over the island of Taiwan. He was also hired as a session musician for one of the three television broadcast companies. Wearing his hair long while playing his electric guitar, “like a hippie Hakka,” W sang lots of Hakka tunes in the style of rock music, combining the Hakka mountain songs (Sheng ge) with rock music. Through his access to mainstream media, Hakka music was transmitted and distributed widely. He released the first Hakka album Not Fated in 1981. Wu passed at the age of 39 in a car accident in 1983.

Googling him, I found a short youtube video about Wu. The voice-over is in Hakka. Thankfully, this video has English and Mandarin Chinese subtitles. Zealously, I hereby announce the beginning for my discovery of Hakka music. [UPDATE: These videos have since been taken down from Youtube…] These are videos left:

Lyrical ballad:

late 70s pop-rock:

on the more disco side:

Short TV documentary about Wu, narrated in Hakka, with English subtitles]:

And I found a few resources articles on Wu:


This entry was originally posted on Yellowbuzz on December 7, 2009.

event performance

A New Taiwanese American Music Concept? My Nakashi Band Dzian!

HoChie Tsai of TaiwaneseAmerican.org posted about my new band Dzian! (贊!, “super-cool!” in Taiwanese) yesterday. It’s exciting to see that Dzian! is now recognized by the Taiwanese American community.

This band emerged from s few strands of inspiration. One is the discovery of the tremendous amount of exhilarating surf and garage music from in the non-UK-and-US parts of the world in 1960s-70s (pre-cassette age). Many bloggers and music lovers have digitized these old LPs and posted them as free downloads. In particular, we have been drawn to the excellent posts by Radiodiffusion.

The other strand of inspiration comes from my personal quest for Nakashi, a Taiwanese burlesque-like performance practice circa 1960s-1980s employed for social functions (weddings, new years parties, company parties, temple celebration, strip tease…). Over time Nakashi morphed into a semi-participatory karaoke format. Because it was always a local practice, not much of it has been documented. There are a few representations in Taiwanese films (mostly about rural life driven by nostalgia). Other than, I’m reconstructing this fascinating performance practice in part as an ethnomusiologist by talking to friends and family from Taiwan and internet research, in part as a musician who’s driven by the energy and performative efficacy of this practice. And I’m recreating a performance based on some of my childhood memories of Nakashi at company parties that my parents took me to.

The band Dzian! is my pet project right now. A few musician friends, most of whom I met through improvised experimental music, came together to play these great tunes. Our formation as a band solidified at the typhoon relief benefit show that I organized for last week. My intention was to recreate Nakashi performance in Virginia (perhaps the first maybe?) and to enliven Taiwanese local culture to an audience mixed between Taiwanese American students from UVa, local restaurant owners, friends, family, and the local music and Taiwanese-food lovers. With our friends The Nakashi Dancers, Dzian! played a selection selection of your favorite 1960s surf and garage rock songs from Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and US.

Here is a Taiwanese “A Go-Go” pop song “I Love You A Go-Go” originally by Wu Jin Lan, here sung by yours truly:

“Moon Over Ruined Castle” 荒城の月 – a Japanese pop classic arranged and performed by Dzian! [I heard and learned this song mostly from my Ah-Ma (grandma) my parents’ karaoke parties:

A Khmer folk pop medley consisting of “Blue Basket” and “Look at the Owl” [from the Cambodian Cassette Archive]:

Here’s a great video recap of the entire event by David Eklund:

Dzian! is Charlottesville/Virginia’s new, one and only Nakashi band. Following the tradition of Nakashi, we have now made ourselves available for fundraiser events, weddings, holiday parties, birthdays, graduations, frat parties, TV commercials, NASA launching ceremonies, etc.

Dzian! (贊!) – Please say our name with your thumbs up!!

This entry was originally posted on November 6, 2009 on Yellowbuzz.
pop culture & media

Is the pentatonic scale universal? Reflections on Bobby McFerrin’s Demo of “The Power of The Pentatonic Scale”

Virtuosic vocal improviser Bobby McFerrin “demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale” at the World Science Festival in June 2009. He spoke on a panel called “Notes and Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus.”

McFerrin gives the audience visual cues to construct a pentatonic scale. He said at the end of the demo that this exercise has worked for audiences in any part of the world. I’m a little skeptical of the universality of this scale. In fact, there are multiple pentatonic scales. What he demonstrates here is the major pentatonic scale. Pentatonic scale as a term is a European construction of scales that 5 tones. Also known as the ‘gapped scale,’ a pentatonic scale sounds different from the major and minor scales in most western classical music. Over time, this difference became associated with other differences culturally and socially defined: nationality, class, geography, phenotype, etc. For instance, in the early part of 20th century, Hollywood film music constructed an Orientalist sound based on a pentatonic scale and syncopation for the purpose of depicting non-western or “Asian” characters and setting.

I assume that this particular pentatonic scale demonstrated by McFerrin has gone around the world probably due to its application in recorded music, particular recordings made by US artists. Maybe this has something to do with these audiences being a McFerrin-identified audience. In that case, they could well be familiar with the US or western notions of “the pentatonic scale.”


This entry was originally posted on Yellowbuzz on August 2, 2009.

pop culture & media

On Race and Obama

Presidential candidate Barack Obama explicitly discusses the issue of race for the first time in his campaign speech last Tuesday (3/18/08). He does so in part responding to a speech made by Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Obama puts forth his definition of race as a color-based ideology that leads to inequalities and social divisions. Recognizing the history of black oppression – slavery, Jim Crow, Brown vs Board of Education, Obama makes clears that he is aware of the fact that minorities in the United States still experience the social, political, cultural and even psychological consequences from this racist history. Obama taps into the current discourse regarding social emotionality as he diagnoses the causes of “black anger” and “white resentment.” He then attributes the conflictual sentiments to the issue of race “that we cannot afford to ignore right now.”

Obama is quick to point out the racialized response to the presidential election campaign, i.e. the bipolarization between African American and white votes split between Obama and Clinton, the prediction of white majority’s favoring McCain. This conspicuously leverages his campaign strategy of promising a “union” across the racial and economic divide. This union is a union of “the people,” particularly for and from the children, with the central issue being education. Pitted against the “people” are implicitly the immoral corporations and political lobbyists with self-interested motivation and power to advance for profit. I like that he targets the corporations and the politicians. But I ask, who are these “people”? The American people? The citizens? I dare asking, what about the non-citizens? What about the immigrants?

The compelling effects of Obama’s speech have much to do with the colorblind discourse presently dominating the American public. He’s right to say that there is much cynicism in the current cultural and political atmosphere, and not enough serious discussions about racial equality and justice. He is even progressive-hip to censure the neo-conservative contradiction in “reverse racism” and American public’s compulsory to be politically correct. But unfortunately, this is where he stops.

A good student of American history perhaps, Obama draws the cause-and-effect relations between the historically known facts about African American oppression and the current racial inequalities in the U.S. Obama understands the “white resentment”, particularly toward pro-minority policies such as the Affirmative Action, as a reaction to white American citizens’ claim to their “immigrant story” and the American Dream. Obama criticizes the majority’s blind faith in “equal opportunity.”

The immigrant story is not just a story, it’s a reality. In the resolution portion of his campaign speech, Obama advocates for a sense of hope for change. To the African American voters, he promotes hope and stands behind their grievances for justice. He conflates the conditions of an economically disadvantaged “immigrant father” to the minority side of the divide.

It seems, the immigrant figure can flip-flop from the white majority to the African American minority side of the picture rather conveniently. Obama apparently side-steps the issue of immigration most pertinent to Latinos and Asians living in the U.S..

Race is not just only an issue related to the domestic black-white relations. Race is also central in the polemic about immigration and foreign policies. When Obama denigrates corporations for outsourcing, he ignores an important part of the story: both working Americans’ animosity toward “foreigners” working within the border of United States as migrant workers, or working for an U.S.-based company. The discourse around the War with Iraq and anti-terrorism is undeniably tainted with racializing ideologies about the people of the Middle East and the Islamic faith, both abroad and domestically. Immigrant rights as well as race-based profiling and hate crimes against American citizens and immigrants of Central Asian ethnic and religious affiliations have been downplayed in presidential debates.

Race and Racism come in various shapes and colors. Some are black; some white. And some are brown, some yellow. Whiteness (or blackness) is sometimes defined by while being pitted against brown-ness, yellow-ness, or Muslim-ness. Obama’s “new politics” fails to address an age-old problem about the interethnic and interracial tensions within the United States and abroad. Until the issue of race is addressed multi-dimensionally with nuances regarding citizenship and border, race remains a stultifying divisive force. There is conceivably no true union, if the union is based on hate and exclusion across various borders within and along the U.S., and not on the domocratizing ideals of this country.

If you haven’t watched it yet, please do:


This entry was originally posted on March 28, 2008 on Yellowbuzz.