By Chau Nguyen
So what defines Asian American music? Is it the people, the sound, or both? These questions were circling in the back of my head when I arrived at the 2nd annual Dragon's Roar Festival held on September 5th at the WCETV studios. After seeing Prach Ly, a Cambodian artist who infuses elements of hip-hop and rap, and Ill Again, a group that combines hip-hop, jazz, and rock, I realized that maybe it wasn't about Asian American music but about Asian Americans in music.
The event brought together a variety of musical talents spanning different Asian ethnicities and musical genres. In the words of Jeff Lee, one of the co-directors, "This event is 'image-bending' because it seeks to break a stereotype." Guests included R&B group InnerVoices, Hong Kong djs Digital Cutup Lounge, and Christian rapper Soup the Chemist. The festival also showed trailers of recent breakthrough Asian American films such as Justin Lin's "Better Luck Tomorrow," and Eric Byler's "Charlotte Sometimes."
While most of the performances were in English, some of the artists surprised the audiences by belting out songs in their native language. For example, Prach Ly and Universal Speakers sang "Sox-Si-Bie" to Cambodian-influenced hip-hop beats while The Sounders busted out Hmong songs. Lee said that these artists were chosen to perform because "I wanted to highlight artists that I see as the town crier of what the Asian American community is-- past, present and future."
But in addition to seeing the performances live, the event also gave the audience an opportunity to get up close and personal with the various band members through a Q& A session. Actors, directors, and various people from the movies also stayed to sign autographs and share their experiences.
For all those who missed Dragon's Roar, there is still an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what happened because the whole event was filmed for an upcoming DVD. The DVD will not only include the live performances and Q&A session, but also a behind-the-scenes interview forum. Conducted by Charles Chang and Christine Ku, members of MANAA (Media Action Network for Asian Americans), the interviews allowed the groups to talk more about their music in greater detail.
"For the DVD, we want to present the music, but we also want the people to hear more about the bands, their origins, and how they come up with their type of music because people are interested in learning those things," said Chris Carnell, one of the co-directors of the event.
As an extra bonus for all the east-coast fans, the DVD will also include a film panel that took place in New York. Put together by Larry Wong and moderated by Greg Park, this film panel featured prominent New York Asian American filmmakers. Through the DVD, the producers hope to make Asian American music accessible to Asian American fans all over the country.
Currently, the crew is in the process of putting together the DVD, which is scheduled for release sometime during Thanksgiving. For more information, please visit the official website at dragons-roar.tripod.com.