Virginia band Tim Be Told playing Denver, Colorado Springs on national tour

Tim Be Told, led by singer-keyboard player Tim Ouyang, center

Colorado music fans can get a taste of an up-and-coming Asian American indie band from Charlottesville, Virginia next week, when Tim Be Told comes through Colorado Springs and Denver during their national tour. Tim Be Told are alternative rockers led by a young, multi-talented Chinese American singer, songwriter and keyboard player named Tim Ouyang. The other members are Korean American guitarist Andrew Chae, Vietnamese American guitarist and backup vocalist Luan Nguyen, Filipino American drummer Jim Barredo and European and Native American bassist Parker Stanley.

Their sound is rooted in unabashed pop, with well-crafted melodies polished off with a shiny veneer of tight harmonies. You know the genre: think Maroon 5, and Denver’s own Fray. Ouyang brings a wide sonic palette to his songs, from simple, piano-based arrangements to full-on rockers. His voice cuts through even the densest wall of sound with an amazing clarity and power — you can imagine his soulful, gospel-drenched vocals taking the finals at American Idol, or the show-stopping spotlight in a Broadway production.

Ouyang hails from New Jersey and had already written dozens of songs by the time he was out of high school; Tim Be Told came together when the members were all students at the University of Virginia. They won the UVA Battle of the Bands, and have since become regulars playing the college circuit. The group released a debut album, “Getting By” in 2007, and they’ve recently released an EP, “From the Inside.” You can download the song “Analyze” from the new EP for free below.

It’s worth knowing that the band’s popular within Christian rock circles, but their music isn’t overtly Christian in tone or message.

You can catch the group during their Colorado swing on Feb. 9, 3pm at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Feb 10, 7pm at the Chinese Evangelical Church of Denver (1099 Newark Street in Aurora).

Download “Analyze” here, or check out some more songs on Tim Be Told’s MySpace page:

Here’s the band’s full upcoming schedule as they criss-cross the country (note that they’re back in Colorado to play at Denver University on May 12): Continue reading

Retired sumo champ Akebono on Japanese promo for “Glee!”

I saw this on Angry Asian Man and it made me smile, both because Erin and I really enjoy the Fox series “Glee!” and because it’s good to see that Akebono, the sumo wrestler who sings “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the commercial, is still a star with drawing power in Japan.

You might notice that for a sumo wrestler, Akebono sings the Journey chestnut with nary a Japanese accent. He may not be a great singer (ahem) but his accent is American. That’s because he was born in Hawai’i, and his real name is Chad Haakeo Rowan. In 1993, he shocked Japan and the sumo establishment by becoming the first foreigner ever to win the coveted title of Yokozuna — Grand Champion.

I remember my mom, who’s addicted to watching sumo via NHK satellite here in Colorado (her schedule revolves around being home for the matches, or as a last resort videotaping them), expressing her amazement and incredulity: “Hehhhhhhhhhhh? Hahhhhhhhhhhh? He’s not Nihonjin!”

Akebono was Yokozuna for eight years and won 11 championship tournaments during his reign, and became a Japanese citizen in 1996 before retiring from sumo competition in 2001 to become a coach.

He probably relished the chance to sing a Journey hit for the commercial (the song was part of an episode of “Glee!” last season). Akebono was born in 1969 and grew up in Hawai’i — he played basketball and football in high school — so he may have been a young fan of Journey when the song was a huge hit in 1981.

The commercial is an interesting cross-cultural artifact on several levels of the ongoing give-and-take relationship between the United States and Japan. And, it made me smile. Rock on, Akebono!

UPDATE: Japanese TV viewers can expect to see more of Akebono in a series of promos for “Glee!,” which debuts its first season Feb. 11 (with subtitles), while we in the U.S. wait until April for the start of the series’ second season. Here’s another spot, with Akebono playing a salaryman:

Gwendoline Yeo’s one-woman stage production captures Asian American identity

Gwendoline Yeo, an actress and musician, is writing a funny and powerful autobiographical one-woman show about growing up an Asian American who immigrated as a child from Singapore.

We saw an awesome theatrical performance over the weekend, as part of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts‘ “Stories on Stage” series of dramatic literary readings. The performance was a draft of “Laughing with My Mouth Wide Open,” a work in progress. It’s a one-woman show by Gwendoline Yeo, an actress and musician from Los Angeles whose script is an autobiographical look back at her life as an Asian American who immigrated as a child from Singapore.

Yeo sat on an austere stage accompanied by only one other actor sitting at the back, who read the light and sound cues from the script, as well as some lines as the Speak and Spell toy she speaks to as a child, and later, a college professor who befriends, and then betrays her.

Set up on one side of the stage was a guzheng, or Chinese zither, which Yeo played with great passion and ability several times during the performance. She read from a script she held in her hand — this was only the second time she’d performed the entire piece in front of an audience. The first time was the same day during a matinee reading. The only prop on stage was the Speak and Spell.

Although the completed one-woman play will have props and furniture and costuming, the lovely Yeo didn’t need any embellishments to hold the audience’s attention. She had us laughing and thinking, inspired and outraged, as we followed her life from an 11-year-old from Singapore, raised by a strict, authoritarian father and strict, traditional mother, competing for attention with a perfect, over-achieving “model minority” sister and a freakish but cool brother whose love for cowboys has turned him permanently into a drawling, American-style country boy.

Her stories are full of sharp observations about cultural differences, and the journey that all immigrants, not just Asians, undertake to become Americanized.

She recites stereotypes of white people when her father announces the family is moving to San Francisco in a week. In an effort to fit in at her private school in San Francisco, young Gwendoline tries to hang with a gang of Asian chicks who identify more with African Americans and speak “Chinkbonics,” but can’t quite make it through the initiation crime. She wants to break family tradition and attend college in Los Angeles instead of UC-Berkeley, where her sister and brother go. She wants to study communications, not medicine or law, which are the two choices her father gives her. She gets in trouble with her parents for coming home with a B on a test. The scenes are full of insights about traditional Asian values butting up against American ambitions.

She tells these stories with incredible humor, and mostly keeps us laughing out loud with our mouth open — something that she points out early in the play, is what white people in America do, but not Asians. Continue reading

A must-read: Thoughtful essay about race and the Fox series “Glee”

The cast of the Fox TV series "Glee."

Erin and I have come to love “Glee!,” the Fox TV series about a group of outcast students who join their high school glee club (remember how glee club people were always the nerds?). We enjoyed the sneak preview premier, which was shown last fall, and then waited with great anticipation for the season to start this spring. After several shows, though, we started to tune out the outrageous stupidity of some of the characters (faking a pregnancy to hold on to a husband; lying about the father of a pregnancy to hold on to a boyfriend) even though we really liked the dancing and singing, which are top-notch every week.

So we blew it off for a few weeks, then came back to it again one week and got re-hooked by the musical numbers all over again. The first season just ended and did a pretty good job of tying up loose ends, we thought. It also left unresolved the plotline of the evil cheerleader’s coach who wants to get the teacher who’s the glee club sponsor fired.

I just read a very good, thoughtful and laser-focused essay by Sylvie Kim of The Antisocial Ladder, which was also re-posted on Hyphen’s excellent blog, that I think everyone should read. Continue reading

Dawen’s “American Me” is a gem of an R&B-pop recording; don’t miss him in NYC dates this week

Dawen, LA-based Asian American R&B singer-songwriter The first single from Dawen‘s debut album, “American Me,”which was released back in September, wastes no time stating his passion for Asian American identity. “Flip through the paper, turn on the telly, go to a movie,” he croons in his supple, silky soprano. Then he slips into the first verse:

Just because you saw the movie Crouching Tiger
Doesn’t mean that I know kung-fu
And just because Mr. Yan has an accent
Doesn’t mean that I’ve got one too
People tell me I “speak good English”
Or that I’m “too thin to be Bruce Lee”
Where do they get their preconceptions
Of what I’m supposed to be?

That’s his first single, but the first track on the album, is more blunt in addressing the inequities of many immigrants of color to the U.S.:

Welcome to the USA
Freedom is your right
Land of opportunity
Only if you’re white

Welcome to the USA
Sea to shining sea
I give my money, give my life
Still they stare at me

Welcome, Welcome, hey…

On the third track, “Ku Li,” Dawen weaves in the lyrics from the folk song, “I’ve been working on the railroad,” into a stunning statement about how Chinese immigrants were treated as slave labor during the taming of the American West. Dawen

What’s amazing, despite such in-your-face lyrics, is that Dawen wraps his message in an incredible wealth of warm musicality, starting with his soulful R&B vocals to his must-be-classically-and-jazz-trained keyboards and his guitar work, and his hooky instincts for get-in-your-head melodies and late-night funk bedrock rhythms.

The album is a mellow, low-key wonder that can play in the background or zoom into the foreground with the sharply-observed social activism of the first eight tracks. Continue reading