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

Hello Kavita is a great band, and not just because leader Corey Teruya is Asian American

Prediction: Denver band Hello Kavita is bound for national glory.

Should musicians be praised and have the spotlight shined on them simply because they’re Asian American? Of course not. But if some of us AAPI bloggers didn’t pay attention to the Asian American artists out there, they may go quietly under the radar and not get any attention at all. Not that we make such a difference — success in the music biz is such a random, arbitrary brass ring no matter what you are or who you are.

That’s the conversation I found myself having with Joe Nguyen of asiaXpress.com, the Pho King of the World, Ultimate Expert on all Asian American performers criss-crossing the country, and the ones who hail right here from Colorado, the other night during the Release Party for Hello Kavita‘s very excellent “To a Loved One” CD at the Hi-Dive, a popular local music club.

Actually, this conversation took place before Hello Kavita hit the stage, during the opening act, Houses, which had a keyboard player that we figured for a Hapa, either Japanese or Korean mixed race. The fact that we focused on the guy because of his ethnicity even though he wasn’t the main player in Houses got me thinking that it’s silly to write about Asian American performers just because they’re Asian American.

And yet, that’s the reason I made my way late on a Saturday night to see Hello Kavita. After a long career as a music critic, I’m not big on going out to clubs to see bands anymore, but this one is special. Joe had been raving about them for a couple of years, and he has good taste. The band’s led by Corey Teruya, who’s Japanese American born in Hawai’i and raised in Boulder. The music’s credited to the entire band, but I’m guessing he’s the creative spark that runs the engine under the musical chassis.

It’s still so rare to find a rock band fronted by an Asian American — with the exception of Big Head Todd and the Monsters, who paved that road from the Denver area 20 years ago — that I wanted to make my way out to catch their live show. Continue reading