We've taken several months off, but Erin and I are ready to resume our series of interviews with inspirational Asian Americans for 2010. We're especially proud to be able to speak with Dan Kuramoto, one of the founding members of the fusion jazz group Hiroshima, because the group has been nominated twice for a Grammy award! We'll be speaking with Dan on Tuesday, March 2 at 6 pm PT (9 pm ET). You can register now for the call and submit questions for Dan on our webcast page.
Only a few Asian Americans have been nominated for a Grammy Award over the years, and Hiroshima has managed the feat twice -- once in 1980 for "Winds of Change," a track off the groups second album, "Odori." Hiroshima was nominated again for their latest album "Legacy," a collection of re-recordings of songs from the band's first ten years together. The band has been together for over 30 years, and have become an institution on the fusion jazz and R&B scene.
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
Doesnâ€™t mean that I know kung-fu
And just because Mr. Yan has an accent
Doesnâ€™t mean that Iâ€™ve got one too
People tell me I â€œspeak good Englishâ€
Or that Iâ€™m â€œtoo thin to be Bruce Leeâ€
Where do they get their preconceptions
Of what Iâ€™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 youâ€™re white
Welcome to the USA
Sea to shining sea
I give my money, give my life
Still they stare at me
Welcome, Welcome, heyâ€¦
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.
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.
It's a somewhat goulish idea: take a recording of a late, great artist, and shore it up with new backing tracks. It's been done before, with Natalie Cole's "duet" with her father, and the remaining Beatles backing a newly-discovered John Lennon solo track. And if you wanna look at it from a contemporary perspective, digital "mashups" that overlay, for instance, Nirvana with Destiny's Child accomplish the same idea with spooky success.
On "Ray Sings, Basie Swings," the legendary vocalist is paired up via technology to the current and living version of the Count Basie Orchestra, and the result is a brassy, sassy and sometimes strange album from the grave.