In 2007, Asian Americans made the nation laugh, cry, and feel inspired. They also made fellow Asian Americans cringe. Here's why.
APA looks behind the spotlight to uncover some of the behind-the-scenes talents we admired in 2007.
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We asked our writers to pick out their choice songs created by Asian and Asian American musicians this year. Think of it as APA's mix tape to the tune of 2007.
M.I.A's sophomore effort, Kala, rode into 2007 with a lot of buzz and rode out of it on everyone's best of lists. And I can't argue. Kala's eleventh track, "Paper Planes" sticks a giant middle finger to Minutemen and xenophobes everywhere with a cheeky bravado -- a gesture that is unheard of in a rap song (or any song for that matter). In "Paper Planes," lawless border crossers deal swag and fake papers, promising "lethal poison" for the system. The chorus even plays with the clinking of cash registers and the sounding of gun shots to raise the stakes. While these images are sinister in and of themselves, they become darkly comic against M.I.A.'s backdrop of bright synthetic beats. And this is the genius of the track. It touches on one of the most hot button issues today, but it's not a rant, and it isn't militant. It's playfully nonchalant, making it cool enough to bump on a summer drive with the windows rolled down. It also reminds us that M.I.A. doesn't need Timbaland to drop a good track. This is far from Nelly Furtado, and I'm thankful for it. –Ana La O'
In the spring, there was Avril Lavigne and her eight abominable translations of the irrepressibly popular global hit "Girlfriend." Though Goldspot's summer sleeper hit isn't making it to Singapore, Bangkok or Mumbai nightclubs, the LA-based band's translations have a lot more to say about crossing cultures elegantly. In August, Goldspot -- named after the greatest orange soda ever to be pushed aside by Fanta -- simultaneously released Hindi and English versions of the single "Friday" from their album Tally of the Yes Men.
"Friday" is a sweet tune to begin with, and turning it into a Hindi single could have ended up being either a disastrous gimmick (a la Avril Lavigne's Mandarin version of "Girlfriend") or an exotic experiment (like almost every Indian-fusion dance hit that came after Jay-Z's remix of Panjabi MC's "Mundian Tho Bach Ke"). But with help from Bollywood musical icon A.R. Rahman and the can't-help-but-like-them videos on their MySpace page, Goldspot succeeded in creating a track that pulls on desi heartstrings without forced rhymes or false pretense. The Hindi version of "Friday" found its greatest success on the BBC Asian Network charts, but its golden age of Bollywood theatrical instrumentals has the kind of sound that lingers in twenty-something desis' childhood memories. – Angilee Shah
2007 marked the beginning of something new, something fresh, and something seriously big for this emerging band. Fusing K-pop, Brit-pop, and American rock & roll into a light blend of pop, rock, and blues, this Diamond Bar quartet Seriously (featuring Korean and Vietnamese American band members) released its first self-titled EP in the summer of 2007. The first track on their EP album caught my attention right away with the repeating tune of the edgy pickup on the electric guitar. A nice balance of symbols and percussions are in the background, while lead singer Christopher Pham’s light voice sings about a winter gone and a carefree summer where the “sun is here to stay.” Of the entire album, this track “Godspeed Cats and Dogs” is the most unique to the ear. The song is cheery and even includes the old children’s rhyme “Rain Rain Go Away” with Pham singing the familiar verse at the song’s conclusion. Seriously got their first major recognition after winning the grand prize at the 2006 Kollaboration Asian American Talent show and has since signed with the Chaos Theory Music label. Made up of band members Christopher Pham (Lead Vocalist, Guitarist), Philip Park (Drummer), Joshua Baek (Bassist), and Nathan Park (Electric Guitarist), Seriously offers a suave sound and some fresh new faces to the growing list of American alternative bands. --LiAnn Ishizuka
The title track of Blonde Redhead's "23" is a cinematic experience. The austere opening of clanking piano chords and Kazu Makino's ethereal vocals eerily lingering over Simone Pace's driving drumbeats immediately inspire hazy images of a distraught woman in a trench coat, running through some cobblestone street. But where to and from what, I'm not quite sure. With sparse lyrics, Makino ambiguously sings about a lover's "tainted heart" and the possibility of him repenting to reverse their love in the mysterious span of 23 seconds. As her ghastly wail crawls through the chorus, it's hard to decipher exactly what she says. You might hear "he was a son of god," or maybe you'll hear "son of a gun." But this confusion only adds intrigue to Makino's breathy voice, which wavers on sweet, sultry and desperate. And like a good thriller, this desperation mixed with the track's suspenseful rhythm leaves you with a satisfying chill. –Ana La O'
World-class composer A.R. Rahman outdoes himself again with another gorgeous film score. As is the case with most Rahman music, you have to listen to this one a few times to love it. It features a song with Rai rhythms, another meant to sound like a Gujurati folk song, and a few forgettable tracks as well. The timeless track on this one, though, is "Tere Bina," Rahman's tribute to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan that melds the sounds of Qawwali with an utterly memorable (perhaps too much so!) melody and haunting lyrics, penned by Gulzar. --Smitha Radhakrishnan
“Our Song” is basically a narcissistic ad for all of Wang Leehom’s previous ballads, while its video is essentially a Sony Ericsson cell phone commercial. But hey, it’s quality pop music at its finest. “Whether hip-hop or rock, my love never changes,” he sings, as if to remind his faithful listeners that Leehom will always be Leehom, be it pop idol, long-haired, chinked-out, or ABC. In his latest incarnation, the multi-talented, U.S.-born wonder boy takes to his roots. Not the ethnic folk music or Kun opera of his last two records, but the cheesy love songs heard by young Chinese the world over: 80s pop-rock, old school hip-hop, Taiwanese oldies. “Our Song” is the summation of that, a tribute to all of the “our songs” shared between lovers, fans, and compatriots across the globe. In a big year for Wang Leehom (he had a supporting role in Lust, Caution), it’s great to hear that his music hasn’t been sacrificed by his new ventures, but that it’s instead been reinvigorated by them. --Brian Hu
Although they're often touted as a novelty act, the Teriyaki Boyz recently released "I Still Love H.E.R.," a Japanese version of hip-hop artist Common’s track of the same name. Produced and even featuring a verse from Kanye West himself, the song was a hit on YouTube. Its music video was a parody of YouTube, as it looks like it was shot with a camcorder directed at a computer monitor. The members of this hip-hop group consist of Ilmari and Ryo-Z, VERBAL, WISE as well as Nigo, the founder and DJ of the group who is always in the background mostly doing nothing. Both Common and the Teriyaki Boyz use a woman as a metaphor for rap; however, Common uses the acronym H.E.R. to stand for "Hip Hop in its Essence and Real" while the Teriyaki Boyz use it as "Honto E Rap," roughly translated from Japanese as “very good rap,” as evidenced in the chorus and other parts of the song where they constantly say "Honto E Rap." Even Kanye exclaims the phrase in his verse. The music video's YouTube reference is especially amusing, as it captures the ubiquity of the site and its power over viewers today. --Richard Park
This Bat For Lashes single wins me over equally for the music (a mixture of ominous keyboard sounds, harpischords, marching-band drumbeats, and breathy spoken-word about a cold, lifeless relationship) and for its heart-stirring, unrivaled music video by Dougal Wilson. All shot in one long continuous take, the video shows Bat For Lashes (the moniker for UK singer Natasha Khan) nonchalantly riding her bicycle down a dark street at night, as a group of cyclists wearing oversized animal-mascot headgear do synchronized jumps and hand-claps behind her. The only time the camera moves away from her is when it's momentarily distracted by a couple of ghosts on the side of the road, one of which lets bunch of helium balloons float into the air. Sure, one could say that the song captures the melancholy of a once-idealistic love frozen over, but mostly it's the bizarre, fantastical elements bleeding into her harmony and instrumentals that provide the real allure. --Ada Tseng
Pehchaan, the latest offering by the world's first male Hindi a capella group, presents their now almost-classic sound with some pretty astonishingly good innovations in music and form. Based out of U Penn, the group has been in existence for over a decade, and Pehchaan (Identity) is their fifth full-length album. The songs are all covers of songs you already know and love. In practically every song, they switch seamlessly between Hindi, American pop, and R&B, demonstrating impressive musical knowledge, near perfect pronunciation of Hindi, English (even a smattering of Tamil and Arabic here and there), while projecting a teenage heartthrob energy that will keep you humming and tapping your foot even after repeated listening. Favorite tracks: "Aicha" (another cover of the infamous Cheb Khaled song, re-done with English and Hindi lyrics) and "Mitwa" (even more exciting than the original song from the soundtrack Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna). --Smitha Radhakrishnan
So maybe their album Sing Song EP was technically released in 2006, but 2007 has been a big tour year for Los Angeles natives, The Little Ones (currently in the UK), and this song is one of my faves. It's a lovely little number that exemplifies The Little Ones' feel-good, foot-tapping, head-bopping Shins-esque indie rock sound. They ask "Why don't you show us where your heart is?" amidst electric guitar melodies, tambourine janglings, and an endearing "Hey-Oh" motif. "Lovers Who Uncover" is a testament to The Little Ones' "Uncle Lee's Rule of Feet" which states: a song that makes The Little Ones move their feet (literally) is a keeper. So far it has proven a valid formula, as this song really does have you tapping your feet along. Although, secretly, their Christmas-themed screensaver might be the real reason why I like them.
Ed Reyes (guitar/vocals) and Ian Moreno (guitar) met while DJ-ing at Loyola Marymount University's radio station, recruited Lee LaDouceur (keyboard) and Greg Meyer (drums), and brought in Ed's brother Brian Reyes to round it off with bass. They're off to a fresh and quick start, only just playing their first gig at the Knitting Factory in LA in August 2005. But I have to hand it to the blog, Passion of the Weiss, for aptly describing them as the "ideal band for Zach Braff to 'discover,' throw on a pre-packaged indie mix tape and have sorority girls nationwide humming along to." True, but who said there's anything wrong with that? --JoJo Yang
While Hollywood profits off of cinematic blockbusters like Superman Returns and Fantastic Four, the Asian American music community welcomes a different kind of superhero. Known more popularly by the acronym N.Y.A.S., Not Your Average Superheroes is a group of seven musicians who fuze the sounds of hip-hop, R&B, soul, jazz, and classical genres with flowing lyrical appeal and relaxing piano samples. N.Y.A.S. released their first album Limited Edition in early June, featuring tracks that remind us of a more soulful take on the alternative hip-hop definition. In the track “Traveler,” N.Y.A.S. reached beyond “the space-time continuum” and exposed the life of traveling musicians. Matt on the keyboard plays soothing chords with a light beat on the drum from Nick. The finger-snapping in the first thirty seconds of the track is also a calming addition. Emcees Emmackulate and Conscious rap about “reversing Filipino fallacies about the rap game” and more importantly, how they’re “in it for the love -- it isn’t about the income.” It’s apparent in N.Y.A.S.’ debut album that they are definitely in it for the love of music and that they optimistically seek a change in America where the ordinary Joe can be the not-so-average superhero. The N.Y.A.S. group consists of San Francisco natives Matt (keys and vocals), Emmackulate (emcee), Conscious (emcee), Voke (beatbox), Steph (flute), Nick (drums/guitar), and George (bass). --LiAnn Ishizuka
Prasant Radhakrishnan's latest offering of Carnatic (South Indian Classical) music on saxophone, East Facing, serves up melodious and soulful tunes that display deep knowledge of musical form and a tremendous mastery over the instrument. If you have an ear for mind-bending improvisation and rhythmic ingenuity, this album offers a great deal, featuring impressive accompaniments on violin and percussion that complement the silky intensity of the alto sax. For an energetic, yet relaxing, brief track that deserves to be heard again and again, check out "Kshinamai." Also, the rapid rendition of "Thillana" at the conclusion of the album is personal favorite. --Smitha Radhakrishnan
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Date Posted: 1/4/2008