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Music is for the People

Let me ask you: what do your dreams and passions look like when they’re not bound by the pressures of time, status, or money?

What do our dreams and passions look like when they’re not bound by the pressures of time, status, or money?

I started asking myself this question five years ago, and I feel like every day is a continual pilgrimage towards the answer. 

Music has always been such a huge part of my life, and I was going to recount my fond early memories of music with you all, but that really just made me feel old thinking about it. Instead, I’ve created a Spotify playlist for you to check out at the end of this, so you can get a peak into what I listened to. From playing the saxophone in elementary and middle school to helping run the Hip Hop Congress chapter at Cal State Fullerton, I’ve always found ways to continue growing my passion for music, even if it wasn’t directly in my life.

I took a long break away from doing things with music as I grew up, and it wasn’t until 2016 when I got fired from my first full-time job out of grad school that I reconnected with it. I was a contracted program manager for a community college, underprepared and unconfident with an emotionally abusive boss, and I was at the lowest point of my mental health when my contract was terminated. This experience made me question my education and career decisions, and absolutely shook my confidence to the point that I’m still affected by the trauma to this day. The beauty to come out of this though, was that I took eight months off to focus on one question: what makes me happy?

I’m not heavily religious or spiritual, but there’s this one common Buddha pose where he’s sitting on a throne of seven serpents that come together to shelter him from a monsoon while he is meditating. The mantra behind it is that when you focus on taking care of yourself, the world will find ways to take care of you, and I have a small sculpture of that to always remind myself to do what I can to make myself better.

In this case, my happiness was gone, and I knew I needed to search for that again. During this time I ended up getting invited to a jam session with some musicians, which would eventually lead to the creation of a music collective, where we would organize music events and help vocalists and musicians with growing their projects. We didn’t care about making money, because there was no value that could be placed on the energy created in those spaces. As time went on and creative differences came up, I moved on to more volunteer work in the Little Tokyo community.

Fast forward to the present: during the day I’m an adjunct counselor and professor at a local community college, and I tell everyone that even if I won the lottery, I would still work this job. I’ve got a young soul, and at the tender age of 36, I remind these students that I’m still going through some of the same things they are, which is completely okay! Without the trials and tribulations on the journey, we won’t have the wisdom to appreciate the destination we seek.

By night, I’m a community builder. I do this through two personal projects: the Yaki Papis and Yo! Records.

The Yaki Papis started in 2018 as me and my brotha Louis cooking yakitori (Japanese BBQ Chicken skewers) and other grilled items using imported Japanese coal and grills, mainly for dinners at people’s apartments or houses. We’d all invite some friends and cook, drink, and share tracks with each other. The beauty of this organic meeting of strangers and bonding over food and music in an environment where you feel safe truly felt magical in a time where the general social climate of America was feeling pretty hostile. Since then, we’ve grown to a core team of four people doing regular pop-ups in our own backyard, as well as Azay and other places in Little Tokyo. We always bring speakers and curated music at the least, but if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a live performance and maybe even get to do some karaoke while you eat.

A little over a year ago my good friend Scott Shima asked if I wanted to start a record label with him. We’re completely volunteer-based and are currently working with four artists to provide a platform for their music. I always loved music and art but knew that culturally it wasn’t acceptable as a career, and I think that’s why I never leaned into it more. The thought of providing an opportunity for the gifted artists we’re working with so that the next generation can say “but they’re Asian and they’re doing it” is something that brings me joy that no money can. It’s been quite the journey and it hasn’t been easy, but we’re looking to release singles in January 2023 – keep your eyes and ears ready for it!

What do our dreams and passions look like when they’re not bound by the pressures of time, status, or money? I still don’t have a clear answer, but there are two concepts I center my decisions around today: FTP & POP - For The People, and People Over Profit.

I understand that I live in a society where capitalism is rampant, but I also have realized that I don’t have to go full send and assimilate that type of mindset to survive. I’m doing it my own way with the resources that I have, because I truly believe we need to create our communities as we envision them and share our resources to thrive during these times.

Now, let me ask you: what do your dreams and passions look like when they’re not bound by the pressures of time, status, or money?

Article featured in this issue:
October 2022
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