Bridging the Gap — Pacific Bridge Arts Looks to Offer Asian musicians a leg up: On Thursday, Nov. 2, at the Intercrew restaurant in Los Angeles in conjunction with the Pacific Bridge Arts Foundation, an event called A Night to Remember: A Celebration of Asian Americans in Music will take place. While it’s a private event, it still promises to be a significant and important night for the students receiving scholarships on the night, as well as Asian American artists in general.
Kevin Nishimura is a cofounder of the Pacific Bridge Arts Foundation, which provides “a platform to support and celebrate Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in arts and culture” (according to their website). He’s also a member of the pioneering electronic/hip-hop outfit, the Far East Movement. That group no longer performs, having switched to the business side of the industry, but they’ll be hosting this event.
“The Far East Movement was really the beginning of our lives in the professional music industry,” says Nishimura. “We started as a music group, doing electronic rap, representing Korea Town and Downtown L.A. We were signed to Interscope, and really had a learning experience in the music industry head on. As we started getting older and transitioning into more of the business role, we really wanted to reach out and create those channels to reach out. Pacific Bridge Arts was that perfect bridge where we could go back into the community and inspire students and young musicians that were looking at the music industry and seeing that it felt so far away. Pacific Bridge Arts was a way for us to bridge that gap through scholarships and different programs. It started out with live shows. That was why we wanted to get involved. We didn’t see many programs that were doing that type of work. We were excited to be a part of that.”
The Far East Movement founded a company called Transparent Arts, after its move away from performing, which distributes music from Asia into the United States, investing in artists, and doing more community work through Pacific Bridge Arts. It’s been a good time to be working in that space, not least because of the ever-increasing popularity of K-Pop and J-Pop in the west.
“When we were artists, we never thought there could be a platform this big,” says Nishimura. “Even Asian language and specifically Korean language music could be heard all around the world and sung exactly perfectly, the way the language is sung in Korean. So to hear it translated the way that the LatinX community and that music is translated has been a real inspiration for us and so we’re very grateful to be a part of that next journey. Excited to see a lot of artists that are our friends. The Jay Parks and so many others that are making global waves out of Korea. It’s a great time.”
The Pacific Bridge Arts Foundation came to be thanks to former councilmember David Ryu, who originally started it as a community event on the steps of City Hall.
“I think it was year two, he contacted us, me and my partner James Roh, to see if we wanted to take it over and do an event,” says Nishimura. “We had a lot of love for what he was doing for the community, we thought it was perfect, and we did it. We threw a festival on the steps of City Hall, and it went a lot better than we expected, to be honest. A lot of our friends that were in the K-Pop and Asian hip-hop industry just came out and performed. Eight thousand to 10,000 people on the steps of City Hall in Downtown L.A., and for us we’d never seen anything like that. I think at the same time, we saw community leaders come out, we were giving out awards from the City of LA, and through that first event it inspired us to take Pacific Bridge Arts a lot further. That’s when we expanded it into scholarship programs and what it is now.”
A second event pulled in a similar number of people, with Jay Park and Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park) performing. That led to a partnership with Amazon Music.
“An executive there named Frankie Yaptinchay was pivotal in bringing Amazon Music in to support and getting Twitch involved so that we could amplify this globally,” says Nishimura. “We were able to bring in much larger stars to do the livestream during the pandemic. Huge support from Amazon and Twitch to represent the API community. We had billboards in New York Times Square, and that was definitely an emotional experience to see how recognized our community was getting. During that time, we made the Pacific Bridge Arts musical scholarships, and the partnership with GRAMMY Camp (a five-day camp for high school students interested in a career in music).”
If the ultimate aim is to promote Asian musicians, but also to help young Asian musicians get started in music, then they’re having great success. The importance of groups like this has been highlighted by a wave of violence against Asian people during the pandemic, thanks to a spread of misinformation.
“News like that affected the community deeply, and if anything it unified us,” says Nishimura. “If there was a need I couldn’t say, but there was definitely a sense of togetherness and strength in numbers. I’m also a cofounder and board member of an organization called Gold House, which has been greatly supportive of Pacific Bridge Arts, and we collaborate a lot together. Gold House was pivotal in the Stop Asian Hate campaign. Bringing large corporations to the table to help that GoFundMe. So Pacific Bridge Arts, we really didn’t touch on that, but I will say that the support from the community was immense.”
“It’s hard for anyone to take the road less traveled. We definitely went through a lot of that, and our success is really a product of our environment and the people that helped us along the way,” adds Far East Movement’s James Roh. “So we want to support those who have the courage to take those steps in any way that we can, whether through scholarships, mentorship, training, whatever. We just want them to know that they’re not alone, and they can come to us at any time.”
So back to the Nov. 2 event. This will be the first celebration and dinner Pacific Bridge Arts has held for the scholarships.
“We wanted to make it a night to really recognize Asian Americans in music, and some of the amazing accomplishments,” says Nishimura. “Far East Movement will be hosting; we won’t be performing. But we have an amazing friend coming out to perform. Her name is Yuna, she’s Malaysian; she’s had incredible success in America collaborating with Usher and so much more. She’s going to do an acoustic performance.
“We’re recognizing some amazing friends, but also Asians that have been either nominated or won a Grammy.”
“We are really excited to have Yuna perform at this event, who we have known and respected for a long time,” adds Virman, also of the Far East Movement. “She’s a trailblazer who has never been afraid to be herself and still achieved high levels of success. She’s also an awesome person who always wants to give back. DJ Eman is a legend in American radio who has always used his platform to support up and coming artists, including us! The speakers are all also friends who we’ve worked with in different ways over the past years. It’s kind of mind-boggling to think that they’re all Grammy certified in one way or another considering where they started from.”
Grammy-winning producer John Yip of the Stereotypes will be speaking, as will fellow winning engineer David Yungin Kim, electronic artist TOKiMONSTA, and producer Nick Lee. Meanwhile, scholarships will be going to Cayla Mendoza (Music Therapy and Psychology, Frost School of Music, University of Miami) and Claire Goh (California Institute of the Arts, Instrumental Studies – Guitar).
“We’re going to have a few of the recipients come out, share their stories, and one of them play for the audience that night,” says Nishimura. “Lastly, we’re introducing the Filipino Music Leaders Committee headed by Virman from Far East Movement. DJ E-Man, a pioneer in the music industry for Filipinos, and he’s a program director for Power-106, which, for us growing up, was the station with elevated Far East Movement. It’s an action-packed night.”
Looking ahead, beyond this event, Nishimura hopes to expand this program further.
“We were talking with the Recording Academy – I’m part of the L.A. chapter,” he says. “We hope to do a lot more with the Recording Academy. I think we’ll have some board members there to speak as well. We’d love to bring back the festival but I have to say it cautiously because we did it so long ago, and now we’re doing a livestream with Amazon Music. So we will see where things go. After this year, we’re going to talk about it. It’s too early to say.”
Bridging the Gap: For all of the information, go to pacificbridgearts.org.
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