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AAMV Fest spotlights up-and-coming Asian American music artists

Launching Feb. 12 on AsianAmericanMovies.com, the Asian American Music Video Fest (AAMV Fest) is a bimonthly music video series showcasing up-and-coming Asian American artists. Season One will feature BAO, Jason Chu, Darro, Jessica Louise, Lola Menthol, Priska, St. Lenox and Wu Am I. (Courtesy of AAMV Fest)

By Melissa Young, AsAmNews Staff Writer

Los Angeles-based R&B singer-songwriter Jessica Louise Garcia had just finished pre-production for one of her songs when the COVID stay-at-home order hit in March 2020. 

Quickly pivoting, the Filipina American and her team created an upbeat, socially distanced dance music video incorporating Zoom calls, FaceTime and livestreaming, emblematic of quarantine. 

“We wanted to create this celebration of life in a video without seeing people because we were in the middle of the heavy lockdown,” Garcia said. 

Starting this Lunar New Year on Feb. 12, Garcia’s “GPS” and seven other music videos by Asian American artists will premiere as part of the Asian American Music Video Fest (AAMV Fest), a new music video series launched by The Slants founder Simon Tam and filmmaker Quentin Lee. 

Each bimonthly season of AAMV Fest will showcase eight music videos by up-and-coming Asian American artists, and will be free to stream on AsianAmericanMovies.com. 

Simon Tam is the founder and bassist of all-Asian American dance rock band The Slants, and the founder of The Slants Foundation. (Courtesy of Simon Tam)

Simon Tam, founder of the all-Asian American dance rock band The Slants, is known for going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to successfully trademark the group’s name. While the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected his trademark request as racist, Tam successfully argued that The Slants’ name reclaimed a slur used against Asian Americans.

Tam continues his advocacy work through his nonprofit The Slants Foundation, which aims to support and empower Asian American artists through mentorships, funding and other programs. AAMV Fest is one of The Slants Foundation’s newest efforts. 

“We want to show some love to some up-and-coming artists that we think deserve more attention, and more people should be checking out their music,” Tam told AsAmNews. 

The Slants Foundation looks to support artists doing interesting or unconventional work, especially artists who incorporate community-based activism. Some of the featured artists have participated in previous programs, such as the Artist Thinktank, DIY Musician Accelerator Program and Countering Hate with Art.

Tam said Asian American artists today face a tumultuous and constantly shifting music industry, with a more recent move away from physical consumption of music in favor of streaming, along with the rise of social media and independent distribution. On top of that, the pandemic has eliminated live events and traditional paths for performing music.

“What happens when there is a pandemic or there is a major industry shift is those who have the least representation oftentimes get even fewer opportunities,” Tam said. 

As the founder and bassist of The Slants, Tam has been able to observe firsthand the representation of Asian Americans in the music industry. Years ago, a major record label offered him a $4 million record deal if he replaced the lead singer with a White singer. (He tore up the contract.) 

Tam has since seen improvement in the music industry. More Asian American artists are being spotlighted, though this is still “a tiny drop in the bucket.”  People in the traditional music industry point to K-pop as an example of Asian representation in American music, which Tam says is an excuse “to dismiss the inherent racism [against Asian Americans] that’s in the music industry.” 

“Just because we’re importing culture doesn’t mean people recognize the homegrown culture as valid,” Tam told AsAmNews.

According to Tam, the vast majority of Asian American artists are finding success on their own terms through independent methods outside of the traditional music industry.

He says that prior to around 2010, Asian American representation in film and TV was largely limited and the speaking parts for Asian American actors were mostly for stereotypical roles. Asian Americans started creating their own YouTube channels, and back when YouTube was taking off, many of the YouTubers were mostly Asian Americans. This showed there was a demand for content by Asian Americans, and Asian American media and entertainment representation has since proliferated.

Tam thinks the same thing will eventually happen in the music industry. “When people start charting out on their own and demonstrating that they can create success on their own terms, the music industry is slow but they’ll begin to catch up.”

Garcia is one such artist finding success on her own terms, leveraging her knack for social media to grow her following. The Filipino American singer-songwriter built the majority of her fan base through performances on livestreaming app Periscope beginning around six years ago. She would livestream every night and still does so regularly on Instagram and Twitch.

As an independent artist, Garcia handles her own booking, accounting, sponsorship deals, social media, creative direction and more. She records much of her music at her home studio as opposed to the traditional recording studio. She’s released three EPs and is currently working on her first full-length album.

She used to be a musical theatre actress and says there weren’t many roles for someone who looked like her, but representation for Asian Americans in entertainment has increased since then. 

Jessica Louise Garcia is a Filipino American R&B singer-songwriter from Long Beach, California and based in Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Jessica Louise Garcia)

Her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. to give their children a better life, initially weren’t happy their firstborn daughter was pursuing a singing career. However, as Garcia has remained dedicated to her work, they’ve since become enthusiastic supporters. She thinks the growing representation of Asian Americans in entertainment will lead to the same result for emerging artists. 

“The best thing about seeing more Asians onscreen is that more young Asian Americans are not going to be as afraid to speak up to their parents to pursue what they love because they actually will have opportunities,” Garcia told AsAmNews. 

In addition to promoting artists like Garcia, Tam hopes that AAMV Fest will create community and showcase how Asian American artists are creating music in many different genres. 

“I really hope that people can see the diversity and talent that’s in our community, because there are some really incredible artists,” Tam said. 

AAMV Fest Season One will feature BAO’s “Perpetual Heartbreak,” Jason Chu’s “Honor,”  Darro’s “Undefined,” Jessica Louise’s “GPS,” Lola Menthol’s “Never  Settle,” Priska’s “Gold in the River,” St. Lenox’s “You Have Got to Feel It – Hakugel” and Wu Am I’s “To the last of a dying breed.” It will be available for free streaming starting Feb. 12 on AsianAmericanMovies.com.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or making a financial contribution to support us.

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