By Lynne Guey
Talk of soul artists usually conjures up images of iconic 1960’s chart-toppers like Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. But there are up-and-coming artists like Suejin Kim, a Korean American based in Los Angeles, making significant strides in a field less traditionally dominated by Asians.
“I’ve had some pressures as an Asian American, being the daughter of a conservative Korean family,” Suejin said. “They want me to have a full-time job, they want me to be in a certain tax bracket. And quite frankly, I think you can do it as a musician if you really want to.”
After graduating from UCLA with a bachelor of arts in anthropology in 2005, Suejin followed her gut and decided to pursue a career in music. Since then, she’s found success as a top ten finalist on Asian American Pop Star.
She is also a resident artist at the Tuesday Night Café, one of the longest running free public art spaces showcasing new Asian American talent, among others, in Los Angeles. Here, the sounds of gritty soul bounce off the buildings in Little Tokyo, where a burgeoning community of artists and enthusiasts gather in the spirit of artistic expression every first and third Tuesday, from spring to fall.
“There’s not a noticeable, widely known tradition of Asian American soul artists,” said cultural critic Oliver Wang. “I think when they try to enter the general audience realm for R&B, there’s this automatic skepticism because they’re (the audience) simply just not used to seeing an Asian face.”
But in today’s world of YouTube and ubiquitous social networking, the Internet has become a helpful launching pad for Asian American artists seeking exposure rarely afforded them in the mainstream recording industry.
Traci Kato-Kiriyama, the energetic co-founder of the Tuesday Night Project, said, “YouTube is an interesting phenomenon in our community, especially our community of young Asian American performers, because suddenly you see all these performers coming out of the closet – making videos of themselves and putting themselves out there to millions of people. Then some of them crack that shell, come out to perform and start to navigate through what it means to develop a career in the so-called ‘industry.’ ”
Dawen Wang, another resident performer at the Tuesday Night Cafe, has taken advantage of today’s virtual promotional tools by interacting with hundreds of followers on Twitter, more than 1,000 followers on MySpace and almost 3,000 followers on Facebook.
“I think the Internet has empowered indie musicians and also democratized the playing field,” Wang said.
As for Suejin, it’s not just about her individual success. Being a pioneering Asian American artist is so much more. It’s about using her status as a role model to educate others and break stereotypes.
“It’s really about exposing people to different things like Asians singing R&B or hip hop. It’s just exposure really, and if I can contribute to that in any way that I can, I’ll do it.”
Find Lynne on Twitter @heyguey