Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics


Taiyo Na and Dirty Boots Rock the Survival Release Party

photo by Brian Cleaver

This Saturday's "Survival" Issue Release Party will feature artist Taiyo Na, backed by San Francisco-based multi-instrumentalists Dirty Boots. Taiyo sat down with Hyphen to discuss surviving as an artist, his latest projects, and what we can look forward to for the show.

What does “survival” mean to you?

Getting over and meeting the basics, especially in the face of challenge. There are different degrees of how we maneuver that survival, whether with dignity and integrity or not. It’s a broad word, it can mean many different things, but those are the things that come up for me.

What has been one of your most rewarding moments doing what you’re doing as an artist?

There have been many important moments, but for example -- the latest music project with Magnetic North and our Home: Word album, which was re-released last year with five new tracks and a music video done by Wong Fu Productions.

With all the different feedback and YouTube comments we received from our audience and new fans, it did something very special and meaningful to a lot of young people. When I read these comments and hear these stories that they shared, it really helped to heal families. Like a lot of young people were able to make connections with older people and vice versa through this music, and that’s definitely been very rewarding.

What’s the toughest part about your job?

It’s kind of hard to say what the toughest part is because the tough parts make the rewarding parts more rewarding. I could gripe about the representation of Asian Americans in media, in the economy, and pop culture -- and other people do and rightfully so -- but I also do recognize that what artists like myself are doing is in the spirit of a pioneering kind of work, and that’s another privilege in itself to have. There are challenges that come with that, but a lot of us certainly have the understanding that the rewards and benefits may not come immediately, it comes years from now or maybe generations from now. That’s the perspective I have. Thinking about tough times or challenges -- they all happen for a reason and things manifest later on, like a karmic effect.

Is there something you know now about your career that you wish you had known when you were younger?

As a teenager and young adult I was just really vain and egotistical. I just wanted to be a star and I thought certain things would come really easily. Now I know with anything -- whether it’s career, love, relationships … when I was younger I tried to look for the easy way out, but there really is no easy way.

Do you see yourself as a leader/activist?

I tend to shy away from labels like leader and activist, but people put that on me and I don’t mind it really, because I know it’s meant in a positive way most of the time. I think just being an artist is enough of a mantle for me. I’m just trying to fulfill that.

But if there are social, political, or community causes that I find important, then I certainly will support.  In some ways, my art and activism are in essence one and the same. I think people regard me for my work with Sulu Series [a monthly APIA spoken word and artist showcase], but it was a natural extension for me as an artist. Because as an artist you need spaces for the art, you need community for the art, you need a hub, a base to share that art over time -- and I think Sulu was one of the ways, along with other concerts and other shows  -- I’ve helped to create those spaces with other people who were on a similar vibe.  I feel that’s a natural extension of being an artist, to find a space for an audience and community for that art.

Describe yourself in three words:

I Am Taiyo!  Done. Boom. Pow!

What can we expect for the Hyphen Release Party performance?

The band Dirty Boots and I will be doing a set together. I’ve played with them before, for the CAAM Asian American Film Festival last year. Dirty Boots are a great band doing a lot of things here locally, so I wanted to play with them and share them with the Hyphen audience. We are both very much live musicians at heart; we just love to play. Expect a lot of fun, heartfelt songs…and maybe a bit of jamming.

     From left to right: James Dumlao, Gyasi Ross, and Rachel Lastimosa of Dirty Boots

Dirty Boots are also part of the play that I’m in, Tree City Legends, which opens February 16 at San Francisco’s Intersection For the Arts.

Tell us more about this play.

Tree City Legends is about four brothers at a funeral, written by amazing poet and musician Dennis Kim a.k.a Denizen Kane. Dennis has been collaborating with director Marc Bamuthi Joseph and producer/photographer Joan Osato and theater artist Sean San Jose, and it’s really their brainchild. I play the youngest brother, and he’s one of the older brothers. It’s dialogue-driven but with a lot of music in it -- all of us in the cast in one way, shape, or form provide some music to the play.

Dennis sent the play to me last year and I was blown away and came to the Bay to work on it. I was living in New York, but the timing and everything managed to work out to allow me to come here. I’m just so thrilled and honored to be a part of this team of people. They’re all heavyweights; I feel like the rookie on the championship team. I’m just trying to get in where I fit in.

Other things in the works for you?

Magnetic North and I are working on some new songs with the producers from our Japan label, and some new music video projects. And don’t forget to check out the play!

Hyphen's "Survival" Issue Release Party is on Saturday, February 4 from 9:00 pm to 2:00 am at 111 Minna Gallery, 111 Minna Street, San Francisco, CA. Get tickets here.

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