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Album Brings Artists, Activists Together to Get Asian Americans to the Polls

Red Baraat

Red Baraat, dubbed by NPR as "one of the best party bands around," is one of 32 musicians and artists who contributed to "Voices Of Our Vote," an album aimed at encouraging Asian Americans to get out the vote. James Bartoloozi / Courtesy of Red Baraat

Although Asian Americans have been reported to be one of the fastest growing racial groups in the U.S., voter participation and turnout among the community continues to be lower than any other demographic group — something that dozens of artists across the country are hoping to change through music.

"Voices of Our Vote: #MyAAPIVote Album," a new album presented by digital activist group 18MillionRising and aimed at encouraging Asian Americans to go to the polls, features 32 "politically empowering tracks" addressing topics from identity to citizenship by musicians including indie group St. Lenox, "party band" Red Baraat, rapper Jason Chu, YouTube personality Andrew Gunadie, band Awaaz Do, and more.

"We're asking all Asian Americans — everyone from the API [Asian Pacific Islander] community — to push to vote this fall," Tanzila Ahmed, 18MillionRising campaign strategist, told NBC News.

Cover of 18MillionRising's "Voices of Our Vote" compilation album featuring 32 tracks from API musicians from all over the U.S.
Cover of 18MillionRising's "Voices of Our Vote" compilation album featuring 32 tracks from API musicians from all over the U.S. Courtesy of 18MillionRising

The album, released September 6 and produced in partnership with Asian-American digital curation platforms and organizations Traktivist, Kollaboration, Tuesday Night Project, and Mishthi Music (a blog that highlights South Asian American music and artists that Ahmed also writes for), will also accompany the launch of 18MillionRising's #MyAAPIVote campaign, which hopes to mobilize and connect with the Asian-American community in the digital space.

"We are going to be hosting some Twitter conversations and events around the debate and a Google town hall," Ahmed said. "We're basically taking all the traditional field activities to get out the vote and we're going to be putting an Asian American digital twist and figure out a way to connect them digitally."

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This is not the first album launch Ahmed has worked on — in 2013, she helped release "Beats for Bangladesh," a benefit album to raise awareness about the working conditions of Bangladeshi workers following the factory building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh — but this time with "Voices Of Our Vote," Ahmed said she wanted to explore the possibility of using the arts as a way to mobilize the API community during a high-stakes election.

Christine Minji Chang, executive director of Kollaboration, told NBC News that Kollaboration is proud to partner on the launch of the album and #MyAAPIVote campaign, adding that the support for the project from those involved "has been a clear reflection of the passion and momentum in the AAPI community in making sure our stories are heard."

"There have definitely been AAPI artists who have created art with political and social justice objectives, but it's the first time I've seen an album like this come together with artists from across the country. I credit the amazing evolution of the AAPI creative community over the years and the technology that allows us to compile and share it widely now in 2016," Chang said.

She added that the project highlights an important milestone in API history as dozens of musicians, spoken word artists, hip-hop artists, and creatives share their messages of empowerment in one unified album.

Sunny Jain, founder and dhol player for Red Baraat, said the band submitted their track "Halla Bol," which translates to "raise your voice and to be heard loudly," to encourage democracy and individuality. "I think it's appropriate for this album in the sense of everyone has a voice and everyone should participate in the democratic process," Jain told NBC News.

Hip-hop artist Mandeep Sethi, known as SETI X, told NBC News he sees the album and collaborations as a powerful opportunity to create change while inspiring APIs to tap into other creative ways to expand civic engagement and active participation beyond one election cycle.

Hip-hop artist Mandeep Sethi, known as SETI X
Hip-hop artist Mandeep Sethi, known as SETI X, says the "Voices Of Our Vote" album will inspire Asian Americans to tap into other creative ways to expand civic engagement and active participation beyond one election cycle. Courtesy of Odell Hussey Photography

"I feel like my music or my song is to push people to wake up to the fact that voting is one way to create change but let's also explore other ways before and after the vote," he said, adding that he hopes the project will inspire those who are listening to make their voices heard beyond the 32 tracks on the album.

"I think that it does have the power to create change but I also want it to kind of expand the horizon of those who are listening to the record — for them to realize that this is not the only time for us to be political and active," Sethi said. "This is one opportunity and hopefully it will inspire people to be more active on a regular basis."

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