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Show Seeks to Move Asian-American Talent into Music’s Mainstream

After months of auditions, six finalists will perform in Kollaboration New York’s annual, city-wide showcase this week, hoping to simultaneously further their careers and continue a tradition of introducing new talent from the Asian-American community to the mainstream music industry. Kollaboration New York

After months of auditions, six finalists will perform in Kollaboration New York’s annual, city-wide showcase, hoping to simultaneously further their careers and continue a tradition of introducing new talent from the Asian-American community to the mainstream music industry.

Kollaboration New York, a branch of the non-profit Kollaboration organization based in Los Angeles, will host its ninth showcase on August 30, featuring six acts as well as performances from rapper Awkwafina, Asian-American dance troupe I Love Dance, and last year’s showcase winner, Izzy Man.

Izzy Man during his showcase-winning performance at Kollaboration New York 2013. Geoff Yen

Man, a rapper who says he looked for opportunities to perform since he was a kid, first heard of Kollaboration when he attended the New York branch’s 2011 showcase as an audience member.

“As I was watching one talented act after another, all I kept telling myself was, ‘I can do this,’” said Man. “It was important for me to try and get on this platform and spread this sort of ideal through the Asian-American New York community.”

“We want to introduce more Asian American artists to the mainstream...and to eventually see the showcase as not just an ‘Asian event,’ but as a music and performance event.”

What began as a talent show in Los Angeles’ Koreatown in 2000 has become a national movement for the non-profit organization, with 14 major cities hosting showcases annually. The goal, founder Paul “PK” Kim said in a 2009 interview, is to have a “stronger Asian American presence in media”—a goal that gave birth to the organization’s mission: “empowerment through entertainment.”

In New York City, where the Asian American population has grown by 110 percent from 1990 to 2010, Kollaboration New York is hoping to do just that. Run entirely by a staff of volunteers, the team often works late into the night to accommodate their full-time jobs.

The Kollaboration New York staff huddles before the 2013 showcase. JEFFREYLIUPHOTOGRAPHY.COM

For the staff, Kollaboration is more than just a hobby; it’s a passion that they want to share with the world—a world that is slowly being introduced to Asian-American musicians thanks to artists like MC Jin, the first Asian-American rapper to be signed to a major record label, and hip-hop group Far East Movement, the first Asian-American band to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.

“We want to introduce more Asian American artists to the mainstream,” Kollaboration New York executive director Tanner Chung said, “and to eventually see the showcase as not just an ‘Asian event,’ but as a music and performance event.”

The showcase is still in large part a talent show, but has evolved into a contest with a panel of judges who will choose one winner from the finalists’ pool, who will have access to Kollaboration’s network of connections to help them further their career.

“When there isn’t a lot of representation out there, you have to come together and pull your resources.”

It’s that network, Chung says, that most artists need when trying to navigate the music industry without a major record label or agent backing them. “When there isn’t a lot of representation out there, you have to come together and pull your resources.”

Since winning Kollaboration’s showcase, Man says he’s gained credibility and new avenues to reach wider audiences—from shows upstate to the West Coast, thanks to Kollaboration’s contacts.

“Seeing how the thousands in attendance became enthusiastic and excited to see this ‘chubby Filipino in the stripes’ rock the mic in a way they didn't expect gave me the courage to really push forward and know that I was on the right path,” Man said.

Vocalist and guitarist Shilpa performs during Kollaboration New York 2013. Kollaboration New York