Recording Academy AAPI Members & Leaders On Where The Fight's Led Them And The Road Ahead

Photo courtesy of the Recording Academy

interview

Recording Academy AAPI Members & Leaders On Where The Fight's Led Them And The Road Ahead

In a wide-ranging roundtable discussion, Lawrence Lui, Kalani Pe'a and Kimié Miner close out AAPI Month 2023 with exhortations to continue the fight for inclusivity year-round.

Recording Academy/May 31, 2023 - 06:27 pm

Over the course of May, known as AAPI Month, the Recording Academy and its affiliates have led the charge in dismantling barriers for people of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage in the music industry.

A primary component of that is providing a platform for members of that community to discuss their experiences — from their successes to their challenges to even the validity of the AAPI acronym itself.

To close out AAPI Month, RecordingAcademy.com initiated an incisive roundtable discussion with music producer and marketing head Lawrence Lui, three-time GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter Kalani Pe'a and GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Kimié Miner.

"Historically, AAPI artists have faced limited representation in mainstream music. Stereotypes and biases have often confined them to specific genres or reduced their visibility in the industry," Miner says. "We should embrace and celebrate the range of musical styles and genres that AAPI artists explore, helping to dispel assumptions and broaden opportunities for artistic expression."

Take their expressions throughout the rest of the calendar year and beyond, and consider your role in elevating and honoring those of an AAPI background in the music industry — and all arenas of life.

How did you enter the music industry, and what have you noticed about AAPI representation within?

Lawrence Lui: I started in the music industry as the music director of the radio station WNYU, which I parlayed into a job in radio promotions at a bunch of record labels.

I subsequently held marketing positions at Astralwerks Records and Island Records, before starting my own marketing agency, Bampire Music, where we represent some of the biggest names in the dance/electronic genre. 

While I'm often the only AAPI person in the room, it's honestly never really been an issue and I don't think about it in relation to my career.

Kalani Pe'a: Music is my first love. My mother Pua Pe'a and my father Arthur Kalani Pe'a inspired, aspired and encouraged me to sing at such a young age. 

I can remember being 4 years old running away from my parents from JCPenney in the old Kaiko'o Mall in Hilo. My mom panicked and asked security where I went to. They all found me serenading a mannequin. My parents knew music was my passion. 

I had a speech impediment at age 2. My mom knew that music would save my life and it did. Music definitely stopped my speech problem over the years. I grew up in a musical family. My paternal grandparents were into choral music and classical music. My uncles and aunties of the Pe'a family all played the guitar, ukulele, piano and sang in choir. My father plays the electric bass. But, I am the first in my family to record an actual album and take music full time as an independent singer/songwriter and music producer. 

AAPI [Month] is truly a pivotal time for us to embrace each and everyone of us, but more so the kupuna (ancestors and forefathers) of Polynesia and Asia who has given us the 'ike (knowledge and wisdom) to continue their legacies so we thrive as people — first people and the first nations of the land we love.

It's beautiful to gain insight about the legacies and teachings of all cultures and come as one. Music truly brings us together.

Kimié Miner: Although I began singing and songwriting at an early age, I was very shy and never pursued my passion as a career until I attended the University of San Diego.

I entered the industry at 18 years old, when I met reggae star Barrington Levy at his show in San Diego. I sang for him backstage and then he asked me to open for him on his West Coast tour. 

I chose my passion over my fear, performing my original songs on my nylon string guitar in front of sold out crowds. That gave me the confidence to continue sharing my original music on stage and on platforms like Myspace and YouTube.

When I started producing my own music on GarageBand in 2004 and sharing it on Myspace, I couldn't find a genre to describe my music, which I dubbed as acoustic soul island reggae. 

I didnʻt see other Polynesian women like me in the global reggae music scene at that time. Part of the problem was that even if they existed, they werenʻt being marketed to me the way mainstream artists were. 

At home in Hawaiʻi, we had island reggae and Hawaiian female singers like Ilona Irvine, Robi Kahakalau, and Theresa Bright, to name a few, but Polynesian representation outside of Hawaiʻi in my genre was still hard to find. I believe that was because there wasn't a big marketplace for AAPI artists at that time.

The biggest Polynesian artists that I recall during this time were mostly male-dominated, like Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, Fiji, Brother Noland, Ka'au Crater Boys, Ekolu, and Katchafire from New Zealand. 

Iam Tongi's recent win on "American Idol" really showed us how AAPI artists are equally competitive in the music industry while still representing our culture and island music. He represents all these AAPI artists who came before him and paved the way for him to confidently stand on that stage and connect with the world.

How has the music industry stepped up to elevate AAPI communities and represent them within their ranks? What steps must the music industry implement next to push this progress forward?

Miner: It's been a slow progression, but I believe fans and music lovers are the real ones helping to shape the music industry today.

They have helped to push forward the underrepresented genres and artists whom they love via social media, sharing their favorite songs, artists and albums to help the industry expand their overall consumption of AAPI music.

Iam Tongi's win on "American Idol" shows exactly this! He has had an overwhelming reaction to his performances on the show garnering him countless votes. Iamʻs fans connect to his authenticity and relatability. 

In fact, most of his song choices were directly connected to Hawaiʻi, like "Stuck on You" by Lionel Richie — which was originally covered in the same style by Hawaiian group Ekolu in 1999. Also, his cover in the finale of Kolohe Kaiʻs "Cool Down" reached No. 1 on the [Apple Music singles chart] immediately following the airing of that episode on TV.

The music industry is changing with technology and the ways we consume music. So helping to amplify AAPI voices across all platforms is one way to help further our progress. Industry leaders, including record labels, media outlets, and streaming platforms, can actively promote AAPI artists and their work. This can be done through dedicated playlists, curated features, and collaborations with established artists to provide greater visibility and exposure.

The industry should actively work to increase representation of AAPI artists across genres, stages, and platforms. This includes signing more AAPI artists to record labels, featuring them in mainstream media, and including their voices in decision-making processes. 

The industry and the Recording Academy can further our progress by encouraging diversity in music, breaking stereotypes and challenging preconceived notions about AAPI artists. We should embrace and celebrate the range of musical styles and genres that AAPI artists explore, helping to dispel assumptions and broaden opportunities for artistic expression.

Lastly, the music industry should collaborate with AAPI communities and support AAPI advocacy groups. Music Industry leaders and organizations can engage with AAPI communities and organizations to build meaningful partnerships that support AAPI artists. This can involve collaborating on community events, outreach programs, and cultural exchanges to create a mutually beneficial relationship.

By implementing these steps, the music industry can continue to push progress forward, fostering a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable environment for AAPI artists to thrive.

Pe'a: It is evident that through this pandemic, everyone had to adapt to change. We all had to pivot and understand "change effectiveness." This pandemic taught each and everyone of us to adapt to change and be effective through change. This pandemic didn't stop us, the AAPI community, [from] composing music for the world to heal during these tough times. 

I am a proud Native Hawaiian/Filipino, Hawaiian contemporary and soul singer/songwriter and music producer. I am a gay, married man who is happily married to my husband of 15 years. 

Allan Cool and I own my music, publishing company and label. I call the "shots" as the owner of my music and no bigger labels own it. We are Hawaiian/Filipino entrepreneurs and it's our duty to encourage and aspire upcoming artists who want to become members of the Recording Academy and live their dreams as independent musicians. 

As a Hawaiian language practitioner of over 30 years, it is my kuleana (duty and responsibility) to carry this torch of my Hawaiian/Filipino ancestors. Hawai'i is a melting pot. 

We don't focus on racism. I wasn't raised with issues of racism. Yes, I did experience the definitions of colonization, oppression, diaspora, cultural appropriation, etc. But, how we do continue to prevail as people? We educate them. We continue to educate all communities about our cultural identity and heritage through our message in music. 

Representation is key, but education is imperative. As a three-time GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter and music producer, my long-term and short-term goal is to inspire our youth to be authentic and seek their own destiny — whether they want to become Hawaiian language rappers, opera singers or anything else.

In addition, I inspire them to write and own their own music and never allow others to define their craft. We break stereotypes and misconceptions through education and being our own authentic selves. Our music is education and our way of educating is the key to success.

What challenges and/or successes have you faced as being a music-industry leader of AAPI descent?

Lui: A few years ago, I started hosting informal AAPI dinners for music industry professionals at Soho House, with no set agenda — just for folks to meet and network in a relaxed setting. I wanted to do something to re-establish face-to-face connections after the pandemic forced many of us into semi-isolation.

I'm a firm believer that if you speak to a person for just 10 minutes, even if it's just chit chat, you can find deeper commonalities that you never knew you had; and that's what builds lasting relationships. So, I just wanted to foster the environment to have these casual no-pressure conversations. 

Later on, I partnered with the advocacy not-for-profit Asian American Collective to have some larger events in that context. I'm very happy how it turned out.

I feel as members of the AAPI community, many of us are siloed with our noses to our respective grindstones in various pockets of the industry, and we could benefit from simply knowing each other and giving each other a hand, or a bit of advice. 

Great AAPI musicians and executives are scattered across all strata of the industry, and it takes some effort to get us together for a common cause — especially on the East Coast where we are slightly less populous and visible, compared to the West Coast, where Asian culture seems more ubiquitous. We also come from many different cultural backgrounds which can also be a challenge in unifying us.

I also enjoy participating in mentorship programs for both the Recording Academy and the Asian American Collective. I find this very fulfilling and it's the least that I can do to help the next generation get a leg up. 

I'm also working with other AAPI members within the New York Chapter of the Recording Academy to increase advocacy efforts and grow awareness of the Academy among the larger AAPI music community. I'm actively working to recruit more AAPI music industry folks to apply for membership to the Recording Academy. There's so much more to the Recording Academy than just an awards show, so there's a lot of educating that needs to be done. 

Pe'a: No challenges, just success. 

I am authentic through my music and songwriting. I am authentic through my shows when I tour and sell out shows across Hawai'i, the West and East Coasts and Japan. I am so proud being a Hawaiian/Filipino singer/songwriter and music producer living my dreams. So I am grateful [for] being a vessel and representative of the Hawaiian and Filipino cultures.

The beauty of music is bringing us together. I did a recent sold-out concert on my island home, my birth home the Big Island of Hawai'i. During a meet and greet, I met this eldery Filipino lady. She is a fan of my music. She asked me, "Are you only Hawaiian?" I said, "I am Filipino, like you." She goes, "OMG. You are one of us." She was so happy, but proud. 

To me, pride takes it to a new level. I represent all who love the Hawaiian language, culture, music and arts. I am here to see all ethnic backgrounds and nationalities across the globe singing Hawaiian music and dancing hula and doing it right without cultural appropriation. 

My music is put into hula, and I see people dancing to my music all over the world from Japan, Europe, Korea, Tahiti, Mexico, the USA and more. My Hawaiian language and culture is thriving and we will always be here. 

The beauty of speaking my Native tongue fluently is that I can sing a Motown or classical song in English and Hawaiian. I can sing in front of a sold-out crowd in Tokyo, in front of Hawaiian music and Hula lovers, in Hawaiian/English and Japanese because I can and it's appropriate.

My ancestors handed me the torch and when I get this butterfly feeling and this urge to do what I need to do in this industry, I know it's the whispers of my ancestors guiding me along the way.

Miner: As a Native Hawaiian artist, I have experienced many identity challenges early in my career around cultural expectations. 

Where do I "fit in" in this industry? What is my genre? Is my music Hawaiian enough? Is my music mainstream enough? Will my community approve of my art? When I started out this created a lot of pressure to conform and discouraged my early artistic pursuits.

What I have learned over time is that because I am Hawaiian, the music coming out of me is Hawaiian. I can only represent who I am in this industry, and that is enough.

I believe one of my greatest challenges which has also had the biggest impact on my success has been the unique location and isolation of our island home here in Hawaiʻi. We are physically separated from the mainstream marketplace, but it also provides me with an opportunity.

I embrace my cultural heritage and this island life to create music that reflects my identity offering a unique perspective and experience. My music resonates with audiences who seek diverse voices, and also with those who have an appreciation for our island home here in Hawaiʻi.

Iʻve had to overcome many stereotypes and prejudice within the industry. I learned from these and chose to share them with other AAPI artists in my community in order to help them in their success. 

I believe when we open a door we should leave it open for those behind us. Collaboration has been one of the key elements to my success thus far as an artist and a leader. It is a cultural value ingrained in me because I know we are so much better together.

The term "AAPI" obviously covers such an immense swath of people. Does the term work for you? If not, how would you reframe or rename such a concept?

Lui: It's not something that concerns me too much. Language is always evolving with the times as cultural mores shift and change. We were once called "orientals," then Asian Americans, now AAPI. Language and labels matter in changing perception, but what matters more is the direct action that we can take as a result of these shifts in perception.

Pe'a: AAPI is fine with me. I celebrate Pride Month since my husband Allan Cool (who is Hawaiian/Samoan/Filipino) and I are part of the LGBTQ community. I celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day. I celebrate Christmas. I don't celebrate hate and bigotry. I celebrate love and compassion. 

So, seeing our faces in movies, TV, billboards and on the GRAMMY stage is phenomenal, or copasetic. I am so honored to be Hawaiian/Filipino and being able to be raised and nurtured in a loving home/household in the middle of the Pacific — the heart of the world we call Hawai'i.

I am honored and privileged to come from the working class — no riches — but a home enriched with values, traditions, unbiased ways, balanced, approachable and loving. 

The Aloha lingers everywhere in Hawai'i, and if you don't exude this essence of aloha, then Hawai'i is not your place. I break stereotypes and misconceptions through my music. So, AAPI is appropriate and I will never seek any changes to that term.

Miner: The term works as a broad overview, but even within this group there are so many subcultures. 

I'd like to see more representation for our Pacific islander communities in the music industry as well as the Recording Academy. For instance having a subcategory in roots music that represents the music from our Pacific Islander communities.

As an artist who submits my music for the GRAMMYs, my options are very limited. In many cases, I have had to submit in the oversaturated Pop Category because I simply did not qualify in other existing categories. These existing categories include regional roots in which I'd have to include 51 percent of our Hawaiian language in my album or reggae, both of which I do not qualify.

Who are some AAPI-identifying artists that we should all be listening to now?

Lui: I'm a big fan of the male/female pop duo Sundial. Their song "your text" had a bit of a viral moment a few years ago, but it's their song "dear parents" that's the showstopper: it's truly one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful and intimate tracks I've ever heard. 

I also dig New York City-based singer/songwriter John Tsung, who sings in both English and Chinese and reminds me of the epic indie pop of acts like Flaming Lips and Neutral Milk Hotel — stuff I used to listen to as a college radio DJ in the '90s. Very underrated!

Also worth mentioning is the producer and vocalist SOHMI, who melds melodic techno with a great pop sensibility.

Pe'a:  Please listen and support Iam Tongi who made it to the top 3 at this year's "American Idol." He is of Tongan ancestry from Hawai'i. 

Listen to Kimié Miner who is Hawaiian/Portuguese, Paula Fuga who is Hawaiian/Samoan/Chinese and Filipino, Wehilei, Natalie Ai Kamau'u, Chardonnay Music, Amy Hanaiali'i, Napua Greig, Willie K, Kamaka Kukona, Lim Family, Ho'okena, Fiji Music, Kalenaku and Kala'e Parish, Hoaka, etc.

Miner: Additional artists who I believe are shaping what Hawai'i sounds like today by utilizing a vast variety of genres from country, reggae, Hawaiian, folk, surf rock and pop to blend with our culture, language, and island inspirations are Maoli, Kalani Pe'a (a three-time GRAMMY winner), Anuhea, The Green, Paula Fuga, Likkle Jordee, Fia, Jack Johnson, Izik, Taimane Gardner, Hawane, Josh Tatofi, Ka'ikena Scanlan and Ku'ulei Music.


What creative and/or professional developments are you looking forward to in AAPI spaces in the music industry?

Lui: All in all, I'm very optimistic and feel that things are generally moving in the right direction for AAPI advocacy in the music industry. Every year, more Asian faces are elevated in the scene, especially now with the success of K-pop and labels like 88rising, not to mention our increasing presence in film and literature. 

It's an exciting time to be alive. We need to continue to build bridges and partner with our allies everywhere.

Pe'a: More online workshops for AAPI music makers and creators and for new artists. Workshops for business and music, business and marketing/promotions, music and digital marketing, independent musicians and producing/engineering. 

We need more AAPI grants available for artists and entrepreneurs, whether it's cultural or competitive grants — not loans. Many of us AAPI artists don't have huge labels to support us. We are the labels, so more federal funding would be ideal to ensure the success of all AAPI individuals.

These grants will have learning outcomes and objectives so that their projects are met with measurable outcomes. I yearn for the success of others. I yearn to see new talent illustrating and identifying the beauty of all gifts of music.

Miner: I'm looking forward to AAPI artists exploring a wide range of musical styles and genres, breaking away from stereotypes and pushing creative boundaries.

I'm also looking forward to more AAPI artists achieving mainstream success and recognition, topping charts, winning major awards, and headlining major festivals. This would contribute to breaking down barriers and expanding opportunities for AAPI artists to reach broader audiences.

Iʻm already seeing increased collaboration and intersectionality between AAPI artists and artists from different backgrounds which excites me! Just as I have had to step into leadership roles in the music industry in Hawaiʻi, I'm looking forward to greater representation of AAPI professionals in executive positions within record labels, music management, booking agencies, and other key industry roles

This would ensure that AAPI perspectives and interests are considered in decision-making processes. I am also seeing more AAPI individuals working behind the scenes in music production, sound engineering, songwriting, and other technical roles. This expands opportunities for AAPI professionals to contribute their skills and creativity to the industry.

I envision even more AAPI music festivals and platforms which empower AAPI narratives and reach! AAPI artists are telling their own stories authentically and reclaiming their narratives through music. This includes addressing social, cultural, and political issues that affect AAPI communities and using music as a means of activism, empowerment, and healing.

The Recording Academy and the music industry can acknowledge and celebrate the significant contributions that AAPI artists and professionals have made to music and culture. This recognition would help dispel stereotypes, challenge biases, and elevate AAPI voices and talents.

These are just some of the creative and professional developments that many people are looking forward to seeing more of in AAPI spaces within the music industry. Each development contributes to a more inclusive, diverse, and vibrant musical landscape.

Celebrate AAPI Month 2023 With A Genre-Spanning Playlist Featuring BLACKPINK, Yaeji, Olivia Rodrigo & More

GRAMMY-Nominated Hawaiian Singer-Songwriter Kimié Miner On Finding Creativity And Connection During A Pandemic

Kimié Miner

Photo: Theresa Ang

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GRAMMY-Nominated Hawaiian Singer-Songwriter Kimié Miner On Finding Creativity And Connection During A Pandemic

To Kimié Miner, COVID-19 made artists face a choice: Close up shop or "give unprecedented access to our personal worlds"

Membership/Feb 12, 2021 - 09:32 pm

In a brand-new editorial series, the Recording Academy has asked its Membership to reflect on their career journeys, the current state of the music industry and what we can do to collectively and positively move forward in the current social climate. Below, GRAMMY-nominated Hawaiian singer/songwriter Kimié Miner shares her open letter with GRAMMY.com readers.

The truest voice of any artist comes from deep within our naʻau, or intuition led by the whispers of our ancestors. As a Native Hawaiian and custodian of our culture, this is a sacredly held belief, kept alive by ʻike, or knowledge, and moʻolelo, or storytelling. An artist's journey often starts long before their audible voice is ever heard.

I know my voice, my storytelling, my mele, comes from a legacy so much greater than mine. I sing as one, but I echo 10,000 voices that came before me. As a singer-songwriter who has evolved as a producer, director, advocate, and executive creative catalyst, I have become all the more aware of the significance of identifying an intention for each new song. It can start as a thought, idea or rift, but becomes a clear vision that carries a message and transforms into a mele, or song, that listeners can identify with.

I smile, knowing that they are not only identifying with my voice but those before me. We are all connected.

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2020 began with dreams coming true at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards for our Hawaiian Lullaby nomination. The year forecasted to be rich with brand growth, new inspirations, new collaborations and partnerships, new audiences and venues—ultimately, new beginnings. And it delivered just that, just not in the way I, or our industry, could have ever anticipated.

And with the birth of 2021, my new child, new albums and collaborations, never before has music been this essential to humanity's livelihood and connectivity. Never before have artists had to adapt in this way. I believe we are stronger and more resilient because of what this pandemic has cost each of us. It's been relentless, and now so are we.

Artists were given a choice in this season of cancellations: cancel our voices and projects or find a new one and give unprecedented access to our personal worlds and homes. I chose to open up—and open wide—with the launch of "Mele in Hawai'i." It's the longest-running livestream entertainment series in Hawaiʻi since the pandemic began, supporting more than 50 artists worldwide, all with Hawaiʻi roots.

Learning new technologies, stripping away facades and perfection, I called upon my Haku Collective colleagues and peers to create virtual escapes of song and conversation. These created a new sense of togetherness anchored in authenticity and humanity; while finding ways to help artists and small businesses stay afloat amid an economic collapse.

As a mother learning how to provide for my children amid a pandemic, to protect my home, and perpetuate my song was not easy. It was effin' hard! (Just check out my mama bird blog to learn how I get s**t done with three under three!).

2020 promised to be the year of growth, and here we are in 2021, transformed by adversity—countless "Mele in Hawai'i" episodes, a new children's album and numerous new partnerships and collections. We learn how to be fluid in all the transitions, the high and low notes of life. 2020 had a voice, too—one that spoke to each of our beliefs, fears, habits, plans and dreams—and those of us who were listening learned how to sing along.

While so much remains uncertain, I know my voice has powerful certainty to create a space for new artists to be nurtured. That is what I hope to do for the next generation of music makers managed by Haku Collective, a company I started by artists for artists. I believe it is part of my kūleana, or responsibility, as a Native Hawaiian artist.

First, I want always to awaken their most authentic moʻolelo (or stories). Then, I want to mentor and share their unique voice, giving them access to the best collaborations to steward their message. And as a result of this global pandemic, I want all of us to sharpen our talents with the skills of innovation, technology and undeniable authenticity no matter where we are.

People often ask me why I use a rainbow as my symbolic visual, and it's very simple. It represents a promise, a hope. It is a ho'ailona (symbol) that, after the storms, that there is something to look forward to. It is a reminder to look ahead and reminds me of my commitment to my community, my fans, and the Hawaiian music industry.

Our people have always been resilient innovators. We are the way-finders of a new generation, and yet our songs carry the echo of those before us—our ancestors.

With Aloha, from the bottom of a rainbow—and remember, it always arches higher!

Roots Musician Amythyst Kiah: From An Awkward Hobbyist To A GRAMMY-Nominated Professional