Kollaboration showcases local Asian American talent

Executive Director for Kollaboation Seattle Victoria Ju (right) awards competitors Troy Osaki (center) and Ariel Loud (left). (Photo by John Xiaomeng Zhang)

The talent pool of Asian American performers in the Northwest is deep. But the organizers of Kollaboration Seattle say making it to the national stage means overcoming some stereotypes.

The acts at the fourth annual Kollaboration Seattle competition ranged from folk music, to synchronized dance, to an audience member who just rapped about Pho, the tasty Vietnamese noodle soup.

The Pho rapper brought up a pretty good point, that the traditionally clean water in the Seattle-area provides for a particularly pure broth.

Anyway, the event, which aims to promote Asian American artists around Seattle, pulled some influential figures to the Edmonds Center for the Arts on Saturday night.

The hosts of the event, David and Andrew Fung, are YouTube celebrities. Their two most popular videos on YouTube both have over 700,000 views. One song is just about bubble tea, the other is about… something inappropriate — but still really, really funny.

The event headliner, Jeremy Passion was one of the first Asian American singer/songwriters to become YouTube famous. He sang beneath this red moon for a backdrop as he plucked a guitar, and frankly, it was dreamy.

Another guest performance came from G Yamazawa, one of the top spoken word artists in the country. He dedicated an entire poem to Jeremy Lin — it was lintastic.

The audience members were invited to vote for one of the five competing acts via text.

The competition included a poppy routine by Tacoma teen dance troupe The Bosses; an original song by Christian Kang; a performance by Filipino-born emcee Rogue Pinay;  a spoken word piece by Troy Osaki complimented by Ariel Loud on the piano; and a cover of Bruno Mars and an original song by Agnes Ingarra.

Seattle folk-singer Agnes Ingarra poses backstage after her set.
Seattle folk-singer Agnes Ingarra poses backstage after her set. (Photo by Christian Zerbel)

Ingarra is a Fillipino-Italian bikini athlete (aka female bodybuilder) who also teaches Zumba, when she isn’t busy being a folk singer and songwriter. She swears she doesn’t agree with people who would call her an over-achiever.

After all, she admits she was so nervous about the show that she nearly chickened out. But she followed her mother’s advice for the show: “sing that one song by Bruno Mars and wear lipstick.”

Ingarra says Asian Americans aren’t represented equally in the entertainment industry, and that’s a big reason why she chose to sing at this event in particular.

It’s an ongoing battle in getting Asian Americans more exposure in mainstream media,” she said.

Though some Asian American performers are breaking out in the area most of those who’ve hit big are affiliated with the hip-hop scene in Seattle. Ingarra says she hasn’t met another Asian American folk singer in the area.

Guest judge, Prometheus Brown (aka Geo Quibuyen) is a Seattle-based emcee that makes up half of the duo Blue Scholars. He puffed on an e-cigarette during intermission while I asked him about Seattle’s Asian American hip-hop scene.

He says Seattle’s hip-hop community is unique; here Asian Americans play a more prominent role than they do in other cities. But even still there isn’t a lot of cross-over into the community at large.

“Sometimes as an Asian American performer it’s nerve-wracking to get in front of an audience and not know whether or not people in the crowd will take you seriously,” says Brown.  “I’ve been through that myself, I’ve gotten booed of stage even before music came on because I don’t look the part.”

Guest Judge Prometheus Brown (aka Geo Quibuyen) sips coffee during intermission.
Guest Judge Prometheus Brown (aka Geo Quibuyen) sips coffee during intermission. (Photo by Christian Zerbel)

Brown says that’s why he participated in the event, because he knows the competitors won’t be judged by their looks, but by their talent and creativity. He says events like this one give artists a shot at going mainstream.

Giving Asian American performers that boost is exactly what Kollaboration is about. The international organization started in L.A. in 2000. Since then, it’s spread to 14 cities. The non-profit is run entirely by youth volunteers and young professionals.

The Executive Director, Victoria Ju, is only 25. This was her fourth year working at Kollaboration.

Ju once wanted to be a film director herself, but found it very difficult to find access into the industry. She didn’t even know where to start. But now through Kollaboration her network in the entertainment field as grown substantially.

She says it’s the contestants that keep her coming back every year.

“(They) have faced difficulties because they don’t have that face, but do have the skills to pursue their dreams.”

Ju and the Kollaboration help people follow their dreams in a media landscape that isn’t necessarily welcoming to Asian American artists. That’s why, whenever venues ask around for performances, the Kollaboration always hooks them up with past contestants or other Asian American artists.

At the end of the night, the contestants waited backstage, anticipating the announcement of the judge’s winner. Ju came out onto stage, counted down from ten, and named Troy Osaki and Ariel Loud the winners of Kollaboration Seattle 2013.

They were awarded $1,000 and the opportunity to represent the Seattle-area in the national Kollaboration finalist show in L.A. later this year, where they’ll get a shot at a $20,000 grand prize.