Interview with Sendai ERA and DJ/Producer Sendai Mike
Seattle based hip hop group Sendai Era are debuting their music video “Downfall” at SAAFF 2016! We got a chance to talk to Era and Sendai Mike about Asian Americans in music and media.
1) Generally, what do you think is missing from current representation of Asian American’s in media?
Era: Well, growing up I didn’t really see any forms of media that reflected my own culture or family. There was no figure to really look to when I turned on the TV or listened to the radio. As far as wanting to write and create music, the only people I looked to were my friends who were artists. When I was a teen, it was folks like Jin who really projected the idea of Asian Americans in Hip Hop. Really, it wasn’t until 2004, when I discovered the Blue Scholars and the Native Guns that the idea of becoming an artist as a Filipino American became more of a concrete idea. Even with that, because I grew up without any support as an artist, I didn’t find a space to really grow as a poet and emcee until college with Anakbayan Seattle. It was in that space, I was able to build my identity and really feel proud and powerful with what I created, as well as, grounded my art in social change and action.
So, what I think is missing is not really focused with the media, it’s more so the need for spaces for Asian American youth to be rooted in their identity and histories for positive change. I think the need is to really foster places for youth to feel powerful, as well as learn their collective histories, and why art is an important tool in creating change and progressing society.
Sendai Mike: I’d love see a wider representation of different asian cultures in the media but this is a difficult question to answer. The media representation is a reflection of an underlying reality and I feel we must be careful not to confuse the map with the territory.
2) Who are your influences? Film, music related or not.
Era: My influences are pretty broad when it comes to my writing and style. What I write about is heavily influenced by my own life experiences growing up in an immigrant family, being introverted, depression, the violence afflicting so many of our communities here in the US, and the collective work of my kasamas working for National Democracy in the Philippines. I can’t reiterate enough that I constantly draw inspiration from the National Democratic movement in the Philippines. I try to find ways to translate that through my own experiences.
As far as who influences me sonically and stylistically, it would have to be Mos def, Black Thought and Shad K, but I also study Prometheus Brown, Bambu, Art of Verse and Nomi from Power Struggle. Today, I could be listening to anything from Nina Simone to Goldlink.
Sendai Mike: I grew up playing and listening to all types of music. I took some Latin percussion lessons in high school which really influenced my production style. When I first started making beats I was listening to a lot of dilla and DJ Shadow.
3) How did you come up with your concept for the video?
“Downfall” was the first single from our project Morphic Rez. We were fortunate enough to connect with Portland music video director, Sam J. Lingle, who agreed to direct and produce our first music video.
The song is a reflection of Seattle, as it continues to change and remold. Long standing communities find themselves displaced as gentrification expands throughout the city.
The video was shot in St. Johns neighborhood in Portland, OR where Sam grew up. He was able to produce a visual narrative for “Downfall” that draws parallels between similar situations in Seattle and Portland.
4) How do you feel Asian Americans fit in as part of Seattle’s music scene?
Era: Asian Americans have had a huge influence in the Seattle scene, especially within the last decade. Folks like Prometheus Brown and Hollis have heavily inspired our music. Though there are folks who are deep in the scene, I feel that opportunities for our young Asian American youth and artists to feel empowered and feel the drive to continue to create isn’t strong as it could be, but shout outs to all the folks working and building to create those spaces. All in all, I don’t necessarily see ‘fitting in’ as a priority. What I am excited to see is the communities created with the music. I hope to see more spaces grow that aim to uplift voices and the people.
Sendai Mike: The scene is really beautiful right now. There are a ton of artists from different backgrounds and styles coming together through different events around the city. we are very fortunate to be part of such a supportive network of artists and organizers.