A benefit concert and first taste of a new Head In The Clouds era, rolled into one
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since 88rising’s first virtual concert. Asia Rising Forever, which brought together some of the biggest Asian acts across the globe, changed the face of online concerts as we knew them. There have been countless digital gigs since, but it’s hard to pinpoint many that lived up to the standard set by Asia Rising Forever. From the performances to the unflinching quality (no matter where in the world the artist was located), a new benchmark was set—superior and inspiring and proudly Asian.
Naturally, this year deserved a follow-up.
Between this year and last, discrimination against Asians has increased manifold. The finger pointing, the virus blaming. The Atlanta shooting. The number of hate crimes in 16 cities and counties across the United States has spiked by 164% in a year, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
Being one of the most influential forces in the music industry, and created on the vision of championing Asian talent, the folks at 88rising got moving. Their contribution to the solution: a benefit concert aptly entitled Asia Rising Together. Aiding in making mental health resources available to Asian communities worldwide, all donations and merch sales from Asia Rising Together will go to the Asian Mental Health Collective.
While the last two 88rising concerts were hosted by Dumfoundead, the current iteration brings in a new format. Instead of having a host come and go between performances, sets flow from one into the next, with a few meaningful intermissions in between.
The program kicks off with a short but powerful introduction by K-pop superstar, CL. Dressed in a modern-styled, blinged-out version of Korean traditional wear, she prefaces what would be an evening (or for us, an afternoon) of recognizing where we come from.
— Wonder (@WonderMagPH) May 27, 2021
The musical performances start with three female soloists. Audrey Mika, Seori and returning performer Luna Li. In the middle of their sets, mxmtoon and Audrey Nuna take time to shed light on the Asian-American experience.
Maia, aka mxmtoon, shares that she had grown up in an area flush with Chinese-Americans prior to her big move to New York. In the thick of the fear and hesitation of uprooting your life, knowing that there was a community of fellow Chinese-Americans in New York was a comforting thought.
Audrey Nuna's mom recounts how her father had run a small deli to earn enough to get by. “I think it’s like, you know, what you didn’t have as a child, you want your children to have.”
These stories—as tear-jerking and tender as they are—aren’t rare. They’re truths many immigrants experience. They’re realities many of us live, whether white or black or Hispanic. These truths remind us of our sameness, of how there’s a struggle in each story. That there’s so much more to us than just the color of our skin.
The in-betweens are just as meaningful. One of the intermissions featured a one-on-one interview with writer and professor, Ocean Vuong. Another zeroed in on the Vietnamese American Community Center Easte of the Bay (VACCEB), who have been uplifting small businesses and providing grocery bags to the elderly. In addition to being more vulnerable during the pandemic, senior citizens have been a common target in anti-Asian hate crimes.
Back to the performances, an 88rising concert wouldn’t be complete with a double-dose of hip hop flair. Korean hip hop royalty, Tiger JK, yoonmirae and BIZZY of MFBTY, wave a flag of liberation during their set. Guapdad 4000, who had previously spoken to Wonder about his love of Pinoy food, talks plenty about food being more than just a cultural totem pole. He argues, it’s a love language.
“Food honestly for me has been the epicenter of most family conversations. When I eat something like chicken adobo, it reminds me of my grandma cooking it at home. That atmosphere, those colors. It’s very warm,” shares Guapdad. “That’s how I feel inside when I eat this food. And the closest thing that I can relate to that feeling is love.”
The final act is a two-part celebration for 88rising fans. NIKI, who we knew would be performing sometime during the show, tweeted “I sing at some point” right as the show began. At the very last moment she does just that—and in true NIKI fashion, she doesn’t disappoint. After a stripped-back performance of Drive On, she is joined by fellow Indonesian artists Rich Brian and Warren Hue. Together, they perform the freshly released track, California.
Prefaced by Warren Hue’s Too Many Tears, California marks the long-awaited kick-off of another Head In The Clouds era. HITC3 is set to unpack the diasporic Asian experience through collaborative tracks from 88rising and their friends. It’s a first leap towards the next Head In The Clouds festival set to happen in November—yet another testament to the magic Asians are capable of creating.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver