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No-No Boy Album Release Celebration
October 4, 2023 @ 8:00 pm$15 – $20
McMenamins History Presents
Co-sponsors by the Oregon Historical Society and Japanese American Museum of Oregon
No-No Boy’s Empire Electric Album Release Celebration
featuring music, storytelling and multimedia history presentations
Wednesday, October 4
1624 NW Glisan St, Portland
$15 advanced; $20 day of show
All ages welcome
Join us for this very special music-meets-history presentation! Performing as No-No Boy, Julian Saporiti’s music draws on years of research on Asian American history, and examines narratives of imperialism, identity, and spirituality. Along with his musical performances, Julian will be telling stories about his work and art with visual presentations on the stage’s big screen.
About No-No Boy and Empire Electric
Sounds contain histories and prophecies. If you listen closely, there are winding tales to be found in a string brushed by a handmade bow, worlds to be uncovered in the trill of a bird about to take flight, and truths to be reckoned with in the grain of an unknown voice. This is the revelation at the core of Empire Electric, the third album by No-No Boy, and its songs that examine narratives of imperialism, identity, and spirituality. It tells stories rooted in years of research and relationship-building, made vibrant and profound through a rich congregation of instrumental, environmental, and electronically manipulated sounds from Asia and America. Every single sound, from the gracious swell of a pedal steel to the warbling pluck of a koto, becomes a part of the poetic recasting of shared post-colonial trauma and the startling joys that can be wrung out of that hardship.
Storytelling has always been at the root of Julian Saporiti’s music as No-No Boy. The project developed as the central component of Saporiti’s PhD at Brown University, drawing on years of fieldwork and research on Asian American history to write folk songs with uncommon empathy and remarkable protagonists: prisoners at Japanese American internment camps who started a jazz band, Vietnamese musicians turned on to rock ‘n’ roll by American troops, a Cambodian American painter who painted only the most beautiful landscapes of his war-torn home. Along the way he started to draw on his own family’s history, including his mother’s escape from Vietnam during the war. His 2021 album 1975 was called “a remarkably powerful and moving album,” by Folk Alley and “gentle, catchy and accessible folk songs that feel instantly familiar,” by NPR – a contrast that gets to the heart of Saporiti’s songwriting.
After the completion of his PhD and the release of 1975, Saporiti found himself at an impasse. “My thinking had gotten incredibly deep,” he says, “as deep as we can train ourselves to get, really. But it was so narrow. I was working on the belief that there was one very small path to walk down and I had to take every footstep in that direction.” Seeking refuge from a bleak future of academic posturing, Saporiti, along with his wife and collaborator Emilia Halvorsen Saporiti, decamped to Blue Cliff, a monastery in New York state founded by celebrated Vietnamese Buddhist teacher and writer Thích Nh?t H?nh. There, they recalibrated. Sitting and breathing opened up a calm space for Saporiti to begin to reapproach many of the stories he’d collected as a part of his research with a new perspective, one rooted in raw honesty and a rejection of perfectionism. “The calcified mask of the intellectual professional began to crack open,” he writes in Empire Electric‘s liner notes.
Empire Electric is abundant with substantive storytelling. Saporiti’s knack for melody and the directness with which he sings make the picture whole. Without pretension and preachiness, listeners are drawn into the world of real people and their struggles while also being uplifted by melodies that tug the heart and ears in several directions at once. With the sincerity of a folk singer and a master producer’s ear for minutia, Saporiti probes the edges of pain for joy, using history and its remembered landscapes as a way to understand the ground on which we now stand. Sings the little monk, “Pro-tip for a good heart, be where your feet are now.”