The Time I Cried At A Kishi Bashi Show

Photo courtesy of Dana Gorab

I grew up in southeastern Virginia, where there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me - a second-generation Asian American born to immigrant parents with accents. I was used to the teasing about my last name and my ethnic appearance, and I accepted the pressures my father’s culture imposed on me - study hard, get good grades and all that.

I did have a few Asian classmates, but they all seemed to play right into the stereotype of the model minority, with all their academic excellence, particularly in math and science. I tried really hard to fit into this mold too, but it was always a struggle.

While my parents put me in piano and violin lessons, I think they saw it as merely extracurricular activities that might later look good on a college application; another stepping stone toward becoming a doctor, engineer or scientist. I don’t think it ever crossed their minds that music could become a life-long passion or calling. To this day, I don’t think they know the role that music played in keeping me emotionally stable, even going so far as keeping me alive during my worst times.

I don’t remember seeing many prominent Asian Americans in the arts as a kid growing up. There were a few, but I’m happy to see there are so many now more than ever. And while I didn’t have many role models as a kid, I’m grateful that as an adult I can still be inspired by people who, by virtue of being Asian Americans with an affinity toward the arts, have a shared experience with me.

I’ve probably cried at more than one Kishi Bashi show. But this one was particularly emotional. The venue was tiny compared to places where I was accustomed to seeing him. It occurred to me later that he had chosen it on purpose, to create an intimate experience. This one was different. He had brought his parents with him to the show.

I could see how proud of him they were. He even had his father go on stage and play a traditional Japanese song on saxophone. It blew my mind that his parents, first generation Asian Americans, could be so supportive of their son’s artistic work. His parents, like mine, had started him in music as a young child, but they allowed him to pursue his creative calling, and even supported it! I did feel some pang of jealousy, wishing my parents had been like his. But the overwhelming feeling was one of joy, as his performances always elicit from me. Joy from being wrapped up in the enchanting musical experience he created by his performance, but also joy in knowing that he had not been afraid to take risks, so why should I?

As he stood on a chair in the middle of the audience, surrounded by fans with flashlights creating a warm glow around him, he led everyone to sing with him. The experience was beautiful and overwhelming and wonderful, and I could feel tears welling up in my eyes.

During the performance he spoke about how supportive his parents were and how grateful he was, and he even had a message for his audience. He talked about how he dropped out of engineering school and went to music school instead. He said, “I had the support of my parents. If you have any kids who really want to go into the arts, give them a chance. It’s important for humanity.” If I wasn’t already in tears from experiencing his music, that statement opened the floodgates.

- Andrea Levesque, Atlantic Canyons