Before diving into this year’s Kollaboration showcase, I would like to preface by mentioning the atmosphere I felt at SXSW leading up to it. This year, there was a lot of love in the air. Not so much a romantic love, but the kind you express unconditionally within a community. If I didn’t know any better, I would say someone somewhere up the SXSW food chain had sent out a memo to everyone performing to spread positivity, inclusivity, and empowerment in their shows. I say this because in two separate instances, and at the request of two completely different artists, I found myself turning to a stranger and exchanging words of encouragement.
“I’m good,” we all said to one another at The Black Pumas show Tuesday night, a local band from Austin, TX, while California native Duckwrth encouraged everyone to hug it out in the name of love. It was an odd coincidence that stuck with me through Wednesday night, when the same theme reemerged at RZA of Wu-Tang Clan‘s showcase. The show was insane on so many levels, and it too beat with heart and positivity. I’m not one to give the universe too much credit, but if it was sending me signs at SXSW I was catching them.
At Kollaboration’s second SXSW music showcase, Asian American Spotlight, the love was stronger than ever. Thursday night’s showcase was made up of a wide cast of musicians and genres that drew strong inspiration from diversity. Seven-member band Lions Ambition, which itself is comprised of various race and ethnic backgrounds, kicked off the night at The Market & Tap Room with big hooks and a whole lot of soul. Hip-hop and R&B often work in tandem, and these guys knew how to deliver both with ease. Rappers Marlon Turner and Frankie Starr held down the bars end of their show, while Richard Austria delivered some of the smoothest runs I’ve heard live. Their classic single “Brighter Days” hit the spot, not just with its positive outlook but how exemplary it is of a brotherhood that has stood the test of time. The members of Lions Ambition have been at this for many years, and their common passion for music has kept them on the grind.
The good vibes continued with LA-based Tim Atlas, who came equipped with a full band to offer a groovy set of jams, most off of his recent EP ‘All Talk!‘. One thing I can’t stress enough is that if you’re going to perform at SXSW, you have to really come here and show everything you’ve got to as many people as possible. That means having a stacked schedule of shows, because if I can’t catch you one day at least I can make time to see you on another, and that’s exactly what Tim Atlas did this year. He had four shows at SXSW, and though I didn’t see him earlier in the week I’m glad we made it out to Kollaboration. Tim Atlas’ indie-rock style is something straight out of the 80s. His rendition of Luther Vandross‘ “Never Too Much” was a smooth addition to his set and it complemented his lineup of original songs, like the lo-fi “Compromised“.
Soloist Clara also threw down the groovy vibes and performed an impressive set by herself, wading through more technical difficulties than anybody else all night. But that didn’t stop her from having a blast on and off stage. When she went in on her debut single “Electric“, the crowd went wild. And if you weren’t already madly in love with Clara, she pulled out her best hand during a cover of Edith Piaf‘s “La Vie En Rose“. I just about melted on the spot listening to her sing in French.
The night then pivoted away from indie and straight into hip-hop with the likes of Uzuhan, G Yamazawa, and Ruby Ibarra closing out the show. For his part, Uzuhan delivered a sweet mix of trap and comedy while amplifying his love for his culture throughout his set. At one point Uzuhan threw on a dope jacket with the word Atlanta printed on the back to take us back home for a hot minute. The rapper’s energy on that stage was infectious. Everybody was up and moving to some of his most high-octane singles, like “Uzutrap” — dedicated to anyone who’s “felt like they’ve been overlooked or taken advantage of” — and the hilarious “Mung Beans And Tofu“. Uzuhan made it a point that no matter what adversity you’re facing, you’ll overcome it like a boss, and the room’s fortitude didn’t end there. The moment G Yamazawa took over, the energy in the room skyrocketed.
G Yamazawa delivered crisp, poetic gold that was not only meant to reach our ears but aimed directly at our hearts, as well. The ferocity with which G recited “Dining Room” felt incredibly raw and resonated with any immigrant-descendant in the building, myself included, whose parents’ plight of surviving out here was all too real growing up. The rapper utilized his poetry to carve out a safe space and in it embraced everyone like family.
And riding on that positivity was the last act to hit the stage: Bay Area’s Ruby Ibarra, who threw down some killer verses to end the night. Like G, Ruby Ibarra lives and breathes poetry and it was amazing to watch her slick lyrics — like in anthems “Here” and “Us” — come alive in person. One dude even got a face full of bars, which had to have been intimidating given how impassioned Ibarra was performing.
Each artist that stepped onto The Market & Tap Room’s tiny stage (and I mean tiny) found their own way of expressing how deep their appreciation for their community goes. For Kollaboration, an organization dedicated to uplifting Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders, such empowerment is in its blood, and that’s what they utilized to engage with SXSW festivalgoers.
Photo Credit: Yaaaaaas