Kollaboration SF

by christian ting and sam lai

As soon as the curtain lifted to reveal Clara Chung onstage at Zellerbach Hall, the crowd went wild with cheers. The artist more popularly known as Clara C has seen a meteoric rise in her public profile: from winning competitions and garnering millions of views on YouTube, her mesmerizing voice has captured the hearts of a wide fanbase. Her surprise performance at the 2012 Kollaboration San Francisco on September 8 brought full circle the path that her career as an independent musician has followed since she won Kollaboration 10 two years ago. Since its inception in 2000, Kollaboration has reflected the changing face of entertainment as more Asian Pacific Islander Americans like Clara C gain popularity and break into the industry that continues to exclude them.

Although Kollaboration in its current state encompasses shows held in 14 cities across the United States, the very first show in Los Angeles on August 2000 focused more on generating interest in Korean American talent. Founder and longtime host Paul “PK” Kim saw a need for recognizing the people who shared his background but not the spotlight in mainstream media. As a talent showcase and organization, Kollaboration aims to provide “Empowerment through Entertainment,” and the 3-year-old SF show brings together Asian American musicians, dancers, and comedians from the Bay Area as well as outside of it for a night of celebration.

At the third Kollaboration San Francisco held on September 8 this year, the crowd that filled Zellerbach Hall no longer questioned if Asian Pacific Americans would remain invisible in entertainment. Established names like Jeremy Passion and Joseph Vincent headlined as guest judge and guest performer, respectively, while up-and-coming acts like Monsters Calling Home and UC Berkeley’s own SoulFull competed for the $1000 prize. However, attending Kollaboration does not mean simply being an observer. Following its goal to inspire individuals to pursue their creative interests, the event also includes a freestyle vocal and dance portion in which audience members can take the stage to show off their skills to win a $100 prize. In this way, Kollaboration encourages attendees to participate in the experience in order to bring artists and viewers closer together. This year’s winners of Kollaboration SF include $1000 grand prize winner Peter Chung and audience choice winner SoulFull, who took home $500.

On being invited to judge, Passion observed, “I think it’s cool because it shows that they trust me somehow in my critique. I’ve always wanted to be a part of Kollaboration somehow, so to be invited as a guest judge, it seems really like a great opportunity.”

Now held at Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley for the past two years, Kollaboration SF has a staff of 20 volunteers who put in months of planning between early spring 2012 and fall 2012, managed by executive director and Cal alum Christine Minji Chang.

The sense of community that Kollaboration SF promotes operates in many ways: volunteers, performers, and attendees back each other up in their common purpose to cultivate talent. Chang sums up the close-knit relationship of the staff in a quote taken from one of the members: “The staff becomes a family, and it’s all people that you never thought you’d meet, that you’d never thought you’d spend that much time with.” By completing community service once a month, the staff gains a better understanding of the people who make up the local area.

Chang added, “Performers become a part of our family too: we are all supporting each other so they see all the hard work that goes into it, and they appreciate that, and we appreciate their talent. We want to see it grow because it’s representing us, and so it becomes this community. Everyone who attends the show becomes a part of the family.”

From the attendee standpoint, the best part about Kollaboration SF is the close interaction new and old fans can have with the performers. Before the show, all the judges, competitors, and performers hung out on the second floor of Zellerbach, and during that time hardboiled took our fair share of photos with the ever dashing Joseph Vincent. When last year’s Kollaboration SF winners, the 4-man singing group named ANAK, graced the stage with their smooth vocals and charisma, our publicity director Kassie swooned when a member took her hand as he sang to her.

In the 12 years that have passed since Kollaboration began, the presence of Asian Americans in the entertainment industry has grown tremendously with much credit to the online community, the new frontline in vying for fame, publicity, and recognition.

In an age of where “virality” and “blowing up” have become more synonymous with YouTube success than biology exams, it’s no wonder that rising Asian American artists have turned to the Internet – our perennial outlet of exchange – to express and share their talent. The guest judge for Kollaboration SF, Jeremy Passion – popularly known as just “Passion” – is undoubtedly one of the first Asian American Youtube artists to embrace the video site as a means of accruing widespread recognition. Passion noted that his first video “Lemonade” became viral online and helped “to start the acoustic movement of artists on the Internet.”

He was accompanied by a slew of up-and-coming artists, including folk pop darling Clara C and the effervescently dreamy Joseph Vincent. Although unsigned, these YouTube sensations have played a vital role in encouraging young musicians and artists to embrace social media as the status quo. They tour constantly. They tweet pics on the road. They update their v-blogs and chic websites. But perhaps most importantly, they remind us of their courage and unyielding passion to pursue their artistic dreams, and show us how much fun they can have in the process.

One of the competitors, singer Dustin Ako, notes that “even though [my songs have] really cool rhythms and a lot of soul in them, [I try to] reach out to people’s emotions, so we try to reach out to a very broad demographic. We do that through YouTube, Facebook, things like that.”

Kollaboration SF succeeds not only on the virtue of its meaningful message to the Asian American community, but also on its openness and accessibility to the most impressionable members of our community – teenagers and young adults. The snark ebullience and tongue-in-cheek charm of host Paul “PK” Kim perhaps best encapsulates the tone of Kollaboration SF: that yes, it’s a significant performance arts event that showcases the best and brightest up-and-coming talents from around the state. But don’t get it twisted: this is as much a celebration and night on the town as it is a time for honorifics.  Hilarious banter, arena-concert cadences, and a strong sense of community pride dominate the vibe of Kollaboration SF. It’s a place where we come to not only support members of the community trying to make it, but also to unite under a larger consciousness of artistic representation. Unlike a summer music festival or MTV awards show, material indulgence and celebrity boorishness are replaced by an unwavering sense of determination.

To these artists, even if a record deal or nation-wide tour isn’t on the immediate horizon, their very existence is remarkable. Clara C mentioned in an online interview with The Other Asians that “I believe that independent artists are going to have a lot of things going for them. My dream is to sell out the Staples Center. I think it’s possible without a label.” As the YouTube view counts and retweets continue to increase, so does our confidence in this new generation of conscious, meaningful artists. To us, they’ve already found success.