MTV Promotes Asian Pop Music in U.S. MTV launches three Asian pop music channels aimed at U.S. Asians and South Asians. The U.S. music industry is increasingly promoting Asian musicians to young Asian Americans. And Asian American kids are turning on their non-Asian friends to the music.
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MTV Promotes Asian Pop Music in U.S.

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MTV Promotes Asian Pop Music in U.S.

MTV Promotes Asian Pop Music in U.S.

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Asian and South Asian filmmaking styles have made deep inroads into mainstream American pop culture. Think "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and last year's Bollywood-inspired "Bride & Prejudice." MTV officials are counting on Asian pop music to do the same. They've just launched a station in the United States for South Asians and have two more planned for next year. NPR's Laura Sydell reports the music channel may be on to something.

LAURA SYDELL reporting:

Tuesdays at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco are not usually a big night. Tonight, a sea of black-haired 20- and 30-somethings form a line around the block. Notably, almost everyone here is of Chinese descent. The act is Taiwanese rock star Wu Bai. Evelyn Woo is among the fans.

Ms. EVELYN WOO (Fan): The reason I'm here and I'm coughing up very big money for it is because I think in my lifetime, if I ever had to see him in Asia, I'd be seeing him with 50,000 people. To see it in such a small venue, I'm so excited.

SYDELL: Thirty-three-year-old Woo came to the United States from Taiwan when she was 13. Like a lot of immigrant children, she grew up listening to American pop. But in the last few years, Woo says, she started to crave music and culture in her first tongue.

Ms. WOO: If you grow up with something, I miss it. And when I pass something and I hear the music, I would stop. And it just reminds me of my childhood.

SYDELL: Wu Bai's classic rock style has been compared to Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and the Rolling Stones. Inside the DNA Lounge, hundreds are packed together waiting for the show to begin.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

Crowd: (In unison) Wu Bai! Wu Bai! Wu Bai! Wu Bai! Wu Bai!

SYDELL: The rocker casually ambles onto the stage, dressed in a long-sleeved black shirt and jeans, slings his guitar over his shoulder, and rocks his entire body as he plays. As he gets ready to sing, he playfully engages the audience.

(Soundbite of performance)

WU BAI (Singer): (Foreign language spoken, then sung)

SYDELL: Rubai's promoter in the US is George Trivino, a Taiwanese-American who grew up in San Francisco. He now runs a music promotion company out of Taiwan. In the last few years, he says, he's been touring more Asian pop acts in the US.

Mr. GEORGE TREVINO (Music Promoter): Now with the Internet, the world is getting smaller. In Asia you immediately know what's going on in the United States. For example, hip-hip, trans music and then the musicians there can catch onto the tunes really quick and then adding Asian flavors in there and then transforming it into a music that everybody can understand.

SYDELL: US demographics are putting some wind into Trevino's sails. In the last 15 years, the Asian-American population has nearly doubled and is now at about 12.3 million, according to the US Census Bureau. The number reaches 14 million if Asians of mixed race are included. House Of Blues sponsored Wu Bai's concert. The music hall chain also produces national tours. They've had great success with Asian pop acts and now plan on doing four Asian rock tours a year. MTV2 has just launched an Asian pop channel and will launch two more over the next year. Nusrat Durrani is general manager for MTV World.

Mr. NUSRAT DURRANI (General Manager, MTV World): We are at a moment in time where young Asian-Americans want to see themselves. They want a platform. And it's our hope that we can be a little bit of a mirror to them and we can tell their stories.

SYDELL: The three channels are MTV Desi for South Asians, which launched this week; MTV Chi for Chinese, and MTV K for Korean. The programming will be original, and the veejays will speak English, even though many of the song lyrics will be in other languages. But Durani believes that these channels will eventually reach beyond the Asian community.

Mr. DURANI: We do want these channels to be windows for the rest of America into these fascinating cultures, and we're working towards that, you know, very deliberately to make these channels accessible to whoever is interested in these cultures.

SYDELL: There already is growing interest among many other Americans in Asian music. On a recent weekend just around the corner from where Wu Bai performed, more than 1,600 people packed into a multiroom dance club called 1015 Folsom. Colorful tapestries and prints of South Asian-inspired art hang on the walls.

(Soundbite of club music and crowd)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing in foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)

SYDELL: Each of the rooms have deejays playing a mix of South Asian traditional music, hip-hop, and electronica. Sweaty bodies jostle and bump against each other. Although not everyone here is Indian, arms sway in the air in a Bollywood-style dance motion. The producers of the evening are a music collective called Demal(ph), made up of mostly South Asian Americans. The group's productions for dance clubs have grown increasingly popular in San Francisco over the last six years, says collective member Menish Kenya(ph).

Mr. MENISH KENYA (Demal): Initially, at least there was a predominantly South Asian audience that started coming. But over time, I think, people have just grown to just view it and see it and hear it as interesting music. And so people just come out because it's something unique that's not really being done anywhere in the structure that we do it in.

SYDELL: Kenya's parents came from Gujarat, India, but he was raised in Texas and grew up loving American popular music. He rejected the traditional Indian songs that his parents and grandparents played at home. Then, while in college, he got more interested in examining his heritage.

Mr. KENYA: I was able to relate to the classical South Asian music as I found more of my roots, and that, combined with music that I already liked, was just kind of a bonus and almost like, wow, this is possible. And this speaks to me as my experience of who I am and what I can identify with.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing in foreign language)

SYDELL: Mixes of Southeast-Asian traditional music, like Bhangra, with Western pop, moved into the mainstream in Britain about a decade ago. Gauging from the turnout at Demal's event, it looks like that could happen here, too. Asian-American kids are turning non-Asian friends onto the music. Take 25-year-old Kyle Ruddick(ph).

Mr. KYLE RUDDICK (Indian Music Fan): I like the Indian music, and I like the different, kind of, cultural settings it kind of has. It's just a fun mix of people.

SYDELL: For now, though, much of the Asian-influenced music scene is on the edges of this popular American culture. But promoters like Demal, MTV and House Of Blues believe they're part of a force that is moving into the mainstream. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

(Soundbite of Indian music)

Unidentified Man #4: (Singing in foreign language)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Susan Stamberg.

(Soundbite of Indian music)

Unidentified Man #4: (Singing in foreign language)

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