Who out there remembers when Bill Roedy and the rest of those cowboys at MTV rode into town and wanted to be a Pan-Asian music channel?

They hadn’t done their homework and there was one quote from the head of Channel [V] at the time- Don what’s-his-name- which sticks in mind: “The only thing Bill Roedy knows about Asia is how to bomb it.” Roedy,  nice enough guy, had served in Vietnam.

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The strategy of a “Pan-Asian music channel” didn’t work for the very simple reason that this is a very splintered- and prejudiced region- musically, culturally, religiously and politically- and with it all intertwined. And which is why, today, MTV Asia has “different beams” to appeal to different audiences as this region really is like one of those huge International buffets in hotels: A hodge podge of everything most of which no one wants.

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How many Chinese music fans will REALLY buy into an Indian act, no matter how good they might be? And would an Indian rock audience accept some indie act from Beijing? One doubts it.

Would a Singaporean audience- or nearly any other Asian audience- TRULY appreciate or “accept” a rock band from Mongolia? No way though we might enjoy “the freak factor” of it all- and then forget about it the next day. Like love, NOTHING lasts forever. 

This is where many are “getting it wrong” and start to come across almost  being patronising in their efforts to  get “Asian artists” together so they can be heard and appreciated. But this is “doing an MTV” and not knowing one’s audience.

This is serving up yet another buffet with too much of everything and where someone will stick to the curries, others will try the sushi and sashimi and some will attack the dessert section .

Just plonking them all on a stage and having each band or artist from around the region play their music to a diverse Asian audience might even do them more harm than good.

I don’t quite know what this “harm” might be, but if their music- like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas- is more accepted back in their own backyard, should they even venture out? Or, more to the point, WHEN and HOW should they venture out- and where to? A MUSIC CONFERENCE? 

Do bands, for example, from this region who make The Long March to SXSW- and pay for the privilege of performing at the event- honestly believe that they are nothing more than a “curiosity piece”?

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Forget the Germanic sounding name: Having been born in Sri Lanka and having dealt and worked with Asian musicians and music executives in Asia, there is a great deal of “parochial thinking” mixed with almost reverse racism: “It doesn’t matter if they are from Asia. If they don’t come from my country, there is nothing I can do for them. Radio and television will never play their music.” And why should they play a band singing in Mandarin on a Pinoy radio station?”

Hello, yeah, and hell, yah, and pass me the adobo, please. 

Me, I love to hear the sounds of, let’s say, tablas on a recording and have worked on “Eastern” Remixes and duets of tracks by and with Nelly Futardo, Bowie, Gorillaz, Placebo, Lennon, Robbie Williams and others.

Apart from being “add ons” on “Remix” albums, these tracks- and they were not inexpensive to produce- have not seen the light of day in “the West” or, even most parts of this region. There are lying dormant somewhere in an EMI vault marked “Asian”.

It’s like Rodney Dangerfield: Asian artists and music has never got any respect in the International marketplace- and from the music companies- meaning the “executives”.

Apart from ONE executive- and “me Lord” is a mate- who has championed music from Pakistan and the Middle East to Scandinavia- there has been no one I have met with the same global- and passionate- view of music. 

There should be more like him, but this is where music companies are so wrong in their “management structures” and “hires” and have not marketed nor capitalised on everything they have, all of which has given Asian music executives both an inferiority complex and a “F*** the gweilo” attitude.

In the meantime, the music has got lost and artists get passed over, or are forced to play “the commercial game”.

There is NOTHING wrong with being commercial. Let’s just have some balance. 

The only Number One record in the US recorded by an Asian artist was in the early Sixties- “Sukiyaki” and sung in Japanese by Kyu Sakamoto whereas despite millions of dollars spent in recent years to break – or placate- best-selling local artists who thought they had outgrown their markets and were ready to have a crack at the International market,  have all gone down the toilet.

Why? Crappy, derivative music and which makes one wonder what the “Western” Artist And Repertoire person was thinking about. Drivel like track from Japan’s mega-star Utada makes me embarrassed to be an Asian. Bring back Kyu Sakamoto even if he is dead.

It’s the SONG, stupid and “Sukiyaki” still lives today ‘cos it is a great little MELODY.

When with a major, did anyone really care what we had to say- or listen to the music we played from this region- during International Marketing Meetings? No. Most of it was utter crap to even us who were presenting it.

It was a token gesture and in our allocated 20 minutes we would show off the “sounds” of the best-selling artists from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Korea, Singapore and Malaysia and watch as people headed out for loo breaks. Why? Again, crappy music.

They returned in time to hear us waffle on about the number of bicycles , computers and mobile phones in China and dazzled them with the bullshit that ALL these people would also want music.

Again, just to show the importance of the Asian music industry, in those days, it only amounted for 2.7% of worldwide sales.  This was in “the good old days”. Break that 2.7% into a country by country basis and you had less than a dim sum or half a satay stick.

So, here we are today and trying to bring all the music of Asia together. Amongst Asians, who would care? Very few of “us Asians” can identify or understand or appreciate most other Asian music.

How many ASIANS would rush out to hear the genius that was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan? Not many.

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I have sat and listened to colleagues listen to a WESTERN recording by a “Priority act” and say, “The tune sounds TOO Indian” or look at the photos of a new artist and ask, “She looks like a Filipina? She’ll never sell.”

In Asia- hard to believe- but even Beatles FANS went off the Beatles when they grew beards and mustaches as they “looked too dirty”.

George Harrison picking up the sitar and the rest heading off to be with the Maharishi didn’t help. The “mop tops” had started to look “too Eastern”.

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I still remember the classic moment when a local “musical legend” asked Nettwerks’  Terry McBride how “TALL” one of his American-born Chinese acts was- and when he was trying to sell this “legend” on the girl by playing her MUSIC- LOUD. Knowing she was “tall”, made a huge difference.

Whatever happened to the “tall” Chloe Wang, anyway? Whatever happened to ANY of the “overseas Chinese” artists discussed at that meeting?

We received music from Far East Movement years before they had their recnet Number One. The opinion: “Too American for this region”.

Same with MC Jin who, today, has made his home in Hong Kong and is no longer the “tuff” rappin’ guy who was signed to Virgin US after winning a Rap-Off- and then dropped when his debut album tanked. Why bother even signing him up? It’s like Jay Sean.

Signed to one of EMI labels, he was “pushed” out this way when he failed elsewhere and ‘cos  he was “Asian” and “should sell”.

It was that same MTV cowboy way of thinking: “All Asians will accept the music of all other Asians”.

We brought Jay Sean out to Bangkok for a showcase, the response was lukewarm and, eventually, with nothing happening for him anywhere, he was dropped- and “returned” last year- thanks to his tie-up with L’il Wayne.    

Asian Pop, Rock, Rap or whatever else apart, the biggest fans of “ethnic” or “Asian flavoured” music are from the West- and mainly musicians. They have no prejudices: They like what they hear and decide to collaborate with artists like Asha Bhosle, AR Rahman or other Indian or Chinese or Thai or Vietnamese musicians. It is all about COLLABORATIVE efforts.

Damon Albarn, Michael Stipe, Bowie, visionaries like Chris Blackwell with projects like “One Giant Leap” and a few others have been- and still are- huge fans of Asian sounds and Asian musicians- and which is now being sampled and lost in the faceless clutter of Clubs and DJs.

“Us Asians” are a peculiar group of people: We seem to dislike everyone and accept very few “of our own” when it comes to music.

Right now, only Korea’s K-Pop is being accepted ALMOST throughout Asia and which started with that nasty bit of K-Pop called “Nobody” by Wonder Girls.

Why has K-Pop succeeded where other music has failed and how can Rain be named by Time- but, wait, “only” through its ONLINE poll- as being more “influential” than Lady Gaga and Barack Obama?

K-Pop is more manufactured than a Rebecca Black song and the South Korean GOVERNMENT has poured millions of dollars to market and promote not only K-Pop, but also Korean television drama series- huge almost throughout Asia- Korean movies and the entire Korean entertainment industry.

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The success of ENTERTAINMENT from Korea has dwarfed ANYTHING coming outta Japan, China, or anywhere else in Asia. This success even dwarfs the number of bicycles in China.

So, does this come down to money and how money “buys” popularity and is there something to learn from what the South Korean Government has been able to do by FINANCIALLY supporting its entertainment industry- and  which helps its tourism, its manufacturing, its technology and the very IMAGE of South Korea? Sure it does and pity da fool who disagrees. 

Korean artists- boy bands, girl bands, solo artists have all been “sculptured” to almost resemble virtual game characters. There’s an unreal ‘look’ to them and, perhaps of this almost “virtual world” ‘look’,  they are being accepted by, not only most Asian POP music fans- but also sponsors, and promoters. It’s the Spill Over Effect. It’s like K-Tel and K-jelly. 

Of course, not all Asian governments place such a high priority on their respective entertainment industries.Just ask those knobs at CreateHK, InvestHK orof the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Perhaps they don’t have an entertainment industry worth supporting ? Perhaps the artists are not good enough? Perhaps entertainment is not a priority?     

The truth of the matter is that except for a handful of Asians- jeez, I HATE writing that word- “Asian music”- and by this I mean ethnic music/soundscapes and the musical virtuosity of Asian musicians playing this “ethnic” music is most appreciated by Westerners- and almost in an “Indie” look-what-I-discovered way.

Will the majors sign up any of these acts? Maybe and then stick them on some “World Music” label and hope the music sells itself.  It’s like all those “East/West Remixes” of Bowie et al that EMI has- somewhere.

Will the West buy into a rock or pop band from Asia?

I had a Danish girlfriend who would almost SHUDDER at the thought of this. She believed they would never appeal to “young Western girls”- physically. What she was doing with me remains a mystery. Then again, neither of us were exactly “young”.

She made sense and called it as she saw it and never skated around any issues and would ask, “Really, baby, how many teenage girls from the West would have a crush on an Asian guy when they have millions of good looking Western idols to choose from?” Was she right? In her frankness, yes.

So while Timbaland, Shakira, Beyonce, Snoop Dogg etc “borrow” beats and samples from India, while AR Rahman needs Pussycat Dolls to get his music heard by an International audience, what happens to all these new artists from around the region making music today?

Can they break out of their home markets and be welcomed in other parts of Asia- let alone “internationally”?

Do they have the musical chops to make it “Internationally” when even truly great bands from Scandinavia are ignored outside of their home markets?

Even if they do have the chops, they need direction and guidance. There is much to like about this DIY world- and also much going against it.

In Asia, for too long, it’s been a DIO world- Do It Ourselves. The result has been some truly wretched music which has has always played second fiddle to the  “image” that has been cultivated. Like this bloke- and one of the most popular artists in Greater China.

In a place like Denmark, great bands talk about breaking out, but, in reality, they are happy being big herrings in a very small pond and living off their government’s generous dole system. Even if that Big Break comes their way, they are either too scared, or too complacent to move.

In this region, perhaps musically and image-wise, they might be lagging behind a country like Denmark, but, apart from words like “energy” and “enthusiasm” what many acts are lacking in is originality- especially when recording in English.

Many seem happy- and proud- to be bastard sons of Coldplay or any band signed to the Sub Pop label and with few being, as someone told me a few hours ago, “crash hot when performing ‘live’.”    

Right now, I am a huge fan and supporter of India’s Raghu Dixit Project. They are slowly having their music heard in the UK and their management team over there are doing good things for the band.

Jools Holland is a fan, so is Robert Plant, and they are one of THE best ‘live’ acts I have seen- GREAT musicianship, strong songs and music that transcend language barriers.

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They are beyond labels and have no need to be “Asia’s this or that.” They are BRILLIANT the way they are and should be collaborating with someone like Ben Harper who can introduce their music to a wider audience- and, which might help them get a record deal.

Same goes for China’s Lonely China Day, a truly very good band.

I wrote to their label a year ago saying that the great Bob Ezrin was interested in producing them. What happened? No reply. Pity. It might have opened so many doors for them and some interesting collaborations. Bob Ezrin is no idiot.

This is another problem for bands and artists in this region: Piss poor management- and which means no direction, no future- and no collaborations with other musicians who can help, perhaps, improve their music, fine-tune their stage performances, and work with EACH OTHER to take their respective music further- and outta this region.

Like I said DIY and DIO have their shortcomings.    

If only “real” bands like the Raghu Dixit Project and Lonely China Day had the type of support that K-Pop has had, music from Asia might just have  chance- and, at the same time, find its own Voice.

 


  1. Jens says:

    So how tall is Chloe? I remember that her manager was dangling her in front of everybody at MM 2 years ago.

    • We-Enhance says:

      Tall enough to duet with a male Canto Pop shocker. Nice girl, actually. Her manager- not McBride- wrote about she was up for a role in a Spielberg TV series similar to “Lost” – and then- nada about Miss Chloe.

      • Jens says:

        What happened with Celina Jade? Didn’t she have the same manager as Chloe?

      • We-Enhance says:

        Had one of those community emails saying she had just finished a television series.

        Have no idea if the record made in the UK/New York ever came out. Gold Typhoon, with who she was first signed to as a singer, refused to take her back when the deal with Nettwerk was trying to get off the ground.

        Celina- nice girl- had moved to Nettwerk after Gold Typhoon.

        Talk about Six Degrees of Separation.

  2. Fernando says:

    You’ve touched on a lot of issues that interest me deeply. Two things in particular.

    One is that the current state of the game really calls for a new kind of music manager. That’s kind of been obvious for five or six years now – but it really feels like the “weakest link.”

    I agree with you about illusion of an Asian market. But, it does make sense to work regionally if you want to play live and to be true to one’s background in order to be authentic. That’s why manufactured Asian acts don’t sell in the west – they reek of inauthenticity. But, it’s also why Indian hard rock & metal bands will break through. They’ll manage to be heavy and real.

    Or, maybe I’m dreaming.

    • We-Enhance says:

      Perhaps, but, so far, the music I have heard has mostly been Sons of Korn etc…Asian acts have to try even harder to break Internationally- everything from the music to the ‘live’ performance. The first act who gets these two “elements together” along with onstage charisma might make it. But the MUSIC must be AMAZING. Right now, I have yet to even hear “good”. But I am picky. The only band I think has SOMETHING is the Raghu Dixit Project. Now, ‘live’, they are AMAZING. Really try and see these guys. Well worth it.

    • Jens says:

      A new kind of music manager..good point, a former producer colleague of mine who has a few grammy’s at home recently mentioned that out of all the managers he deals with, 2 out of 3 are bad. This is largely for the US, I can only guess the ratio for Asia. I’ve come across quite a few managers who just happened to get into the business by chance, plus the momagers, who can only take the artist so far and lack the vision and for the most part are unwilling to let go.

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