Asian American Artists Highlighted at ‘South by Southwest’ Music Festival

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by Peter Valente
Run River North performs at SXSW music festival. [Image: Stephanie Vu/Zenith Division]

Every year tens of thousands of music and technology enthusiasts from around the United States and the world flock to Austin, Texas to attend the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. This year marked the first time in the festival’s 30-year history that one of the many events was completely dedicated to showcasing Asian American talent. The event — held upstairs in a barbeque restaurant — was hosted by non-profit Kollaboration, and featured Reonda, Run River North, Big Phony, and others. This year SXSW also featured several seminars on Asians and Asian Americans in the music industry with topics including “Demystifying Asia’s Music Industry,” “How [South Asian] Sound is Shaping New Music,” and “Asian Americans Break the Silence and Stereotypes,” as well as a meetup for the Asian and Asian American SXSW community.

Music has long connected the people of the United States and Asia. In 2014, Osaka was selected to host UNESCO’s third annual International Jazz Day celebration because of the strong influence of the American musical tradition on Japan. Additionally, Nashville, Tennessee has forged bonds through music with cities in Australia and Japan. With US orchestras making the rounds in Asia, and a growing trend of Asian cities hosting American artists, SXSW’s tribute to Asian and Asian American artists is a welcomed step in the burgeoning trans-pacific musical friendship.

The growing musical exchange is not without economic benefits as well. In 2016, SXSW was directly and indirectly responsible for an influx of $325 million into the Austin economy. Asian tourists contribute more than $300 million to the 10th, 25th, and 35thcongressional districts of Texas — which together contain Austin — annually, a number which has increased exponentially over the past decade. Texas as a whole benefits from nearly $4 billion in Asian tourist spending annually.