An ‘instrument’ with soul: Joyo Velarde to perform at ‘Sansei Live’

Since its inception in 1971, Kimochi Inc. has maintained its commitment to serving the Japanese American community’s seniors. In the spirit of community, the San Francisco Japantown-based nonprofit will hold “Sansei Live!” — its annual fundraiser — on Saturday, Oct. 22 at Carnelian By The Bay, 1 Ferry Plaza, in San Francisco.

The Nichi Bei Weekly recently caught up with singer Joyo Velarde, who — along with the ScoJourners and Jest Jammin’ — will perform at the event.
Velarde was born in Manila, Philippines and studied opera in Rome before attending UC Davis in California. She was studying to become a news anchor at UC Davis when she met rapper Lyrics Born (Tom Shimura), who would later become her husband.

Since their meeting she and her husband have been busy recording, including their song “Balcony Beach,” which appeared on Latyrx’s debut album.

They have toured together and with fellow Quannum Projects artists Blackalicious.
Quannum is a hip-hop collective formed at UC Davis in 1992. Under the Quannum label she released her first solo single, “Sweet Angels.” Then in 2010 her debut album, “Love and Understanding” was released. This album includes producers such as Jake One, Jumbo the Garbageman and Lyrics Born. Velarde has appeared twice on the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” show.

Nichi Bei Weekly: How did you end up performing in Kimochi’s “Sansei Live?”  
Joyo Velarde: Last year I supported Lyrics Born for his Kimochi show. It was a truly warm welcome and I appreciate them asking me back this year to perform my own solo material.

NBW: What are your connections and involvement to the community?
JV: One of the things I love and hope to use more is the platform being a performer and musician affords me. I can’t think of a better way to combine my passion for music and outreach, especially if it supports Asian American community efforts like “Sansei Live.” My intention has always been to serve as an instrument.

NBW: How did your music career get started and why did you want to pursue this industry? How long have you been performing?
JV: I grew up studying piano and voice, but never had the intention of pursuing it professionally until I met Lyrics Born and the entire Quannum Family while studying at UC Davis. The potential to pursue it professionally organically came about after having been asked to record some vocals for their emerging projects. Recording turned into performing with them live, then touring, then eventually collecting and recording ideas for my own solo effort. I credit my musical development to their support and faith in my talent.

NBW: What inspires you, for example, how did you create your latest solo debut album “Love and Understanding?” What is your favorite genre of music?
JV: Every aspect of life from the very mundane to the most mind-blowing milestones is fodder for inspiration. The greatest artists to me are the ones who are “in tune” and present enough to process these experiences and then thoughtfully express through whatever medium they feel is most appropriate whether through lyrics, painting, architecture, etc. “Love and Understanding” is a snapshot of my life and love experiences at that point in time.
I’m a music fan and appreciate all forms! Soul music is anything truly expressed and reverberating from the soul.

NBW: How hard is it for Asians, let alone females, to break through in this industry and what are some struggles you had to overcome?
JV: Bruno Mars, Far East Movement and a personal favorite of mine, Lyrics Born’s, success in the American music market is inspiring. The virtual frontier has in many ways leveled the field in terms of being a tool for ANY artist to promote themselves if they have the drive and determination to do so. No longer is being signed to a record label the only guarantee of being heard.

NBW: I know you were born in Manila; was the language and culture barrier in the U.S. at the beginning of your career a struggle in your life?
JV: I didn’t experience any language barriers as my family and I moved to San Francisco when I was less than a year old — I am very much a California and Bay Area gal! I did spend my formative years in suburban Pleasanton where the majority of the demographic at the time was predominantly white. It wasn’t until college when I was exposed to a more diverse ethnic experience. THAT was eye opening! Up to that point, I didn’t have many Asian friends or acquaintances of other ethnic backgrounds. I don’t regret the experience of growing up in Pleasanton, but I knew that when it came time to have my own family I definitely wanted it to be in a diverse community.

NBW: What do you expect to see in the future for yourself? Any other performances coming up?
JV: I will always love performing and hope to do so until I’m gray! I’ve recently collaborated with Bay Area producer Trackademicks for his latest project and have several new songs in the works for my next solo album. I love collaborating, so right here and right now I’m sending it out into the universe for more connections. In addition to the “Sansei Live” show, I continue to tour with Lyrics Born and would love more opportunities to share my talent on behalf of the Asian community!

To learn more about Joyo Velarde, visit her MySpace page at www.myspace.com/joyovelarde.
To purchase tickets to the “Sansei Live!” ($75) contact Wes Nihei, Eric Kobuchi or Tamiko Wong at (415) 931-2294 or wnihei@kimochi-inc.org. The evening will include hors d’oeuvres and no-host bar.

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