CAAM is launching a new series of posts in partnership with Richie Menchavez, founder of Traktivist, a new website dedicated to featuring and archiving Asian American music. Menchavez will be a guest contributor to the website showcasing new tracks by APA artists, as well as feature some unique stories from the archives. Here’s an introduction to Menchavez and Traktivist.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself—where you’re from, what your background is, and your interests in Asian America and beyond?
My name is Richie. First and foremost, I am a DJ, which heavily influences my passion for finding great music. I started out in a mobile DJ crew called Precision Mixing Dynamix (PMD) from the San Francisco Bay Area. This experience eventually led to dj’ing for a variety of entertainment companies, as well with the radio station Wild 94.9.
However, my interests in Asian America are rooted specifically in the year 1998. During this year, through a good friend of mine named David Liem, I was given the opportunity to intern for Classified Records, an independent record label in South San Francisco. It was an Asian American ran label, although it was very careful to characterize itself as “Asian American,” ultimately seeking great talent and music regardless of ethnicity. Some of the artists on their roster included Jocelyn Enriquez, Pinay, Julie Plug, M:G, Mr. Mixx from 2LiveCrew, and DnH. Eventually, I ended up leading their West Coast Street Promotions. Also, in the same year, another good friend of mine named AC Lorenzo, who is one of the founding members of the legendary Asian American group KAI, released their self-titled debut under a major record label.
In all these experiences and relationships, I gained valuable insight into the complexities of radio, the music industry, and the plight of the artists in trying to make music their career. But most importantly, it opened my naïve ears and eyes to the music made by the Asian American community. It was a realization that Asian Americans aren’t just consumers of music, but we are just as inspired to be contributors of music as well. From that point on, I became motivated to find all the music that has been made by Asian Americans, both past and present.
What inspired you to create Traktivist?
Although traktivist.com officially launched this past March, it has been an idea 10 years in the making. Its inception was back in 2005. It was two years after I had received my Sociology degree. There was definite progress for Asian American made music, most notably MC Jin being the first rapper of Asian American descent to be signed to a major record label. My friend David Liem created Sidewok Radio, an online radio service with very flexible programming. I was presented an opportunity to create my own show. Hence, I created “The Confundable Willows Radio Show,” a weekly, one-hour show featuring the best of Asian and Asian American made music. Unfortunately, priorities shifted and I had to cancel the show in less than a year. In 2008, I attempted it again with a website called SpikeyPillows. Again, life’s direction pulled me elsewhere and eventually, I shut it down.
Then in that same year, my life was turned completely upside-down. I was hospitalized and eventually diagnosed with a chronic health condition. Needless to say, this was a big turning point in my life. Although it took a few years to fully accept (my diagnosis came with a long denial), I came to understand the value of life. I prioritized happiness, the pursuing of passion, and helping others fulfill their call. All the while, Asian Americans were making larger strides in music with the help of streaming audio and video, and social media. In 2014, everything aligned, allowing me the opportunity to start building on this idea. I am extremely blessed, thankful, and proud that in 2015, I was able to finally launch traktivist.com.
What is the idea behind Traktivist and what are some of the current features?
A simplistic breakdown of the word “traktivist” would be the combination of the words: “track” and “activist.” By “track”, I refer to a song or piece of music, while also alluding to the word’s other meaning as the following and noting of progress. And by “activist,” I refer to the advocacy and campaigning for some kind of social change, especially in the sphere of music in the North America. Overall, it is a celebratory and active approach to music.
“…the story we find between the notes of Asian American music is sometimes nothing less than the story of Asian America itself.” -Dr. Oliver Wang
This quote by Dr. Oliver Wang sums up what Traktivist is trying to accomplish. We are a collector of stories. Through their music, each artist provides a glimpse into the dynamic and complex Asian American experience. One day it will be commonplace to hear and see Asian Americans in all genres of music without so much emphasis on ethnicity. But until then, we believe it is important to acknowledge and appreciate all those who have and/or continue to pave the way in making this a reality.
Traktivist is a platform to discover, promote, and historically archive music made by Asian Americans. Our website operates as a central, online hub, offering quality, convenience, and cultural value through our unique cataloging. Through our extensive research, users have the unprecedented ability to search specifically by ethnicity, genre, role, and instrument. Also, Traktivist proudly hosts Traktivist Radio, a weekly, online radio show which features music made by Asian Americans, as well as interviews with artists and organizations from the community. Past guests have included August Rigo, Priska, Ann One, GRMLN, Joanna Borromeo, Gowe, and more!
What are some of the most unusual or surprising things you’ve learned/found through this project?
I am happily surprised every time I discover an Asian American artist that is pre-1970’s. The further back in time I go, the bigger the surprise and delight. An example I use often is Danny Barcelona, the Filipino-American jazz drummer for Louis Armstrong’s All-stars band in the 1950’s. Or learning about the significant impact that certain Chinese Jamaican producers and musicians played in the development of reggae. Or learning that around the 1970’s, there was an intentional, bi-coastal effort of jazz musicians to create an “Asian American sound.” As I continue to dig, I am excited at the idea that there are many undiscovered musical gems to be found and powerful stories to be shared.
How many tracks are on Traktivist so far?
Traktivist features over 1,000 tracks, mostly current songs, but also with intention to include tracks as early as our history in America.
How many new songs by APA artists come out each week? How do you keep track of them?
Counting originals, remixes and covers, I would safely say around 30 songs a week are released, which always seems to surprise people.
To keep track, I spend a good portion of my week going through Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds of specific websites, blogs, online magazines, and pages which have some focus on music made by Asian Americans.
Is this your full-time gig or do you have another job/career?
This is my full-time gig.
What are some ways in which people can support Traktivist?
There are many ways people can support Traktivist. First, sign up to our awesome newsletter. Second, add us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’ll keep you updated with all things Traktivist. Third, listen to our online radio show, where we feature the best music made by Asian Americans. We are currently on Soundcloud and Hearthis.at and will soon be on iTunes, Stitcher, and TuneIn. Lastly, spread the word! Talk about us to your family, friends, and strangers. Invite us to be part of your community events, shows, and programs. If you are an artist, please reach out to us. We’d love to work with you.
A list of 10 new tracks featuring Asian American musicians, curated by Traktivist
1. Steve Aoki feat. Linkin Park – Darker Than Blood
2. Tessanne Chin – Fire
3. Lyrics Born – Real People
4. Towkio – Heaven Only Knows (ft. Chance the Rapper, Lido, & Eryn Allen Kane)
5. Sam Tsui & Casey Breves – Time After Time (cover of Cyndi Lauper)
6. Kawehi – Sail (cover of Awolnation)
7. Best Coast – Feeling Ok
8. The Bird and the Bee – Will You Dance
9. Jonwayne – Green Light (ft. Anderson Paak)
10. theWHOevers – Over Ya Head
Traktivist.com is the premiere platform to discover, promote, and historically archive music made by Asian Americans. From new releases to undiscovered gems, music will be posted every week at Traktivist for your enjoyment.