Over the past 40 years, CAAMFest has brought programs to neighborhoods like San Francisco Japantown and Chinatown, and this year there will be a new venue–the SOMA Pilipinas Filipino Historic Cultural District –and fresh new performers.
The Pinays on the Rise free concert at Yerba Buena Gardens is the result of CAAM’s new Festival and Exhibitions Director, Thuy Tran, wanting to collaborate with the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival and make music accessible and highlight the SOMA Pilipinas cultural district.
All three artists on the roster, Kiyomi, Ouida, and DJ Bitesize, are rising Filipino American music artists native to the San Francisco Bay Area. They’re all really excited for it, and for some of them, it’s even one of the first in-person performances since the pandemic began.
“I’m excited, but also I think this COVID period has just lasted so much longer than anyone expected,” Ouida remarked. “It’ll be my first live performance in quite some time. I did do another performance when I released [my single], ‘Puerto Princesa,’ but that was a lot more intimate and that was like the cast and crew for the music video. It’s going to be fun. It’s exciting but I’m a little nervous.”
All three artists are new to CAAMFest, but the same can’t be said about SOMA Pilipinas. Ouida and DJ Bitesize, both of whom are San Francisco natives, have ties to the cultural district, notably the latter who can often be seen spinning at different events there throughout the year.
For Kiyomi, she was brought up in the East Bay suburb of Union City. Everything from school to work was all encompassed in this third of the Tri-City Area. Even when she lived in Hayward for a while, she would commute to Union City for school.
Kiyomi and Ouida both grew up in musical households. Nearly every member of Ouida’s immediate family was a music artist of some sort, and Kiyomi often did karaoke by herself in her bedroom after school. Music across the eras and genres was also a mainstay in their upbringings, and eventually, the singer-songwriters found themselves writing music of their own.
“I clicked on a beat and just started trying to make my own song,” Kiyomi recalled, “and I eventually just got into it and fell in love with the whole process and what it did for me.”
DJ Bitesize got her start when she was 17, when fellow SOMA Pilipinas DJ, Jo_ill, taught her some of the basics, as well as introduce her to DJ Cellskiii, who both showed her how to use turntables and scratching, as well as taught her the history of it all. From there, DJ Bitesize has been taking her skills to clubs and competitions.
Being a woman in a predominantly male music scene, DJ Bitesize remarked how it can be intimidating at times, especially when she’s the only one present. However, experience and confidence in what she’s doing makes all the difference.
“At first it was a little scary, being the only female on some lineups and then especially like getting some of those hater comments from males being like, ‘Oh, you’re just getting booked because you’re female’ or ‘You’re just getting that because you’re female,’” and it’s no it’s not,” she reflected. “It’s definitely my skills as well, and being able to DJ and like rock a crowd.”
Racial identity plays a big role in Ouida’s artistry. Being mixed-race (her mother is Filipino, her father is Irish), she has had to wrestle with the pressure of being boxed into certain demographics, the different parenting styles she was brought up with, and often feeling excluded in the neighborhood she lived in and schools she attended. When she was 18, the manager she had at the time even went as far as explicitly telling her to keep her Asian heritage to herself, because “Asians don’t sell.”
“I think with my artistry, a lot of what I try to do is just create a space for all of it to be true where I’m not 50/50, but I’m a 100/100 of the border that I sit on,” she explained, “and that’s its own place and I don’t have to necessarily choose or explain. Just like, my experiences are my experiences and they don’t fit so perfectly into these prefixed boxes.”
Pinays on the Rise will be one of Kiyomi’s first performances back in the Bay Area since relocating to Los Angeles last year. Prior to the pandemic, she used to take week-long trips down to Southern California, to collaborate with others on new music. She was even there when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and when the initial shelter-in-place order went into effect. She and a friend would go there so often that, once they realized they were spending more time in Los Angeles than the Bay Area, led to them making the decision to move there permanently.
“It’s been about a year of technically me living here and figuring it out and being mainly based in LA, “Kiyomi remarked. “I just fell in love with the pace and the resources. There’s always something going on. There’s a bunch of creatives that I feel like it helps inspire me. The different ways on how you could express yourself in art and stuff like that. And just seeing the different ways of how you could do it, inspires how I could take it in with the music. So, I just love how in your face it is out here with the creative scene.”
All three artists embody qualities that show through their music that they define as what makes each of them unique. DJ Bitesize enjoys genre-hopping in her sets, and according to her, that can either be a good thing or a bad thing sometimes. Kiyomi, who was quite shy when she was younger, utilizes her music as a key tool in learning how to communicate with others and express herself. The genre-bending music of Ouida is similar to her racial identity in that it doesn’t fit neatly into one box, yet despite often feeling out of place amidst the hip-hop and R&B scenes of the Bay Area, she stays true to the sound that is authentic to her.
Beyond Pinays on the Rise, there’s a lot to still look forward to for the three artists. From upcoming gigs to making more music videos, there’s a lot in the works. DJ Bitesize is looking to teach the next generation of DJs and Ouida teased an appearance on Ruby Ibarra’s upcoming album.
Kiyomi remains excited and open to continuing to connect with other creatives and learn as she goes. “Just seeing what kind of music I create and who I connect with, because I think that’s really important,” she said. “I’m creating from a very genuine place. And I feel like whoever connects and relates to that, it’s pretty meaningful and it’s for a reason. So, I’m just excited to see how everything is just all going to come together.”