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These Tiny Desk Contestants Set Stories Of The Asian-American Experience To Music

Julian Saporiti and Erin Aoyama of No-No Boy.
Diego Javier Luis
Courtesy of the artist
Julian Saporiti and Erin Aoyama of No-No Boy.

The NPR Music Tiny Desk Contest may be over this year — NPR Music was proud to award the honor this year to Naia Izumi — but Weekend Edition isn't done highlighting the impressive talent who entered this year's contest.

Entrants Julian Saporiti and Erin Aoyama, two doctoral students in American Studies at Brown University, create songs that illuminate the Asian-American experience in their multimedia project No-No Boy. The pair's Tiny Desk Contest submission "Two Candles In The Dark" tells the story of Aoyama's grandmother who was incarcerated in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.

"These are a lot of the stories from our own family histories or from families that look like ours and they're not stories we learned growing up," Aoyama says. Another one of No-No Boy's songs, "Vĩnh Long," narrates the trauma of death and displacement that Saporiti's family went through during the Vietnam War.

No-No Boy is currently traveling around the country, presenting the Asian-American experience through song to a diversified audience. As Aoyama puts it, the goal is to inspire others to "challenge how we teach the history" of marginalized groups.

For Saporiti, No-No Boy's music not only sheds light on racial prejudices from long ago, it also applies to history unfolding now.

"You see these echoes and these reverberations of this history of incarceration, of immigration bans, of refugees being treated poorly happening now in such deafening volume that to take these examples that we personally touch through our families, but also touch through scholars [and] to make that resident to today's audience is a really important thing," he says.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
Ned Wharton is a senior producer and music director for Weekend Edition.