I Am An American – The Album is a collection of pan-Asian music highlighting traditional Asian instruments backed by Western classical harmonies. Featuring intriguing combinations of musical sounds never heard before, it is performed by an eclectic group of musicians who came together just for the occasion of a single concert, “I Am An American Live”, in the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton, OR on May 6, 2022.
All of these pieces were composed and arranged by Balamurali Balu (Bala), a well-known composer and music producer who writes music for the Tamil film industry in southern India.
This unique music, which represents the blending of some of the most ancient musical traditions and instruments of Asia to create something new, celebrates the rich cultures brought to the United States by multiple generations of Asian Americans.
I Am An American – The Album is a production of The Immigrant Story as a part of its Live productions.
Hope is All We Need, with the haunting Japanese shakuhachi, Bala invokes an initial doubtfulness and hesitation, but as the piece progresses, it moves confidently giving much more hopeful notes for what is to come. This piece also fuses the sounds of koto, and taiko along with the melodious choral voices.
Temple Romance goes to South Indian classical flute melodies blended with a strong string and chorale harmonies. Bala’s inspiration for this piece is derived from an early morning scene in a typical South Indian temple town where a woman is looking beautiful with flowers in her hair, wearing a bindi on her forehead and getting ready for morning worship at the temple.
Magic Gem takes a classic Western melody and adapts it to an Eastern classical vibe using the Chinese erhu, played by Jerry Lin. This combination invokes a new sound that is almost magical.
Hit the Strings is based on a Middle Eastern musical scale and features the Japanese koto played by Masumi Timson. Many cultural influences flow between the Middle East and India and this piece is a beautiful marriage of Indian and Persian classical melodies, but played on a Japanese instrument.
Harmony of Rhythms features young musicians from Portland Kalai Kuzhu playing parai drums, one of the oldest instruments in India but one that, until now, has not been heard often in the West. In India the parai is usually traditionally played on the occasion of a death, when it is played as a sendoff for the deceased. This is the first time the parai has appeared in a musical fusion with Japanese taiko drums played by Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe (Unit Souzou) and Latin-Afro drums played by Mimy Manavihare.
Balamurali Bala, India: Conductor/Keyboard/Percussion
Masumi Timson, Japan: Koto
Yuzhong Lin (Jerry), China: Erhu
Mitch Iimori, Japan: Shakuhachi, Oboe, Shamisen
Vijay Venkatesh Kannan, Germany/India: Bansuri, Kanjeera, Morsing – Indian Flute
Nat Hulskamp, Portland, OR: Nylon Guitar,
Vijeta Sathyaraj, Hong Kong: Violin
Kim Mai Nguyen, France: Viola
Avery Waite, Portland, OR: Cello
Jason Sabino, Philippines: Choir Chair
Tom Harper, Portland, OR: Choir
Ona Schoening, Portland, OR: Choir
Madi Zuro, Portland, OR: Choir
Caitlin Stave, Portland, OR: Choir
Aaron Richardson, Portland, OR: Choir
Karthick Rajagopal, India: Keyboard
Fiaindratovo Manavihare, Madagascar: Percussion
Michelle Fujii, Portland, OR: Taiko
Toru Watanabe, Japan: Taiko
Drum Ensemble (for the Harmony of Rhythms)
Portland Kalai Kuzhu Players:
Nivedha Sathish Kumar
Fiaindratovo Manavihare, Latin-Afro Drums
UNIT SOUZOU and Korekara Taiko
Michelle Fujii, Taiko
Toru Watanabe, Taiko