Immigrant Songs

Immigrant Songs: Song and Story from the Immigrant Experience

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Welcome to Immigrant Songs, a series presented and produced by KEXP, with support from The Vilcek Foundation. Through in-studio performances, interviews with local and national artists, and other written content, co-curators and DJs Darek Mazzone and Chilly will explore the immigrant experience.

Darek Mazzone, host of Wo’ Pop, says:

The immigrant artist experience is very different than the native one. One factor is that often these artists would never get a chance to become artists in their home country. The other is the representation of transitional culture, with immigrant artists absorbing the new while holding onto their traditions. There is also a really interesting impact their music can have on the dominant musical culture in their adopted home, creating something new like we have seen with Afrobeat and Hip Hop.

DJ Chilly, host of El Sonido, adds:

KEXP has always championed a wide variety of music from around the world, across the country and here in our backyard. I’m excited to spotlight foreign-born American musicians and their unique experiences - to open a window to their positive role in our communities and their musical ingenuity. We’ll hear personal stories, find common ground and discover new sounds in music. Cross pollination is one of America’s great assets. The struggles and achievement of immigrants help bridge the gap between worlds. They push music into new territory and inspire people everywhere.

KEXP has been proud to regularly feature immigrant musicians, primarily through Wo’ Pop and El Sonido, shows that are part of KEXP’s week night specialty programming. Past in-studio session have included MAKU Soundsystem, Edna Vazquez, Gabriel Teodros, Las Cafeteras, Bocafloja, and Federico Aubele and Natalia Clavier. Stay tuned here and on the KEXP Blog in the coming days, weeks and months as we present Immigrant Songs, your gateway to the immigrant experience in music.

Immigrant Songs


Elia is the most recent project of Seattle-based singer, musician and producer Ignacio Izquierdo. The name comes from Elia Liut, an Italian aviator, who was the first person to fly over Ecuadorian territory. This reflects both Ignacio’s home city of Quito and his life of movement. [Read More]

Mako & Munjuru

Sometimes those artists are also working hard that a whole culture and even a language are preserved for generations to come. That is the story of the NW based traditional Okinawan ensemble Mako & Munjuru. Originally from the southern most island, Okinawa, in Japan, these artists have chosen to create sublime music on traditional Okinawan instruments of Sanshin, a type of banjo, and Taiko, a traditional drum. [Read More]

Winston Jarrett

Can you believe there was once a time where Reggae wasn’t a word everyone recognized? In the musical world you have to really be in awe of how a sound from a tiny island in the Caribbean has propelled itself into the global consciousness. The legendary reggae singer Winston Jarrett can clearly remember when the music started becoming something bigger, something that lit a fire in him and that keeps burning today. [Read More]

La Santa Cecilia

“We carry it now as a badge of honor,” says Miguel Ramirez, percussionist of Los Angeles group La Santa Cecilia, “to say that we are immigrants or children of immigrants.” In the beginning the Grammy-winning group didn’t set out to intentionally represent or speak for the immigrant population and issues touching them here in the U.S. They just wanted to make music. But the voice came and it came naturally, a light and a source of personal empowerment that could positively influence all of us. [Read More]

Kultur Shock


There are many paths that lead one to emigrate and there are many roads to becoming a musician. When you combine the two, you often find a unique beast that exists in between dimensions. The legendary Balkan band Kultur Shock is such a beast. Sometimes a musician or band creates a persona to sell to an audience, but this band is all real, all the time – raw, political, unapologetic, and ridiculously fun. [Read More]

Chicano Batman


On this installment of Immigrant Songs, I was blessed to have Los Angeles group Chicano Batman live in the KEXP studios. They’ve been getting a lot of attention around the country lately, both by doing some killer opening slots during tours with Jack White and Alabama Shakes and by being on the bill at this year’s Coachella. They've also got a unique sound - it’s soul, it’s psychedelic, it’s all sorts of things in between. And, above everything else, it’s so much fun to watch and hear. [Read More]

Blitz The Ambassador


On this installment of Immigrant Songs, I had the great pleasure of interviewing the Ghanaian-American Hip Hop artist Blitz the Ambassador. Blitz (a.k.a. Samuel Bazawule) represents a modern perspective on the immigrant experience: deeply colored by the internet and mobile technology, and a with a nuanced awareness of the current African scene. [Read More]

Chhom Nimol of Dengue Fever


Based in the vibrant Los Angeles music scene, touring worldwide, and releasing a trove of beloved records, Dengue Fever has been succeeding in reaching the adventurous music listeners and Cambodian (Khmer) expats who are at the front of stage wherever they play. Dengue Fever’s lead singer, Chhom Nimol, embarked on an unlikely career that has taken her everywhere. [Read More]

Chimurenga Renaissance


Seattle duo Chimurenga Renaissance is generating heat in both International Music and Hip-Hop. They are musical royalty and prodigal sons who have managed to cross-pollinate the traditional and the modern, bridging two continents, two cultures, two generations and two genres. [Read More]


Immigrants move to a new country for a guarantee: That life can be better in ways that were impossible in the home country. This is certainly true for Meklit Hadero, an Ethiopian-born woman who, through her immigrant experience as well as her talent, became an intriguing artist in the US. [Read More]

About The Vilcek Foundation: The Vilcek Foundation was established in 2000 by Jan and Marica Vilcek, immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia. The mission of the foundation, to honor the contributions of foreign-born scholars and artists living in the United States, was inspired by the couple’s careers in biomedical science and art history, respectively, as well as their personal experiences and appreciation for the opportunities they received as newcomers to this country. The foundation awards annual prizes to immigrant biomedical scientists and artists and sponsors cultural programs such as the Hawaii International Film Festival. To learn more, visit