Today's Song of the Day, as chosen by Kevin Cole, host of Drive Time on KEXP, is "The Best God Damn Band in Wyoming" by No-No Boy, from the 2021 album 1975 on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
On his sophomore album, 1975, musician/historian Julian Saporiti (recording as No-No Boy) aims to share the stories of Asian musicians in American folk music, as part of his Ph.D dissertation at Brown University. As the child of a Vietnamese emigrant, who escaped here after her grandfather was assassinated in the Tet Offensive, Saporiti was finally able to find himself reflected in a predominantly white music genre via his research. “Even though I grew up in Nashville and grew up loving that music and literally in the industry,” he says via a press release, “there was always something that didn’t fit, because I look the way I do.”
Today's Song of the Day, in particular, tells the tale of the George Igawa Orchestra, an all-Japanese jazz band formed by residents of the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming. Saporiti explains the song:
An all Asian American big band who formed in a Wyoming concentration camp during WWII — how could I not be captivated by that story?
I went to a jazz college, studied jazz history, and never learned about ANY musicians who looked like me. It was only after I moved to Wyoming and saw this photograph of the George Igawa Orchestra that I realized, as an Asian American musician, I am part of a rich lineage.
A decade later, I have this pile of songs illuminating a diverse array of Asian American and immigrant stories which sadly, seem more relevant now than ever and it all started with the 'The Best God Damn Band in Wyoming.'
This band would hit the road to play school proms and town dances only to go back behind barbed wire after the gig. And Igawa himself should be taught about as a musical pioneer who fused Japanese instruments and music with his big band. To play music at all during a situation like the Japanese American Incarceration was astounding and I'm happy that through this little tune a few more people will know about this band.
Who knows, maybe their story can be a gateway into understanding the complex, diverse and rich history of Asian Americans. The George Igawa Orchestra deserves a novel or a movie, but at least, now, they have a song.
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