The rise of mixed Asian women in the music industry: Saïna, Ume, Kessari

Multippl spoke to three mixed Asian women in the music industry all with different experiences and backgrounds.

The combination of both sounds and words ends in a beautiful amalgamation of imagery, emotion, and feelings. Music can be an exploration of personal themes, a source of grounding people and to take people into distant dreamlands.

Musicians and artists write lyrics that are personal to them through experiences they have faced first-hand.

The fastest growing demographic

The mixed-race population is the fastest growing demographic in America and in the United Kingdom according to their respective censuses.

As this demographic grows from 1.4% of the UK population in 2001 to 2.2% ten years later, the 2021 census is bound to show a significant rise in the demographic.

Within the demographic there are those who identify as ‘White and Asian’ and in the UK they made up 0.6% of the population in 2011.

Across the pond in America, the population of people who identify as ‘two or more races’ grew by a staggering 25 million in 10 years according to the 2020 Census.

Mixed Asians in the music industry

Säina, who lives in North West London, has a Japanese mother and an English father, the last time she went to her motherland was eight years ago.

Ume, raised in Kyoto, Japan was born to two immigrant parents; her mother Chinese and her father Moroccan Israeli. She attended international school during her middle school years.

Nikki’s mother is Thai and her father is American, she describes herself as a third culture kid having lived in Hong Kong, Thailand and American throughout her life.

Although they are all mixed Asian women in music – namely singer songwriters – these women have grown up in very different ways and all have interesting outlooks on life.

Saïna – Half Japanese and Half English

Saïna went to the BRIT school and having grown up in West London and then North West London her whole life Saïna considers herself a ‘Londoner’.

Her lyrics and music reflect on her story living and growing up in London but take inspiration from daily life.

Saïna’s latest single ‘What a time to live in’ is a social commentary on how social media has made people phone-obsessed, self-obsessed, and how so-called influencers are influencing people into making bad decisions.

Her father who is currently a writer and into poetry used to play music when he was in his 20’s. Taking inspiration from him, Saïna learnt how to structure her lyrics to give insight to her listeners.

Her love for music first began when she went to her grandparents’ house and played an out of tune piano when she was around five years old.

Saïna’s first encounter with music

After those encounters, her father who is also an avid pianist and guitarist wanted his 3 children (Saïna, her brother and sister) to learn how to play the piano.

Although she has not been to Japan in around eight years, Saïna and her siblings grew up watching Studio Ghibli and took great inspiration from Joe Hisaishi, the composer for most of their movies.

Joe Hisaishi and influence of Studio Ghibli films

Representing mixed Asian women in music, Saïna believes that the representation of Asian women as being inferior and submissive in Western society but even within the Japanese music industry needs to change and is slowly doing so.

Asian women in the music industry

Saïna dreams of touring in Japan one day and write songs in both Japanese and English. She trusts that the rise of mixed Asian singers in Japan will break down barriers and help people see things in a different light.

Breaking down the barriers

She said: “I would love to write a song, not necessarily all in Japanese but half Japanese and half English.”

Her debut EP, LIGHT AND DARK that includes ‘Wrong Love’ and ‘What a time to live in’ is out now Check it out here!

Ume – Half Chinese and Half Moroccan-Israeli

Ume was born in Kyoto, Japan to a Chinese mother and a Moroccan-Israeli father, who met in Japan while her mother was a student and her musical influences came from them.

Growing up in the countryside of Kyoto, Ume said she was bullied for not being Japanese and she struggled to deal with being called 外国人 (gaikokujin) – foreigner.

Mixed race and immigrant parents

She moved to an international school for middle school and she found it a lot easier to be herself as everyone was from around the world she but still found herself not really fitting in with the expatriate kids.

Ume recalls learning about James Baldwin in English class and her peers were being disrespectful brushing it off as if nothing had happened.

It was around this time Ume started creating music and listening to American R&B, Soul, Jazz and Funk music after joining Hip-hop dance classes.

Having experienced so much growing up and having to deal with always being asked who is she Ume now calls herself a 地球人 (chikyuujin) – person of the world.

Ume talked about how her experiences and musical influences in ‘Black’ American music helped her understand more about the gender, race and class struggles people have gone through.

Discussing her music Ume said: “I want to create a more borderless world, obviously I can’t do that alone and I can’t change the whole world but if one person feels love in some way or feels hope or strength in some way I’m happy.”

Reciting her song lyrics that help people

She talked about the music scene in Japan and the lack of representation of mixed-race people by explaining the Japanese school system and how it diminishes people’s creativity:

Japanese school system and creativity

Ume talks about when she went to Japanese primary school trying her best to fit in by changing her appearance and recalls one evening not talking to her father in Hebrew because she was embarrassed.

In her 2021 EP titled Feelings, Ume has a song with Daichi Yamamoto (half Japanese, half Jamaican rapper) titled Soul.

Spotify Playlist

Ume will be studying at BIMM Institute in London from August after releasing an album in August, during her time in London she wishes to build a bridge between the UK music scene and Japan.

The borderlessness of music

Kessari – Half Thai and Half American

Nikki or Kessari studied Music Business at NYU and after COVID started posting comedic mixed-race problem videos on her TikTok while also promoting her music.

Her friend Violette Wautier, who is half Thai/half Belgium and signed to Universal music sent the general manager, Paulie Sirisant Kessari’s tiktok and she was then contacted and signed.

Kessari was born and grew up in Hong Kong until she was 13 years old, she then moved to Thailand until she went to New York for university. Since she finished university, she has been living in Bangkok, Thailand.

Growing up in Hong Kong, she never felt like a fish out of water as there was a huge mixed community where she grew up almost 40-45% of her school mates.

In her song, ‘Blonde Hair Blue Eyes’ Kessari flips the facial features to touch upon her anime inspiration and talks about the lack of Asian representation in American culture.

In ‘Lucid Dreaming’ Kessari has a verse that says ‘can’t seem to shake you off, feeling lost wherever I go’, talking about this she said:

Lucid Dreaming and the lyrics: “feeling lost wherever I go”

Discussing her early influences to get into music, Kessari took inspiration from Vanessa Hudgens (Half Filipina) and Tata Young (Half Thai) as they were people who looked like her and had experiences she could relate to:

Representation within the music industry

But in terms of writing style, storytelling and her instrumentation, Billy Joel, Ariana Grande and Jeremy Zucker had a bigger influence on her music.

For Kessari, having friends that are mixed Thai artists around her like Valentina Ploy and Silvy has helped her get back into music when she lost motivation to song-write and create music.

Mixed Asian Artists in America and elsewhere

Kessari mentioned that around 50% of Thai musicians are now Luk Khrueng (directly translates to bastard) and that mixed Thai musicians are sought after in Thailand:

Mixed Race or Luk Khrueng is sought after

On being mixed race Kessari said: “Use it as your superpower, being able to relate to a bunch of people whether it be fully one race or mixed. It really opens a lot of doors because your interconnected and intertwined into so many cultures.”

She plans to release a new single in August after taking some time out of her music.

As the demographic of mixed Asian women in music grows we are bound to see more artists speaking about topics that relate to a growing demographic of people.

All 3 artists that we spoke to today have a unique sound that comes with their very unique story. To keep involved with how they do and to follow their journey make sure you follow them on social media.

Thomas H C Patterson
Thomas Patterson
NCTJ Level 5 Journalist. I created multippl to build a community of multi-people of East and/or Southeast Asian descent. Growing up I found that I naturally gravitated towards people who are mixed ethnicity, because of similar life experiences we share. I want people to use multippl as a platform to share their stories, meet likeminded people and learn from each other!