Sunday, December 18, 2011

Being Good Enough

So I was lurking on, reminiscing through my emotionally charged rants and post-hardcore mp3s and started reflecting on this socio-muso identity of recent past. You know, it took me 9 years living in Aotearoa and after several maybe/maybe-not talk sessions with good friend bamboo to finally pick up the mic and do music again. I am 28-yrs old and do vocals with an all-feminist hardcore punk band- Melting Pot Massacre. We're still figuring out our sound and getting to know each other, but it's a good place to be right now.

I want to talk a bit about my internalised journey with making Music, how it changed and keeps shifting my sense of identity and belonging in New Zealand even today. I navigated from PunkDIYism as a societally tolerated phase of teen-early adulthood globally, to something Politically Expressive for the repressed Asian youth particularly, to a period of MUSIC IS ENDLESS NOTHINGNESS and only now, a way to kick off all those negativity about "not being good enough to sing/perform in New Zealand". But firstly, I need to be honest with you. I do not know much about whatever's going on with punk music, zines or social movements per se these days. I am so behind on it all, looking up for updates online, don't even attempt to download/steal music or have headphones on walking on the streets. In many ways I "sold out", getting less involved with any direct action politics. I also stopped calling myself an anarcha-feminist since the Anarchist conference in Christchurch in 2005.

All of these factors contribute to why I have actively isolated myself from doing anything musically or creatively with anyone in NZ. Because my passion for punk was in its propensity to politicise, and because I reduced my politicial activity, it was easier to let the noise, the music subside and lose its signifiance. I guess for a long time prior to migrating to NZ, punk music was MY REASON FOR LIVING. it was personal and truly political. i had creative scene friends, i ran a zine and distro, i was in two bands, i mixed with Grrrls, it was literally how i woke up and lived my life on a day to day basis in Singapore. And then i got to nz, and i struggled "mingling" with people at Uni, I was awkward and the few dudemates I had were asian pot-smoking metalheads. It didn't help that I didn't drink or could socialise comfortably in pubs. I was also going through a messy violent home then, and was the butt of a few painful racist encounters with REAL nasty skinheads.

Okay, so nevermind punk. Wat about just performing? One day, I saw this ad for Miss Saigon. It was going to be this huge musical production, and I'd get paid for practices. I was looking for a job and thought, hey they need an Asian actress/singer, I'm vocally trained, maybe I should try it out. Heck, if there was ever a chance for me to enter the performing arts industry in NZ, this could be that big break I need. I remember wearing this red chiffon dress under an oversied velour coat, trying to look 21 for a twenty-one year old. When I got to the Theatre, there were eight tall beautiful Asian-looking ladies talking to each other in kiwi accents. I stood in the queue awkwardly for about two minutes and ran off crying.

I just remembered thinking to myself, I'm not good enough. What was I thinking? Maybe in Singapore. But not in New Zealand. I can't even talk like.. them. How the heck am I supposed to sing?

That time, there was this talent show on TV, something like American Idol but an early NZ version. I watched intently with my parents one night, and thought wow Kiwi folks sure have pipes. How do they project their voices that strongly? My parents seem to have read my mind and they started comparing Asians' weak, nimble throaty voices to White people's rounded, powerful notes. My mother was convinced it's because our bodies are smaller, hence diaphragms were smaller hence vocal capacity limited. I believed her!

Slowly, I quietened my "voice" into a hum, then into a whisper, and then into "I can't sing". This voice that used to win talentshows and band competitions in secondary school. That voice that got me to lead my school choir on national public concerts. That voice that punched songs by Nightwish and Cranberries in my first deathrock band. One time, my dudemates in Christchurch who were in a band called me to join them for a session. When I disclosed to them I used to sing, they asked me to sing something then. I don't remember what song it was but sing I did in their garage. Theyjust looked at each other, didn't acknowledge it or compliment or anything. They just said, Aw yep, and moved on to their own stuff. They ignored me. I felt more stupid after that and promised to not sing to anyone no more. I thought, fuck this. If my own supposed friends can't see my talent, then maybe, I really don't have the talent.

I guess for a long time, you can say I lost my self-esteem gradually and systematically. It was just so hard to even believe that you ARE good, you ARE different and that is OK, when you don't have people around you that actually believe in you. It was only in 2008 when I met dumpling about Mellow Yellow zine that I thought, hey, I don't have to forget all that awesome stuff I used to love writing about, I can do this because someone else is doing this. And then when I met bamboo in 2009, and she was telling me about her band, I was like, far out! So it is possible to get out there and do music eh, Asian and that! I also rediscovered my fandom for Lane Kim in Gilmore Girls, MY Precious and Bloody Rejects, to remind myself, fuck what people say, if you wanna scream your lungs out, just do it! I tell you what, when you actively look for good people and role models, inspiration AND motivation kick in real quickly! Don't let one, two or three people in your life make you feel less or slighted, because at the end of the day, if you get out of this shell and let yourself go completely, you just never know what other awesome thing you're capable of! I have never screamed in a band before, but I thought, if I'm ever going to give this music another go, this is it, I am ready now. This is where I am today, having bandmates who support me goofing and experimenting with how my voice sounds and that has truly made the difference. And you know what: I am good!

In a lot of ways, I'm sharing this story of how I came to appreciate what I am, what I can offer and create, from an awkward 19-year old migrant to a 28year old vocalist for a hardcore punk band, to put the message out there to anyone out there who's ever felt that they weren't good enough to sing, dance, act, draw, play, write beyond their countries of origin. I've met a lot of people in my way, and many who would tell me they used to do this and that in their country of origin but would then tell me they're too shy or scared to do it in NZ, mainly because they feel like, they're not good enough, or their English is not good enough etc. And I guess I just want to tell them that I totally get what you're going through, and I do believe that there is that right time and place for everyone to fully realise their own potential. But NOBODY is not good enough. No matter who you are and where you're from. When you're clear in your mind and your heart, and you believe in yourself, and you surround yourself with people who support your ambitions and goals to be completely yourself, you can do wonders! Find those good people and cherish their friendships. Don't give up!

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