No-No Boy is a yes-yes for the music industry

Musician Julian Saporiti renews the folk genre with a wild imagination and Asian history

Photos: Rory Moore | Mercury Staff Photoillustration: Beryl Zhu | Mercury Staff

No-No Boy gave Comets insight into his musical journey and life experiences on March 5, and a musical songwriting workshop on March 6 where No-No Boy performed his music.

Julian Saporiti, aka No-No Boy, engaged students through immersive keynote speeches and performances focused on Asian history covering topics like concentration camps for Japanese people in the U.S. and the Vietnam War. Saporiti’s work places an emphasis on taking inspiration from the past to create modern folk songs.

“Emilia [my wife] and I had a fantastic time at UTD and it was meaningful to work with such a diverse and intelligent student body as a scholar and songwriter,” Saporiti said. “I hope it’s not the last time I get to work with the faculty and students at UTD.”

Through his performance on Wednesday, March 6, Saporiti switches off between storytelling with and without accompanying songs, ranging from topics such as the Cambodian pagodas to folk bands in Wyoming. Wearing a bright outfit with a guitar in hand and barefoot on stage, Saporiti sings a mix of energizing and solemn songs that tell and celebrate stories about his own family and other Asian musical artists, such as a ‘60s Vietnamese rock band and Japanese-American bands that formed in internment camps during World War II. By utilizing a multimedia mix of music, videos and photos, audience members were able to immerse themselves in the rich history Saporiti shares.

“I’d never learned about Asian folks playing jazz,” Saporiti said. “What I uncovered through that photo is a whole body of work of Asian musicians on the West Coast.”

Saporiti grew up in Nashville and studied jazz at Berklee College before pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Wyoming and a Ph.D. at Brown University in American Studies. Between Berklee and the University of Wyoming, Saporiti was a member of an indie-rock band called The Young Republic.

The No-No Boy project came about when Saporiti combined his passion for music along with Asian American history. The project was the culmination of his research at Brown exploring and gathering Asian American stories, aiming to share history that often wasn’t given the chance to be shared.

“You have all this rich tradition, which most of Asian American history is just invisible or in this case silent,” Saporiti said. “There are not a lot of Asian faces left in the history.”

Currently, Saporiti is on tour, visiting 12 cities through March and April with Dallas as his first stop. The reception for his March 6 performance was positive; his immersive performance style spoke to students of different backgrounds.

“He synthesizes a lot of different experiences from his life and other people’s lives,” biology senior Samar Ahmed said. “Even without the blurbs before each song, you can see the story and narrative coming through the music. Walking away with one thing he said: history blooms from the individual.”

Saporiti has created three albums thus far, with his most recent album, Empire Electric, to be his last one. It features 10 songs and caps his extensive work on the project that he began in graduate school for his dissertation.

“Songs allow ambiguity and multiple layers of juxtaposition in a way that regular prose writing doesn’t,” Saporiti said. “Historians tell you when something happened and what happened, and artists allow you to get inside of that moment a little more.”

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