Photo credit: Katie O'Donnell, University of Maine-Farmington
"An act of revisionist subversion." - NPR
No-No Boy is an immersive multimedia work blending original folk songs, storytelling, and projected archival images to illuminate hidden American histories. Taking inspiration from his own family’s history living through the Vietnam War, as well as interviews with World War II Japanese Incarceration camp survivors and other stories of Asian American experience, Nashville born songwriter Julian Saporiti has transformed years of doctoral research at Brown University into an innovative project bridging a divide between art and scholarship. By turning archival study and fieldwork into a large repertoire of folk songs and visuals Saporiti has been able to engage audiences with difficult conversations through song and storytelling, performing with a revolving cast of collaborators everywhere from rural high schools and churches to New York City's Lincoln Center.
In the spring of 2019, Saporiti expanded the project's scope, embarking with fellow Brown PhDs Diego Luis and Juan Betancourt on a trip to the Mexican border. Playing concerts for asylum seekers and aid workers in Laredo, Crystal City (former home of a WW2 Internment Camp), and Dilley, TX (current home to the largest family detention center), the experience was jarring and impactful.
After this trip, Saporiti eschewed traditional touring, focusing less on hitting large "markets" and instead traveling to spaces where No-No Boy could connect with diverse audiences with wide ranging points of view. Offering music and service, No-No Boy has continued to travel along the southern border working with a school for refugee children in Tijuana, playing to red state audiences, serving as a scholar/artist in residence with an indigenous community in Shishmaref, Alaska, and holding intercultural dialogues at the Selma Center for Nonviolence. No-No Boy has evolved into a project aimed at recovering difficult pasts, connecting them across communities, and imagining better futures. "It's important to learn our shared history," Saporiti says, "our American history. We have to own it, all of us... Everyone has their own stories, hard and beautiful. We gotta look into those because if you learn what your people have been through and what your neighbor has been through, you might relate to what others are going through right now, folks who don't have it so good, and we see there are many. Learn the past, but only to understand how to make things better tomorrow."
Looking ahead, No-No Boy remains indebted to a revolving cast of collaborators who have helped to bring to life the almost 70 songs Saporiti has composed for this project including co-producers Seth Boggess and Emilia Halvorsen, former colleagues Erin Aoyama and Kishi Bashi who played key roles on No-No Boy's first album 1942, and dozens of musicians and scholars who have played invaluable roles in this project. A second album 1975 is scheduled for release in early 2021 on the Smithsonian Folkways label. A dissertation will be submitted sometime around then as well.
Dilley Texas, 2019. A research trip with Juan Betancourt and Diego Luis to the largest U.S. Family Detention Center, supporting our friends at Dilley Pro Bono Project.
"Two Candles In The Dark" featuring Erin Aoyama & Kishi Bashi from 1942.
"No-No Boy takes us on a journey to the stories of our parents, our ancestors and ourselves in ways that we haven’t yet experienced...armed with scholarship and creativity, to carry forward the discussion around loss, resilience, and identity."
- Riksha Magazine
"Heart Mountain" live with Emilia Halvorsen, Michelle Bazile & Noah Choi, 2017
Smithsonian Folkways presents New Songs for Ourselves: A Conversation with Sunny Jain, Nobuko Miyamoto and Julian Saporiti, 2020.
Performing with Emilia Halvorsen + Hamilton Berry at the AC Institute, NYC, 2019. photo credit: David Moriya
Performing at the Holding Institute in Laredo, TX with Juan Betancourt translating for the audience, 2019. photo credit: Diego Luis