“When we sing, we’re time traveling.” Kao Kue

With Activist Songbook, composer Byron Au Yong and lyricist Aaron Jafferis explore how civil rights organizing and music intersect to inspire action and sustain the fight towards equity.

play Activist Songbook invite

Activist Songbook is a process-oriented work that begins with interviews of community organizers. Working with those interviewed, Au Yong and Jafferis create material for a Songbook to gather individuals and collectives to energize efforts towards counteracting racism and hate crimes. The project results in a collection of 53 songs and raps initially prompted by the beating and murder of Vincent Chin, as well as organizing movements towards justice.

photo of Activist Songbook material inside a pop-up book

Living between oppression and imagination, Activist Songbook calls for justice through live performances, informational scores, and instructional recordings that honor the legacy of Asian American, Asian immigrant, and Asian refugee activism as a springboard for future organizing.

Activist Songbook launched as part of Asian Arts Initiative’s 25th Anniversary in May 2018, with rally songs taught on buses and more. It continues in multiple cities through November 3, 2020. Learn about the Songs.

Peter Crimmins. Asian Arts Initiative celebrates past 25 years. WHYY NewsWorks
Dan DeLuca. Asian Arts Initiative’s Activist Songbook. The Philadelphia Inquirer
Imani Roach. Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis write useful protest music. Artblog

About the Creative Team
Byron Au Yong (composer) and Aaron Jafferis (writer) created Stuck Elevator (American Conservatory Theater, International Festival of Arts & Ideas) and (Be)longing, a.k.a. Trigger (Virginia Tech Moss Arts Center, MDC Live Arts, International Festival of Arts & Ideas). Current projects include Activist Songbook (Asian Arts Initiative, Montalvo Arts Center). Other projects include Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas (Bumbershoot Festival of the Arts, Jack Straw New Media Gallery, Seattle Symphony Day of Music, Town Hall Seattle) and Surrender: A T’ai Qi Cantata (commissioned by The Esoterics).

photo of composer Byron Au Yong and writer Aaron Jafferis

Au Yong and Jafferis have been in artists-in-residence at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU, New York Theatre Workshop at Dartmouth, three Sundance Institute Theatre Labs, TheatreWorks, Westminster Choir College, Weston Playhouse, Wing Luke Museum, and Yale Institute for Music Theater. Honors include awards from the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Creative Capital, Edgerton Foundation, NEFA National Theater Pilot, and Time Warner Foundation. Au Yong is based in San Francisco and Jafferis in New Haven.

Activist Songbook Instructor Performers in Philadelphia

They work with Instructor Performers Alex Bechtel, Richard Chan, Jason Chu, TJ Harris, Kao Kue, LaTasha Morris, Marina Muryama, Cat Ramirez, Daniel Park, Benjamin Pither, Jackie Soro, Stephanie Sun, Twoey Truong, Kyheem Tucker, and more...

Philadelphia Video Documentation by Yohsuke Araki and Kyla van Buren

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© Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis