Over 14 Hmong bands and 13 solo singers, from all over the states, performed at the Paul Paul Theater at the Fresno Fair for the first ever Hmong Music Festival (HMF).
Artists from all the way in North Carolina such as Reflections to singer Proto- J in California were out there showcasing the many songs that fans have listened to for years. The music genre ranged from metal rock to pop music, offering something for everyone.
Txhawb was able to sit down with the masterminds, Tou Lee Chang and Xeng Xai Xiong, who created HMF under their company AZN LIVE, and talk about how they got started and how it was to coordinate a festival this size.
Txhawb: How did you both come up with the idea of HMF?
Tou: Well, I think that the concept for HMF is not something that is new. In terms of the industry, it is something that is really standard since there are music festivals throughout the nation in the year. But in terms of the Hmong community, we just haven’t seen something like this before. So what we did was bring something that was standard in the industry into the Hmong community.
Xeng: Right when Tou and I started HMF, so many other people said “Oh you know, I have thought of that idea already. I have wanted to do that for a long time ago.” But no one actually took the time and effort to pull one together. So I think the most important part about HMF is that we were able to actually make it happen. So that is why it is such an exciting event.
Txhawb: How do you feel about HMF now, after all the process and seeing the finish product?
Tou: We made it. I think that we actually feel proud that the whole event has been done through our very young team. Even when we had lot of individuals out there that did not believe in us. But we made it. I think that a lot of the current audiences are making a lot of the movements, and I think we have the strength to make it happen. At the end of the day, it isn’t about trying to break and make a profit but trying to make a movement. It is about trying to really make something unique in the community.
Xeng: It was the collaboration at the end with the event, which for myself made me feel that our Hmong people do long for the same things as other races. We do want that help and support from each other. The purpose that we were able to fulfill was that music brings everyone together and the collaboration shows it. When the artists started to sing, everyone started to sing along with them. This was a big accomplishment that although we just promoted music, we made a big impact. After the event, we start to hear the music being played in the radio, or even when we go to the Hmong stores. It is quite an accomplishment but there are still many things that we need to improve on.
Txhawb: A lot of people do different festivals, whether costume festivals or a certain holiday festival. Why did you choose Hmong music?
Tou: The whole idea before I even improved it with Xeng, and we started to do the whole HMF. I myself, personally am not a musician but I have for a long time been very passionate about doing something unique for the community. Through my research, I found out that music is really something that we are lacking on and people had not found the right solution for it. So I continue my research as to how artists such as Lady Gaga become Lady Gaga or Justin Beiber become Justin Beiber. They got the support through the music festival. So I thought maybe in order to revive the Hmong music market, we needed something to revive our artists. So I took the concept of main stream American festival, and brought it to the Hmong community and hopefully it works.
Txhawb: So then you guys are not musicians at all then?
Tou: No. It’s funny how a friend was saying that I guess because we are not musicians, that is why we are able to pull it through. We are already trying to pull the event together and if we are trying to get ready to go on the stage, then we can’t focus on it. What we are realizing in the past is that a lot of the individuals that have always wanted to make a movement are artists themselves. So the challenge at the same time is that they are pulling the event together but then they have to prepare for their show. So Xeng Xai and I, we created our company called AZN LIVE and basically we want to specialize in event planning and the logistic aspect. We are not musicians but we are here to specialize in that core planning process that makes great events for our Hmong musicians.
Xeng: Yes, just as how Tou has said. In our music industry, we lack a lot of key players. If you look at the mainstream, they have the agent, the band, and they have the agencies that promote the bands. In our Hmong industry though, we still rely on those bands to put on their own concerts. There is no one there to promote for them. There is still that struggle there, so the concert does not have the wow effect because if they spent time on this, then they don’t have time to practice or they do not have the budget to have a production big enough. Our industry lacks those key players. At AZN LIVE, we are a key player in the music industry, and although we are not musicians, we are the production part and fill in the void in it.
Txhawb: Compared to all the other concerts, what did you want to happen at HMF that would be different?
Tou: What we realized about the concerts is they are more a dancing type then about the music. But at the HMF, we provide an environment for people to appreciate music, to really take the chance to value the artist and see their performance and like the music. That is what we wanted to do it differently, and why our main stage and seating style you can really get into the music and you know the lyrics. We had a lot of audience at HMF that after the event, they went right back into listening to Hmong music. So it’s pretty amazing. All my little nephews and cousins they listen to a lot of our artists that we brought to the event.
Txhawb: That is pretty cool, it is like a domino effect. You are reinforcing the music again.
Tou: Yeah, you know it has a lot of positive effect on individuals.
Txhawb: With HMF, how many people were in attendance?
Tou: We estimated about 3,500. We wanted a lot more then that but I think that it is fairly good for a first year event. The most amazing thing that I always wanted to bring up is that it is not about the total number but the actual impact that we were able to bring is that we attracted people from 7 different states and not only that but from 37 cities from California. The way we tracked that was we sold online tickets, and so people by their tickets they have to enter their zip code. We had people buying tickets from Montana, Wisconsin, and Colorado. It was all the way from Los Angeles, San Diego, Chico to Crescent City. So it’s not about Fresno that is moving into HMF, but we are starting to build that momentum.
Txhawb: I was surprised when I hear you had so many different bands. How did you go about inviting all of them?
Xeng: I think that is the challenge that we all had. Even the people in the past, we all go through it, that’s why events like this do not happen because there are so many steps and things you have to do in order to bring in this many bands. At HMF, I might not be able to tell you the secret. *laughs* But for us, it is very simple. We go online, and we did a lot of research. We went on Facebook and all over just trying to contact the Hmong bands. One thing about Hmong bands is that it is so hard to try and get their response. When you email a request to them, it takes two to three weeks for them to respond back. That is quite a challenge working with an artist.
Txhawb: What made you choose one band compared to another one?
Xeng: For HMF team, we research the different types of band and what genre or music do they do. If they have made an impression in the Hmong community or have they established or are they a new and rising band. Basically, HMF is a platform for the new and rising bands because they need the fans. As for the established band, many people already know about them, but when they come to perform, people want to come and see and listen to them.
Txhawb: So I hear there will be another one next year. What will you improve or add on to HMF 2013?
Tou: I think that the details information we will try and surprise the audiences. But the main focus is to continue and improve the quality of the performance. The thing that differentiates us from other promoters, is that the artists come and perform at HMF has to be unique.
Xeng: To give you an example of that, you do see Proto-J has performed before. Jade Lee has performed before but what they put on at HMF was something different. As for Proto-J, he brought in his whole dance crew and that is something new for him too. As for Pagnia Xiong, that was something new for her. She has never done that before and had any background dancer before. So these are the things and ideas that we want to find and implement to their performance so that they are even better than the last time.
Txhawb: Can you give me a sneak peak of what to look for next year? Is there something different that you will be providing next year?
Xeng: For now we do not know which bands we will be working directly with, but as far as production wise, for sure we will have better lights and better sound quality for next year. Not only that but a better experience over all for our bands.
Tou: I do want one thing that last year we did forget about in another aspect of music. Next year, we will focus a little more on the DJ experience. What we realize is that a DJ is actually considered a musician. So be excited, it isn’t going to be the traditional DJing at the club.
HMF 2012 was an all-day event where audiences listened to a wide range of musicians throughout the day and into the dark night.
Not only was there music, but there was the REVIVED fashion show as well. Through their clothing creations, designers were able to express their styles and message.
If you missed out on this year’s festival, you have HMF 2013 to look forward to and perhaps much more.