Golden Gate Express | Chinatown Celebrates 13th Annual Music Festival

San Francisco’s Chinese Culture Center held its 13th annual Chinatown Music Festival on August 27, transforming Portsmouth Square into a melting pot of live music, art workshops, children’s games and other free exhibits.

Christian Tumalan’s Latin jazz trio headlined the one-day event and marked the first year a Grammy-winning artist has performed at the Chinatown Music Festival. Tumalan, a keyboardist born in Guanajuato, Mexico, won a Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Album as part of the Pacific Mambo Orchestra in 2014.

The festival boasted of a wide range of genres, including contemporary and classical Chinese, African, Japanese and American music.

According to Jenny Leung, the centre’s executive director, finding diversity through music has always been a priority for the 13-year-old festival.

“It has always been embedded in the spirit of Chinatown Music Festival,” Leung said. “I really think it goes against the stereotype that Chinatown is just traditional or Chinese music.”

The festival hosted eight different acts beginning with a lion dance performance by LionDanceME and UC Berkeley’s Cal Raijin Taiko ensemble at its conclusion.

From the intense beating of the Japanese taiko drums used in Cal Raijin’s Taiko performance to the soft pinch of a West African harp by Talking Wood’s Keenan Webster, the festival featured a variety of melodic varieties.

Vic Wong, who performed with his quartet, chose to play 1930s jazz and swing.

“Representing Asian American musicians in all kinds of different styles of music is very important to me,” Wong said. “I don’t think there’s a specific genre in the experience of Asian American musicians.”

In addition to a number of free games that attendees could play, there was an exhibition where attendees could customize their own traditional Chinese paper fans.

“It gives kids the opportunity to reconnect a bit with their culture and experience a lot of traditions that, especially in Asian American households, are fading,” said Henry Dong, a festival attendee.

According to Leung, who has worked with the organization for more than a decade, the festival was launched as a result of the mission of the Chinese Culture Center in San Francisco to make Chinatown a “museum without walls”. The goal is to transform public spaces like parks and alleys into artistic places for the community.

Leung hopes the Chinatown Music Festival will have an impact beyond providing a fun experience.

“Our hope is that the Chinatown Music Festival will inspire more diverse and inclusive collaborations,” she said. “There are a lot of current organizations and community groups doing the work, and we hope it can inspire that interracial solidarity and collaboration.”

Gerald R. Schneider