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Artist Lê Khoa hopes to increase visibility for Southeast Asians with 'Fire Heart'

Courtesy photo

Musician Lê Khoa premieres his new single, Fire Heart, at Wave this week.

Singer, dancer and multitalented performer Lê Khoa will premiere the video for the song Fire Heart on Friday, April 8, at Wave. The bill also features singer-songwriter Colton Cox and band Keo & Them.

Lê Khoa had some success as a performing artist, performing favorably in that country's version of the show X Factor. But he dreams of reaching a wider audience in the U.S.

A task, the performer notes, that's not always easy for musicians from Southeast Asia.

Interview Highlights

Tell us a little bit about the origins of this new single Fire Heart.

The first year that I came to America was 2016. I remember I wrote this song about situations I read about in the news, how people bully each other, discrimination and stuff. A lot of people kept telling me, "Because you are an Asian singer, it's hard for you to get famous and hard for you to be successful in America, especially in the U.S. music industry."

I felt like, "No, it's actually not just about me." I wrote this song as something about myself. I was always pretty confident and trusted myself. No matter what people say, no matter how people try to put you down, if you believe in yourself, that's the key. That's the key for you to be successful and to be who you are.

So, I talk about not just my fire heart but that of everybody in the audience and everybody in the world. If they believe in a purpose in life and have confidence in that, they pray for that … they're chasing their dreams. [If they do that] it will be a success.

You grew up in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, and you started singing when you were pretty young there and had some success, right?

When I was 10, my mom let me go to a competition in Vietnam. And it's just like a district competition [for] singing. So it's very small. After that competition, the producer of that competition tried to help me to get into the industry. When I was 18, I was a Vietnamese X Factor contestant [and was] a Top 10 male singer [on the show]. That was the climax of my success in Vietnam. I flew back in 2018 to record my first album in Vietnamese, ["Lê Khoa hát Lê Minh Sơn."]

We talked a little bit sort of informally about this, you and I, that in the music world there's not a lot of visibility for Asian performers, not a lot of success in the quote-unquote Western markets.

It's about Asian culture. A parent who lives in Vietnam or Asian culture wants their kid to be a success. But it has to be safe. [The parents] have to make sure that when they die, their kid can be rich as a doctor, a teacher, an engineer, to be able to survive. But to be an artist is so risky. In America, [audiences] accept a lot of layers of culture [but less so as music listeners]. They're not really into something that's too difficult or too different. They're usually looking for something that's similar [to what they already like]. They don't really open their hearts 100 percent to invite all the talent in that comes from around the world. So I think that's one of the reasons we hardly have success as Southeast Asian artists in America.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.