Feature: No-No Boy Will Go Down In History

This review was written by guest author Lyra Wilson.

It’s your college dissertation, and what do you do? Some people like yours truly might scramble to figure out what to focus on for the final project of the college years. Julian Saporiti had other plans. What started as a dissertation project to further develop an understanding of different histories of immigrants, and refugees, turned into “a school project turned out of hand”. Saporiti's passion for the subject matter led him to create a unique project to educate and entertain audiences alike; going beyond the confines of the classroom.

In a small little bar in Chicago, hidden away just outside downtown, aptly named The Hideout, a pretty good turnout found the historic little nook to show up for No-No-Boy’s show. Before the show, I got to speak briefly with Julian about what it means to tell and showcase immigrant stories in his work. He told me about how he was interested in the history of musicians or the “history of the weirdos”, rather. Growing up in Tennessee helped him learn about different situations by learning about his family, the people his family knew, or being where the music history is. He learned a lot about internment camps because of musicians.

A song that reflects the history of musicians Is “The Best Goddamn Band in Wyoming”. I found it to be very profound in capturing stories of different people behind barbed wire; and how they created something beautiful behind the chaos. He said of it “In those situations where you’re incarcerated or enslaved, these things I can’t imagine, people get 98 percent of their agency taken away. What do they do with that 2 percent? They sing and play music; which is very instructional. What I've learned to take away, is that nowadays we focus on the trauma of these periods. Sometimes I feel like we don’t take the 360-degree view of ‘ yeah my mom lived through a war,’  or whatever kind of history they survived in”.

During the show, Julian presented the history of Asian immigrants who came to various parts of the world during the 18th and 19th centuries. As Julian himself stated, "This concert is just an excuse to show old maps". He highlighted the struggles of Asian people who were displaced from their countries due to wars and ended up scattered across the globe. Julian's own family history includes his mother moving to Tennessee from Vietnam, while many of his relatives live in France. It's important to showcase these experiences because we often don't think about how our ancestors were forced to leave their homelands and adapt to new cultures; such as name changes, colonization, etc.. As a black woman, the music made me more empathetic towards my own roots. After the show, I witnessed a Vietnamese fan thanking Julian for bringing to light some long-forgotten histories. This No-No Boy project has the potential to heal many lost histories.

To help guide the journey around the world, is Julian’s wife, Amelia. She and Julian met at Brown University when Julian was first testing out his songs. He asked her and other music students to help flesh them out to what they are now. Starting as friends, to dating, to going through a pandemic together they knew it was kismet to get married. To further enhance the stories in the songs, Amelia helped direct videos in their studio apartment during the pandemic since they couldn’t see anybody else to do so. “ I can usually be shy about creating and sharing my work, and this project has been a great way to push myself, to finish things, and be proud of things”, she says. The creativity really shined because in a lot of her videos her directing and editing styles really shine. And in other videos her creative direction takes hold by her creating costumes, sewing backdrops, etc. Doing all of that and still accompany Julian musically, is such a gift of partnership of art and in life.

It was a beautiful experience to watch this show unfold. I learned about different artists such as painters, and also about a woman named Joy who helped Julian capture the lives of immigrants in internment camps. It was very interesting to witness. Although at times, Julian would talk about the history and joke, “Oh yeah, this is a bummer show”, or recommend academic readings, but would also say, “if you can’t stomach it, that’s why we wrote these songs”. I found out that this is the last tour for No-No Boy for a while, as Amelia is currently finishing up her law school degree studies. However, I am optimistic about the future and can't wait to be taken on another journey through their work.

All photos by Lyra Wilson

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