Recently graduated ethnomusicology student with a minor in music industry, Nina Kasuya performs tonight as part of the Cultural Affairs Commission’s Kerckhoff Coffeehouse Concert Series. Kasuya spoke with Daily Bruin’s Ishan Rampuria about her upcoming performance and her past, present and future musical career.
Daily Bruin: Can you talk about what we can expect from your performance this Monday?
Nina Kasuya: I’m treating my performance almost as a senior recital, with highlights of my last five years. I’m singing songs I’ve always wanted to perform, taking “requests” from friends and band members and doing a couple of covers. I’ll also be performing the first song I ever wrote. I’m trying to keep the show fun and keep the energy high. I love the energy exchange between the audience and the singer; I want people to laugh with me – more than a show, I want it to be a like a family gathering.
DB: Is there any overarching theme to the songs you’re choosing?
NK: I’m not good at committing to a genre, because I like a lot of things. Rather than choosing a specific theme or genre, the type of music I love tells stories. The story I’m going to be telling is of my musical journey over the last five years; it’s going to be personal. My band will be composed of people who have played with me over my time in college: from my friends at UCLA to church musicians.
DB: What has your ‘musical journey’ been like?
NK: It’s been a struggle, but I’m really happy where I am. I have always been surrounded by music; holidays always meant jamming with my family. I enrolled in musical theater in middle school, and was later part of a performing arts program. It was a struggle financially, paying for singing and dancing classes. As I grew up, I realized that my career would lie away from musical theater, despite it being my passion. My parents initially believed that I’d outgrow my interest in a musical career, but they now realize that it’s going to happen.
DB: How else are you involved in music?
NK: I’ve been singing in a lot of different bands, ranging from college jazz ensembles, to bands, to cover bands. I was at CSUN before I transferred here, and I’d do pay-to-play shows while I was there. I really learned to hustle – in Los Angeles, everyone is trying to book a show and make it big. Since I’ve been at UCLA, I’ve been involved with a group called Vaud and the Villains, as well as a musical theater show called “Manzanar: Story of an American Family.”
DB: Could you elaborate a little bit on Vaud and the Villains and “Manzanar: Story of an American Family”?
NK: Vaud and the Villains are a 19-piece, 1930s New Orleans orchestra and cabaret. I love performing with them because it is a nice balance between playing in a band and playing in musical theater. Despite realizing that my career is probably going to lie away from theater, I still love it. Being separated from it just makes me yearn for it more. “Manzanar: Story of an American Family” is a musical theater show about the Japanese-American experience during World War II and its aftermath. As an immigrant, I feel it’s a powerful and important story to keep alive.
DB: Now that you’ve graduated, what’s the next big move?
NK: I don’t think that I have one big move planned, but rather there are a bunch of small steps that paint a bigger picture. I definitely want to work in the music industry, hopefully in a position of power; I want to choose and represent talented musicians the way I hope people help me. I’d love to maintain an outlet for exposure to music that’s outside the Top 40.
I’m balancing both aspects: performing music and maintaining a career. Vaud and the Villains are headlining the Sacramento Music Festival, and we’ve been invited back to the Ford Amphitheatre – we sold the venue out a while back and are performing again on Sept. 6. Along with that, I’m working on solo material and also working at a musical management company. I’m setting the groundwork toward my ultimate goal. I don’t think I’ll ever let go of music. I have too much passion for it.