When the late 2000s ushered in a wave of young self-made Filipino-American artists, AJ Rafael emerged as one of the community’s most influential artists.
Ten years after becoming a YouTube sensation, first uploading his original songs and covers, the 27-year-old singer songwriter continues to write his own songs and inspire fellow artists.
On October 23, he will be one of the most anticipated acts at the Filipino American History Month Celebration at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
He will be among the likes of Gary Valenciano, Mama Bares and Kai, among other Fil-Am artists.
“I feel like I’ll be doing these Filipino shows forever because I’m proud of it, and I don’t ever want to shy away from the opportunity to do a Filipino-American show that celebrates our culture,” Rafael told the Asian Journal.
Rafael describes the Fil-Am artists community as a collective, where everyone lifts each other up despite the unspoken truth that Fil-Am representation in mainstream media is scarce.
“We all kind of know that we’ve got to work together and collaborate—whether it’s writing songs or performing together—to show how united we are as a community so we can make our mark,” Rafael said.
Although Rafael has risen up as a prominent star in the Fil-Am community, he said it took him a long time to be proud of his identity.
“Growing up, it was always like, ‘Am I American? Or am I more Filipino? Am I more Asian?’ but growing up I had realized there is a goodness of having all those identities mixed in me being Filipino American. I take a lot of pride in it because I know I inspire a lot of other Filipino Americans,” he shared.
For aspiring musicians, Rafael suggests making use out of the free resources available online like Soundcloud and YouTube. He also encourages young artists to be real with themselves and create the things that come from the heart.
“Don’t be afraid to be proud of who you are,” Rafael said. “Just keep creating. We live in a world where we have to make our own opportunities it’s no longer the world where you’re sending your mixtape to record labels. Make your own thing, your own content and your own opportunities, and the other things will fall in place
In 2016, Rafael co-founded an artists collective with Fil-Am actor Dante Basco called “We Own the 8th” which celebrates Asian American excellence in the arts and provides an outlet for creatives in the Asian American community.
Every 8th of the month, Asian American artists gather at The Great Company in downtown Los Angeles to collaborate on ideas and inspire each other. Artists and keynote speakers share ideas, inspiration and projects in cinema, music, comedy, written word and digital arts.
Rafael said that the movement was founded on the issue of diversity and Asian American visibility in mainstream media and entertainment.
Oftentimes the group gathers in a townhall format or invites keynote speakers to address the issue of underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Asian Americans in entertainment.
“We’ve been working together to engage the community to be more active in whatever they do, whether it’s directing, writing, producing or acting,” Rafael said of the collaborative movement. “It’s our way to talk to each other. A lot of people meet there and often end up making short films or music together. It’s not so much like a mixer, but rather it feels like family.”
For more on We Own the 8th, visit www.weownthe8th.com.