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    On Empire Electric, No-No Boy Searches for Sounds, History, and Self

    Empire Electric, the anticipated new album from No-No Boy—the acclaimed musical project of Dr. Julian Saporiti—will be released September 29 via Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (pre-order here). Ahead of the release, new song, “Mekong Baby,” featuring vocals from Viet-American pop icon, Thai Hien, is debuting today.

    Of the new song, Saporiti shares, “The spare lyric considers two things: 1. Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist teachings on ‘listening to one’s inner child’ and 2. my family living through war and empires in Vietnam down in the Mekong River Delta. This song is a lullaby to the inner child, mine, and my family’s, amidst shards of broken, beautiful, and difficult memories. But intentionally, you can dance to it. Through war and loss, we keep living, keep doing our best. That’s vital to understand. We are not flat people, not black-and-white photos of our most traumatic eras, not just ‘refugees.’ I’m in awe of my mother, her sister, and their mom. They have lived with instructional grace and perseverance. They have handled death, displacement, and broken families with art, faith, and love.”

    Produced by Saporiti alongside his wife, Emilia Halvorsen Saporiti, and Seth Boggess, Empire Electric was inspired by Saporiti’s time at Blue Cliff monastery in upstate New York. A period of raw reflection and healing, the visit allowed Saporiti to open himself up, both mentally and musically, leading him to experiment with the American folk sounds, Asian instruments, electronics and field recordings that became Empire Electric. Across these 10 tracks—stories based on his own research as well as archives, oral histories and site visits—Saporiti explores his own identity as a Vietnamese-American, while also examining the complex topics of spirituality, intergenerational trauma and imperialism.

    Empire Electric is a wandering; a letting go. A search party. For sounds, for history, and for self. It is a coming back,” Saporiti shares. “If you find this music to your liking, I invite you to settle in with good headphones or a stereo and listen closely to all the sounds present, to unravel them, to take time, to breathe, and hopefully to listen beyond even the music, to yourself, to the world around you, to history, to your community, to nature.”

    In addition to Julian Saporiti (lead vocals, instruments, programming) and Emilia Halvorsen Saporiti (lap steel, harmony vocals), the record also features P.T. Banks (harmony vocals), Hamilton Berry (cello), Diego Javier Luis (spoken word on “1603”) and Kristin Weber (violin, vocals).

    Raised in Nashville and now based in Oregon, Saporiti has spent his career bridging the gap between art and scholarship, creating projects that evoke difficult conversations about culture and identity. Empire Electric is his third release as No-No Boy, following 2021’s acclaimed album, 1975—a central component of Saporiti’s Ph.D dissertation at Brown University. Of the record, NPR praised, “one of the most insurgent pieces of music you’ll ever hear…an act of revisionist subversion,” while American Songwriter called it “insanely listenable and gorgeous” and Folk Alley declared, “a remarkably powerful and moving album.”

    Empire Electric is out on September 29 and is available to pre-order now.

    On Empire Electric, No-No Boy Searches for Sounds, History, and Self | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings