Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Incredibly International Ilja

Aloha, Hip Hapa Homeez.

Here’s hoping you’re enjoying a shimmering summer filled with vacation vibrancy!

Perhaps like me, you’ve noticed that multiethnic communities are getting a lot of press recently. If you have articles you’d like to share, please post them at our Hip Hapa Homeez Group page on Facebook. If you’re not a member yet, please join and remember to add your friends.

Here’s a shout-out to Arana and The Topaz Club membership! Arana has made Your Hip Hapa July’s “Member of the Month” and posted my interview of growing up mixed on the Topaz Sisterhood Group page on Facebook. If you’re a woman of multiple heritages, please contact Arana to join her group.

This month, Watermelon Sushi World’s featured Hip Hapa Homee is musician Ilja Alexander. This intelligent and charming young man is making headlines with his record sales and international concerts. And, as a speaker of several languages, he’s a true world citizen. Please read all the way through this post as Ilja has a special surprise waiting for you.

Meanwhile, check out the dapper gentleman in this photo.

Incredibly International Ilja
Q: Ilja, how did your parents meet?

A: My father was born in Semarang Indonesia in 1942. His ethnic background is Chinese/Indonesian. His great-grandfather, Oei Tjie Sien, was a high-ranking military official during the Taiping Rebellion, a resurrection against the Manchu emperor (1850-1864) caused by drought and hunger. It started as a farmer’s resurrection. What’s interesting is that for the first time in the history of mankind, women were allowed to join the armed forces. Initially, the resurrection was quite successful, but then the Manchu government asked the British colonial rulers to help them, defeating the opposition near Shanghai. 

Oei Tjie Sien fled to Semarang Indonesia, at that time a prosperous harbor. He then became a merchant in Semarang. One of his sons, my great-grandfather Oei Tiong Ham, then turned the business into what was to become the first holding corporation in Asia and the biggest corporation of Asia at that time, the Kian Gwan Concern. Nicknamed the Asian Sugar King, he married 7 wives and had 26 official children. One of those 26 official children was my grandfather. My grandfather was good friends with the managing director of the corporation and this director introduced him to my grandmother, who lived on the other side of Java in Sukabumi. At that time, around 1924, it was quite uncommon for people living in Indonesia to marry someone from another distant hometown.

What makes the story even more interesting is that the second daughter of Oei Tiong Ham, my great-aunt Madame Wellington Koo (born as Oei Hui Lan), married the first Chinese ambassador to the United States. She also socialized with the Chinese nationalist General Chang Kai Shek and the wife of Mussolini.

When the first president of Indonesia, president Sukarno, came to power, my uncle Oei Tjong Tjay, then the president of the Kian Gwan Concern, refused to work with the Sukarno government, because he was against communism. As a consequence, the local business divisions got nationalized and my entire family fled from Indonesia. My grandmother moved to the Netherlands in 1948. My father was 4-years old.

My mother’s ethnic background is Chinese/Indonesian/Malay/Japanese. Actually, the Japanese part has never been confirmed, but is believed to be the case by a historian. My mother’s great-grandmother was something like a countess, linked to the royal family of Malaysia. She then married a Chinese businessman (with part Japanese origins if believed by this historian) from Indonesia and was forbidden to return to Malaysia ever since. My grandparents from my mother’s side moved to the Netherlands around the 1960’s, and my father and mother met there in the 1970’s.

Q: When did you become a musician?
A: Unconsciously I was always interested in music, starting piano classes at the age of 5 and songwriting from the age of 12. However, not until a student exchange course to Osaka Japan in 2004 did I realize I could become a singer/songwriter. As someone with Asian roots, it was (and still is) very difficult launching a major artist’s career in the West. But in Japan, I seemed to attract many college students interested in my music, playing and writing my songs at the Kansai Gaidai University campus.

Q: When you went to Osaka as a student, did you speak Japanese? As a "hafu", how were you treated by Japanese—or by people in the Netherlands?

A: No, I did not speak Japanese nor did I know anything about Japan. In fact, I chose to follow an exchange course program in South Africa, but was told that there were only places available for Japan. I thought Japan would be similar to Bali. Upon arrival at Osaka Airport, I knew I was wrong, not seeing any palm trees or beaches. My entire worldview changed during my exchange course to Japan and, ever since, I feel Japan could one day become my home country.

I did not experience any discrimination in Japan. Many Japanese thought I was Japanese, too, and all around the world being a musician really facilitates me making friends. In the Netherlands, society has become more and more individualistic over the past 10 years. There is so much violence here, caused by a minor group of youngsters from Morocco. It resulted in political parties, including the party of the politician Geert Wilders, favoring to close the borders and focusing on people’s fears rather than on constructive solutions about how to prevent cultural and regional conflicts. But this is no different in other Western nations. I believe this is not a good policy and will certainly not lead to any solution, but to even more cultural and regional conflicts. As a consequence, the Dutch are much more open-minded and, I certainly feel, more and more extremist right calls are present here than 10 years before.

Q: What's it like for you speaking so many different languages? Is it confusing? Which language do you think and/or dream in the most?

A: I always get confused. I speak Dutch, English, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and am now studying Korean. Some people think in their mother tongue language then translate to another language when they want to communicate. In my case, I start thinking in the foreign language and culture. As a consequence, for example, when I’m in Indonesia I can speak Indonesian quite fluently, thinking in Indonesian culture and thinking buying something for 1 euro (12,500 rupiah) is already expensive. Calling to the Netherlands, I would forget my Dutch vocabulary. In fact, if I’m in one country where I am able to communicate in the local language, I tend to forget all other languages, pushing those other languages to the background processes of my brain.

Q: Your music has a very gentle, spiritual quality. Do you attribute that to your cultural upbringing? Can you say that your music is more one culture than the other, or is it totally cross-cultural?

A: I think this has to do with different aspects. First of all, I can never get angry. In fact, even if I encounter problems, like some fraud cases in Indonesia, I would not feel any anger against those causing all the trouble. Second, I lived in Thailand in 2006 and 2007. I then became very much interested in Buddhism, started meditating and learning to always think positively and enjoy the day. Third, I graduated as an economist, specializing in development economics, and studying third world countries. Lastly, I had to make some concessions producing my last CD. I co-operated with some arrangers and conductors in Asian countries and, while I preferred a more edgy and rock sound, sweet and romantic is more common to the Asian music industries.

I don’t know if my music is cross-cultural. However, I do know my own personality is cross-cultural and maybe, therefore, my music becomes cross-cultural, too.

Q: Tell us about your latest release.

A: My latest album is called Hold On To Her. This is track 1. The subtitle is called Aria’s Song. Aria is my first niece, now 2-years old. When she was just born, I sat beside her and she was crying. Then I wrote her this song called Hold On To Her; that there is no reason to cry on this beautiful day and that she would always have the unconditional love of her mother. So, I sang to her Hold On To Her (your mother) for always.

The entire album is something like an autobiography. All the songs are personal experiences and the lyrics really tell exactly what I did back then. I mentioned the songwriting date above the lyrics in the booklet, so it’s like reading a diary.

Recording, engineering and releasing this CD took me 2.5 years and some songs have now been recorded in English, Japanese and Indonesian. Korean and Chinese songs are expected to be recorded later this year.

I offer the Watermelon Sushi World blog readers a discount when ordering my CD, since I hope many more people will get to know my music. Anyone can send an email to and my management will send you an invoice of 10 euro, excluding shipment costs, using PayPal to process the order.

Q: What do you see in your future and for multiethnic people in general?

A: My objective is to start launching my career in the U.S., slightly adapting my sound to make it more edgy and rock, making my songs more accessible to a wider audience. I also have an ambition to be the first major international artist with Asian roots breaking through the entertainment industries of the West and, therefore, breaking through the entertainment industries on a global level.

I believe with the geo-political power shifting to some developing nations, more and more issues of sustainable environment and mass migrations in the next decade, the world as we know it today will soon come to an end. In fact, without major changes in the way we live (in the West) we will not survive. I do believe calls for change are more and more common, among other things leading to more equality in the world, less poverty and less discrimination. I also believe the word “multi-ethnicity” should become a word of the past, since mankind should discover that we are all one race.

Q: Tell us something about The Ilja Alexander Foundation.

A: I’m about to launch my own foundation to provide free education and accommodation to those children around the world without access to education and to their parents. Starting a foundation is a lengthy process, but I hope it will operate somewhere this year.

I designed a new educational system addressing current socio-cultural, economical, political and environmental issues. The educational system is based on three pillars. First of all, children will be taught traditional courses, like mathematics, history, geography, science, etc. Second, children will be taught country-specific courses related to environmental sustainability, (renewable) agriculture, poverty, water management, etc. Third, the educational system is focused on training the left side of our brains, i.e., personal development courses, like meditation and arts (martial arts, music, etc.), whereas nowadays in the West educational processes are mainly focused on developing the right side of our brains.

Both children and their parents need to work on the land, cultivating renewable agricultural products, renewable energy, etc. All products will then be traded on the international trading markets, the profits flowing back into the educational system, making this educational system self-supporting and self-sustainable.

When the children get older, they should get the opportunity to go on exchange courses to other schools around the world, learning about other cultures, religions and other country-specific courses. By doing this, the foundation will then realize its mission to prevent cultural and regional conflicts in next generations and to make the world we live in more sustainable.

To finance the foundation I’m transferring a percentage of my annual revenues to the foundation, and also working with donor companies.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me by using the contact info listed below.

Ilja Alexander Productions
Blackberry PIN 26AD1F89

Arigatou gozaimasu, mahalo nui loa, hsieh hsieh, merci beaucoups, muchas gracias, danke schoen and more, Ilja! Hey, Hip Hapa Homeez, don’t forget we have Hapa*Teez t-shirts for you (like the one I'm wearing here), and you can also like our newly created Hapa*Teez Fan page. If you haven’t had the chance yet, check out our updated Watermelon Sushi film website and like our Watermelon Sushi Fan page. My Sexy Voices of Hollywood co-host, Robert Taylor, and I are about to relaunch our internet show, so please stay tuned.

Until we meet again, I am…

Your Hip Hapa,