5 female Asian guitar visionaries you need to listen to

According to a poll conducted by Fender, around 50% of all beginner and aspirational guitar players are women. While women guitar players are nothing new, it’s certainly a shift from the male rock star stereotype of the past.

Now, this influx of new women guitarists needs to be guided and nurtured so that the next generation of artists will be better than the last.

It’s interesting to note that many of today’s best musicians are women of Asian descent. From the Philippines to Korea, Asian musicians continue to change the game in an industry that is typically male-dominated and favours Western music sensibilities.

Indeed, there is a lot that young musicians can learn from artists that are creating something that’s truly their own. That being said, let’s get to know five such female Asian guitar visionaries.

More on Asian women in the arts: 14 Emerging Asian Canadian Female Artists for International Women’s Day

Beabadoobee

While it may be strange to call someone so young a visionary, the Filipina British Beabadoobee has managed to carve out her own space in the modern music scene. Her latest album Fake It Flowers has garnered praise from both fans and critics alike.

What makes Beabadoobee so special is her ability to transform the ’90s rock sound and bring it to the present. Bebadoobee takes cues from indie rock pioneers Pavement with a bit of bedroom pop mixed in.

She bridges the gap between generations by incorporating the old with the new. This is evident from both a thematic and musical standpoint, as Beabadoobee fully leans into the youthful angst instead of playing it cool. This gives her music an air of sincerity that pulls listeners in.

However, Beabadoobee is no one-trick pony. If you’ve seen her live acoustic performance, then you know that she can easily flip the script. Often, all she needs is her Guild M-20 acoustic guitar and a Shure SM7B microphone to deliver a stripped-down set that instantly connects with listeners due to how natural it sounds.

Indeed, she has struck the perfect balance between the DIY sound and modern pop sensibilities. Fake It Flowers is a testament to this, as the songs exude raw emotion as well as masterful production.

Michelle Zauner

Michelle Zauner, who is best known for her solo project Japanese Breakfast, is a Korean American musician who is re-invigorating the art-rock movement.

Perhaps the best example of her effect on art-rock would be 2017’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet. This album originally started out as a sci-fi musical concept album but quickly evolved into so much more.

Zauner creates a unique sonic experience by combining her impeccable guitar playing with a healthy dose of synth and auto-tune. This is most evident in the track “Machinist,” which is a dead giveaway for the album’s sci-fi roots.

Zauner’s biggest strength as a guitarist stems from her ability to play a slew of different instruments. True enough, Zauner even composed the score for the video game Sable, which will release this year.

From what we’ve heard of the score so far, it is a far cry from what she does as Japanese Breakfast — embodying Zauner’s flexibility and creativity. It is this flexibility and technical mastery that helps her craft unique musical experiences from the ground up, making her a true modern visionary.

Barbie Almalbis

Barbie Almalbis is one of the most important Filipina musicians in the Philippine local music scene. Her band, Barbie’s Cradle, laid the groundwork for the country’s independent music scene back in 1998. While Almalbis’ music is mostly a mix of folk and pop, she is also quite an accomplished guitarist.

On Almalbis’ YouTube channel, you’ll find some videos where she talks about different guitar pedals and how to use them. Her video on the Empress Effects modular synthesizer is quite impressive, as it showcases just how skilled she is in her craft and how deep her knowledge for music goes.

These videos, along with the songs on her channel, showcase a technical and artistic mastery that explains her icon status to this day.

Chris Lo

Chris Lo and her band Manic Sheep are considered to be some of the best artists that the Taiwanese music scene has to offer. And while this is due to the band’s collective effort and talents, there’s no denying how much of a creative force Chris Lo is — given how she pushes the limits of the genre and takes shoegaze to its most eclectic extremes.

Lo and Manic Sheep are pioneers in the Asian indie rock and shoegaze scene. Fans love Lo for her unique ability to go against the tide of popularity. For one, while rock music was always popular in the East Asian region, there were very few shoegaze acts during the early 2010s.

Despite this, Lo and Manic Sheep chose to stick to their guns and make the music that they wanted to make. This has lead to international success, as the band has played at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and Fuji Rock Festival in Niigata, Japan.

Mitski

Lastly, we can’t have an article about guitar visionaries and not mention Mitski. Her last album Be the Cowboy is considered by many to be one of the best albums of the 2010s. In fact, it ranked highest in Pitchfork’s list of 2018’s best albums.

Her lyrics tackle complicated issues, such as loneliness and belonging in a world where she is “half Japanese, half American but not fully either.” She manages to do so while creating music that is completely her own.

Perhaps the best example of this is her NPR Tiny Desk performance. Although the performance initially seems like your typical rock song, Mitski flips the entire thing on its own head when she starts screaming into her guitar.

Her ability to combine raw emotions with her technical mastery results in a truly unique sound that sets Mitski apart from her contemporaries.

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