1. What is your name and your profession(s)? Luke Kennedy Aiono, guitarist!
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? I am full Samoan, born and raised in California.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? My father is a guitar player and mother is a pianist. They used to be involved in the Polynesian music scene years ago but currently just playing for fun.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. Growing up Samoan has been interesting. Luckily, I was born and raised in Long Beach, CA so fortunately there were few other Samoans that went to my high school other than family. I’ve always looked pretty Asian or Filipino so people were surprised to find out that I’m Samoan (and still to this day, haha). A lot of people I’ve encountered haven’t even heard of my ethnicity, so it’s been kinda cool being the first one that they’ve met. I usually just try to give similar comparisons like the movie Moana or The Rock, haha.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? I can’t speak Samoan (as of writing this) but I do feel connected to the culture itself. I myself am pretty Americanized, but growing up I’ve always had a strong tie to my family which is an important aspect of the Samoan culture.
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? My parents got me into taking classical piano lessons when I was six years old. (Rest in Peace to my piano teacher Elizabeth Stacey in Long Beach)!! I took lessons for about 10 years on and off. Before entering high school I picked up my Dad’s Fender Squier guitar out of curiosity and fell in love with learning it from the day.
6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? I kind of always knew I would be doing music for a living. I didn’t know how or what I was going to do, but I’ve just always known I’d be involved in music professionally. I never even thought about playing guitar growing up - it kind of just “happened”. With that in mind, I felt that my career would follow the same path of staying true to who I am and it just “happening” as well. My parents both being big into music have always supported me and I’m forever thankful for that because being a musician is not as easy at it looks from the outside!
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Hm, I haven’t really thought about this too much, let’s see... Well I am very proud that I got to perform the opening ceremony at the 2019 Grammy Awards with Camila Cabello, Ricky Martin, and J Balvin. It was a career accomplishment for sure. We were also nominated for best live performance for Havana that year as well, so that was cool!
Besides that I am also proud to have recorded on the Nas and Damian Marley “Distant Relatives” album when I was around 22 and never played a reggae song in my life Lmao. It was one of the coolest experiences and I’m happy that I just stayed true to my sound and believe that I am wherever I am for a reason. I have to remind myself of this at times even to this day haha.
There’s many more but these are just two that stand out to me while writing this.
Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse. I’ve been blessed to work with many amazing artists during my career thus far such as: Camila Cabello, Rita Ora, A$AP Rocky, Jhene Aiko, Miguel, Stevie Wonder, Nas, Damian Marley, etc.
8. Describe to me your dream project. Releasing my own solo project. I’ve written a few songs while learning how to produce. It’s been a slow and frustrating journey, but hey that’s what I signed up for I guess haha. I don’t need it to blow anyone’s mind or change the music game on a grand spectrum or anything - I’d just like to do it for myself... and maybe the five people that will listen! Bahaha.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? Thankfully nothing of note in the musical world. I’ve experienced a few encounters dealing with racism while traveling to dominantly “white” European countries or small American cities. Growing up in Long Beach, I was used to being surrounded by a plethora of different cultures and people. It was quite interesting to me, because prior to that, I always thought that racism was a thing of the past, like something I would read in the history books… but yes, sadly, racism still exists to this day; when I’ve experienced it, I just shrug it off, as I do most negative energies in life, and continue to keep on pushing!
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? I would say my friend Erick Mateo is one that comes up to my mind because not only is he a badass musician, but he moved fromChicago to Japan to live it out over there! That’s really cool. Also, I’d say my fellow amazing guitarist and boxing friend Jef Villanueva. They are both Filipino, so it’s nice to see and meet other Pacific Islanders in the music world who are at the top of the game and trying our best to keep the dream alive.
10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? It would be cool to see more AAPI musicians present in the scene. I know they’re out there!! It’s not an easy path - but if this is what you want to do in life, then it is very rewarding. At the end of the day, talent speaks for itself. However, I feel AAPI musicians could use more encouragement from others to push themselves towards their goals and dreams.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? I would tell myself to keep doing what I’m doing and to not give up! Maybe to stop eating so much in New York and work out a little bit more. Oh yeah, and also to never have quit League of Legends and practice to become a pro and join Team Solo Mid instead of continuing to do music. Hahaha
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? Nothing I’m comfortable with mentioning as of yet music wise, though I am getting better at Starcraft 2 and plan to achieve Diamond 2 this year at some point, lolol.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. I’m very passionate about the E-Sports scene (professional video gaming) and have been since it’s birth many years ago. I follow major tournaments and players for a few games such as League of Legends, Super Smash Bros Melee/Ultimate, and Starcraft 2. I probably watch and follow games more than music artists or gear to be honest, haha.
Other than that, I enjoy looking into conspiracy theories and going down any insane rabbit hole I can find. Though I don’t necessarily agree with most of them, it’s fun to be open minded and see the other side of certain subjects, people, and events.
14. Any final thoughts? (non-self-promotional). Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? Being a Pacific Islander is something I’ve come to appreciate more the older I’ve grown. It’s okay to be different than the norm! I enjoy representing being Samoan in the music field and over the years being reached out by fellow Islanders telling me how inspiring I am to them. This was never the goal for me - to inspire others - but it’s given me a sense of gratitude for my gift and the for even the ability to give hope and inspiration to others. We can all do this!
Also, thank you Summer for having me on this interview. I am very honored and appreciate your work and this project. You rock!!
Jammcard: Luke Aiono
Photos provided by Luke Aiono (@lukexskywalker)