7 API innovators who changed music forever

Happy Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month!

In recognition, below we cover a few of the countless innovators who have made landmark contributions to music that you should know about.


1. Yoko Shimomura

Yoko Shimomura has been crafting the soundtrack to countless childhoods for decades. One could even call the epic, classically-inspired sounds of the Kingdom Hearts, Parasite Eve, and Street Fighter II themes to be “perfect.”

In a male-dominated video game industry, Shimomura carved her own lane and cemented her place in soundtrack history through her work at developers Capcom and Square Enix.


2. Ravi Shankar

Legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar was without doubt one of India’s greatest musical virtuosos. Shankar was an innovator who developed a new notation system for sitar, a prolific composer for Indian films, and an ambassador for introducing Indian music overseas.

His work with two young semi-apprentices—George Harrison of The Beatles and legendary composer Philip Glass—was profoundly influential on both popular and classical music. Calling Shankar the “Godfather of World Music,” Harrison was influenced by Shankar’s sitar genius, and played the instrument on a few of The Beatles’ songs.


3. Lea Salonga

Filipina singer and actress Lea Salonga is world-renowned for her powerful voice and perfect pitch. Best known for her award-winning role in Miss Saigon, Salonga is the singing voice behind Princess Jasmin in Aladdin and Fa Mulan in Mulan, and was also the first Asian person to play Éponine in the musical Les Misérables on Broadway.

In her 45-year career, Lea has performed for six Philippine presidents, four American presidents, and for Diana, Princess of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II.


4. Joseph Kekuku

A world-touring guitarist, Joseph Kekuku invented the steel guitar in his high school dorm in Hawaii when he was just a teenager. Kekuku’s innovative guitar playing was adopted by many other young Hawaiian guitar players after he moved to the mainland and launched a successful career.

Eventually traveling to the American West Coast where he found a receptive audience, Kekuku and his steel guitar resulted in the sonic transformation of country, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and more.


5. Teddy Park

Teddy Park is the producer behind some of Korea’s biggest hits. Park was signed by YG Entertainment as a teenager, and after his debut group 1TYM went on a hiatus in 2006, he became the producer for other YG artists like BIGBANG, 2NE1, LeeHi, and Kang Seung Yoon.

In 2017, Park began working with BLACKPINK, producing and writing some of their greatest hits like “WHISTLE,” “DDU-DU DDU-DU,” and “How You Like That,” as well as many of the group members’ solo projects like “On The Ground” and “LALISA.”


6. Phuong Tâm

Known as Vietnam’s ‘first rock ’n’ roll recording artist,’ Phuong Tâm became a sensation in Saigon in the 1960s, but stepped away from music after moving to the United States in 1975.

Decades later, 27 of her recorded songs were found by Tâm’s daughter Hannah Hà, featuring Tâm singing original rock songs written and performed by Vietnamese musicians. The resulting compilation called Magical Nights features 25 of Tâm’s recordings in an effort to recover a lost era of early Vietnamese rock music.


7. Nujabes

Last but not least, a pioneer of lo-fi hip hop, Nujabes was known for his atmospheric instrumental mixes of hip hop, soul, and jazz samples, blended with elements of trip hop, breakbeat, downtempo, and ambient music.

Along with his incredible work on the anime series Samurai Champloo, Nujabes solidified his legacy as a producer with several critically acclaimed albums like Metaphorical Music and Modal Soul.

And there you have it! Which other API music creators would you put on this list? Start a conversation with us and a community of other music creators on Instagram and the Splice Discord.

May 16, 2024

Arundhati Swaminathan Arundhati Swaminathan is a New York-based singer, content strategist, active TV watcher, and social media scroller who is currently working as a Social Media Strategist at Splice.