Magdalen Hsu-Li’s story is complicated: she is a bisexual Asian-American who grew up in the South, and her music blends alternative, acoustic, pop and folk. Her gig at Yale, though, was simple: she performed songs from her new album and answered students’ questions.
Magdalen Hsu-Li, one of the first openly bisexual Chinese-American artists in the United States, gave a lecture and concert for a large group of students in the Branford College common room Friday. She has won acclaim on the college, festival, folk and club tour circuits for her unique music and is becoming more widely known with the release of her second album, “Fire.”
“It’s refreshing to see a performer with so much raw energy, passion and drive,” said Daniel Wei ’04. “I really enjoyed the experience.”
The event drew a crowd of about 50 students. A diverse group of student organizations and departments, including the Asian American Heritage Series, the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, and Bi-ways, sponsored the event.
Xining He ’05, one of the coordinators of the event, said Hsu-Li realized her college appeal at a concert at Cornell and has since been performing at similar venues.
“We got e-mails from her about wanting to come and play,” He said. “The [Yale] Women’s Center had wanted her for a while but did not have the resources. That’s why the event was co-sponsored.”
Sometimes compared to Jewel and Tori Amos, Hsu-Li played a variety of songs from her new album, speaking to the audience in between songs. She spoke about such topics as the difficulties of growing up in a Southern atmosphere and the difficulty of maintaining a distinct Asian-American identity when facing the pressure to assimilate.
“It was so heinous growing up in that extreme type of racial hazing,” Hsu-Li said. “There is always this depressed, nerdy, bookish, ex-wannabe sorority girl in me.”
He said she thinks Hsu-Li is an important artist in the Asian-American community.
“Asian-Americans need to express themselves,” He said. “They don’t need others to do it for them.”
Hsu-Li’s angst-inducing music was a hit at Yale, and audience members said they appreciated her originality.
“It’s nice that she doesn’t try to change herself,” said Eric Seymour ’05, a coordinator for the Yale Women’s Center. “She is who she is, and if you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t.”
After the concert, Hsu-Li stayed to speak to interested students in a question and answer period and mentioned that she only began playing music eight years ago.
“She said that she literally started by playing ‘Hot Cross Buns’ on the piano,” Seymour said.
Before she became a musician, Hsu-Li gradated from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence with a bachelor’s degree in painting and won the Oxbow Fellowship, Talbot Rantoul Scholarship, and Florence Leif Scholarship For Excellence In Painting. She then began studying at the Cornish College of the Arts and received the 1995 Cornish Music Scholarship. Seymour said he was impressed with her quick transformation.
“I think she’s an incredibly talented artist,” he said.