Courtesy of Sebastian Chang

During a time of disconnect, Sebastian Chang ’23 is using his music to explore cultural differences and experiences that transcend into a sense of shared humanity. When Yale shut its campus to students in the spring, Chang began working on a musical project that would eventually become his debut album, “20,” under the artist name “Seba.”

“I make music for the reason I think everyone should make music, because you need to, because you want to,” Chang said. “You feel something that tugs at you, at the core of your being, that pulls at the fringes of who you are and what you think you are and then when you start putting it out there, it becomes something.”

Chang was first introduced to music at a young age — he played piano and trombone. Then, in high school, Chang’s friend introduced him to rap music, a genre that was “really foreign” to him at the time. The exposure to a novel musical form helped Chang discover his voice as he created rap songs for school projects while writing poetry on the side.

According to Chang, his new album’s music is a combination of East Asian cultural references, his “braggadocious” personality and the intimacy felt by many during the pandemic. Through themes of loneliness in self-isolation and support for loved ones during difficult times, Chang said “20” is his ode to finding his way in the world.

“We’re all feeling disconnected, and it highlights the troubles we had with our relationships when we were together.” Chang said.

Chang’s album includes references in four languages and is replete with the voices and influences of his friends. His girlfriend assisted with Japanese lyrics; his friend Sam Chowning sang a Japanese verse on the album’s third track, “Muji”; and Josh Gonzalez ’23 sang a portion of the song “Appa.” When Chang listens to his album now, he is reminded of the voices and personalities that contributed to its creation.

“Remembering that gives me such warmth,” Chang said. “And now having it be out to be shared with people, that is probably one of the best feelings. I really want to thank everyone — this was such a collaborative project for me.”

Instead of using his music to create the persona of a “hot new artist,” Chang said he made the album for his friends.

Chang said his chosen name, “Seba” — a playful combination of Chang’s English name and the name his Japanese girlfriend Kaki gave him — captures the nature of his music. “What makes me is embracing weird contradictions,” Chang said.

These “weird contradictions” are evident in the album’s cover art, which depicts Chang wearing his mother’s bathrobe with a tassel — typically worn with women’s hanbok, a traditional Korean two-piece clothing — tied to his belt. The outfit demonstrates a convergence between Chang’s Korean heritage, Connecticut suburbia, his masculinity and a feminine dress.

At Yale, Chang helps arrange pieces for Hangarak — a Korean and K-pop a cappella group at Yale — and is co-captain of Yale Movement, a dance organization that fuses K-pop with urban dance. Chang said these performance groups make up his “life at Yale.” When he was unable to participate in these groups during the initial quarantine in March, Chang turned to producing his personal music instead.

The album’s title references both the year it was produced, 2020, and Chang’s 20th birthday in the spring. Chang had initially planned to release the album on his 20th birthday but delayed it after the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests across the country. During this time, Chang took an “extended hiatus” to focus on singing lessons and his album’s production quality. 

“It was not the time for me to release the album.” said Chang, “I wanted to sit back and reflect not only on my position as an artist but on the world and listen to what was happening.”

Chang is currently working on two additional projects, both oriented around his album. He plans to release lyric videos for his album’s songs to highlight the multilingual nature of his work. Chang also plans to conduct a workshop, hosted by both Hangarak and Yale Movement, where he will teach interested viewers how to produce music using the free software GarageBand he used to create “20.”

Chang hopes to demonstrate how the process of making music is “much more rejuvenating and simple than most people think it is.” 

The album can be streamed on Spotify. 

Maia Decker | maia.decker@yale.edu