After his perfomance on the American Song Contest stage Monday, we were able to grab Sabyu for an interview and get to know him better. Learn about his musical influences, his motivation for participation in ASC, and how his song “Sunsets and Seaturtles” first came about by reading below!
Welcome Sabyu – thank you so much for giving us a bit of your time today! I’m sure that many of our readers are encountering you and your music for the first time so why don’t you give us a brief introduction?
Håfa Adai & Hello… My name is Sabyu. I am a singer/songwriter, musician, producer, mentor, and storyteller from the island of Saipan (capital of the Northern Mariana Islands). I was born and raised in Saipan but moved to Hawai’i and WA State throughout life’s journey. I play music to bring all walks of life together in the name of love, spirit, and humanity.
And you were recently announced as the official representative of the Northern Mariana Islands for the American Song Contest! What has life been like for you since the cast announcement was made?
Man, life’s been moving fast! Very exciting though, to represent the Northern Mariana Islands in this contest. I was recently able to spend quality time with fam & friends back home in Saipan, so lots of laughs, jams, and good food, guaranteed! We’re from a place that many people around the world don’t know about, so it feels good to put the NMI on the map.
Now I’ve done a lot of interviews with artists, and I love to learn more about an artist’s “origin story” – that moment when they discovered music for the first time and realized it was something they wanted to pursue. How did you first fall in love with music, and when did it turn into a career opportunity?
My first memories of music were at family gatherings hearing local Chamorro/Carolinian/Palauan tunes playing as we danced and shared meals together. I remember hearing classic rock from my Dad’s pickup truck. I remember saving money to buy records at our one local music shop on Saipan. My ears tuned into all these sounds and I quickly found myself wanting to dive deep into the world of music.
As a kid, I dreamed of making music a career. To achieve that, my only instinct was to keep music in my life, one way or another. I learned guitar at around 12 years old (big ups to my teacher, Scott Askew!). I started writing songs, making beats, learning how to record myself, and eventually released my own music. My life revolves around my love for music. I steered my canoe with music as my north star, and life found a way to keep it relevant in my life. In a way, I’m still turning music into my career and this show is a huge opportunity. Super grateful and blessed to be here.
I love that – thank you for sharing! Your website mentioned that you play a number of instruments on top of the guitar. What are some of your favorite instruments to play when creating music? Are there any you’d love to learn to play in the coming years?
My musical mind thinks in guitar, but I also like playing drums, bass, ukulele, piano, and cajón among other instruments. I owe a lot of my musical expansion to my UW Seattle Ethnomusicology experience where I learned to play various world music from master visiting artists. I dove into everything from Indonesian Gamelan, Afro-Peruvian Cajón, Zimbabwean Marimba, West African Drum & Dance, Afro-Caribbean styles and more. My mentors are incredible musicians who broadened my musical horizons even more.
I would love to learn the sax, congas, Khene Lao, Zimbabwean Mbira… it just keeps going.
Wow that’s a lot of compositional structures to learn and play! And as you mentioned earlier, you’ve lived in a few places from Saipan to Olympia, Washington. How do you feel these places come together to influence the music that you write and produce?
My roots are definitely back home in the Northern Mariana Islands, but when I hit Hawai’i, my musical horizons expanded. Hawaiian artists like Braddah IZ and Ka’au Crater Boys really caught my ear. Bob Marley entered my life big time. When I hit Washington, grunge capital of the world, I dove into rock, metal, hip-hop, rap, jazz, punk, country, and so miuch more. With my UW Ethnomusicology experience, world music really became part of my musical expression. Combining all of these experiences created a style of music that draws from these various genres at any given time. I tend to hear melodies, rhythms, chords, or tones that compliment the song in the moment and it can come from anywhere.
You’re also a mentor and producer with the non-profit label Totem Star, what has been some of the best advice you’ve ever received as an artist?
“Remember the ‘why’, be yourself, and enjoy the ride”.
If you had the ability to pick one artist to open for on tour or collaborate with on a new single, who would you pick and why?
One producer I’ve always wanted to work with is Rick Rubin. I admire his creative wisdom and I feel like we would make a monumental record.
As far as jamming with… easily Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Now from what I could tell, it looks like the American Song Contest is one the largest performances that you’ve been a part of to date. Were you feeling more nervous or excited about this opportunity?
Well now that the qualifier performance is over, I can tell you it felt like a rush of adrenaline mixed in with some nervousness. But don’t get me wrong… I had a blast!
And I know that the contest practically appeared out of nowhere for us. How did you first learn about ASC and what motivated you to submit an entry to the contest?
I first heard about it when someone reached out to me about it in an email. I spent quite a bit of time questioning if this is a path I wanted to walk on my music journey, and sure enough, I decided it was the right fit and an experience of a lifetime. So far, my internal compass has been right!
Your song for ASC is “Sunset and Seaturtles” – how did you come up with the idea for the song and it’s message? Was it written specifically for ASC or did you have other plans for it when the opportunity came?
The sun was setting as I was sitting at the beach one evening, stuck trying to write a song. I asked a beautiful island girl I knew if she had any ideas for songs, and she simply replied, “Sunsets & Seaturtles”. As soon as I heard the idea, the whole song wrote itself. I didn’t even have time to write anything down. I just grabbed my phone and quickly recorded it.
For our readers who want to connect with you ahead of or after the contest, where can they find you and your music?
Alright, one final question for you – is there a final message you’d like to share with our readers?
Even if you come from a small island, you can make big waves around the world – sending love and positivity in every direction.
Well Sabyu, I want to thank you so much for your time and I wish you all the best during your time with the American Song Contest!
Remember #YOU can see if Sabyu qualifies to the semi-final on Monday, April 11th at 8 PM Eastern/7 PM Central. #YOU can also jump into the ASC discussions on social media @ESCUnited, on our discord, or on our forum page!