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The youngest of 10 children, Yen Nguyen sat mesmerized on his patch of brown carpet in the cramped living room. The TV flickered with Michael Jackson as Yen pointed into the king-of-pop glow. That, he said with the temerity of a 7-year-old, is what I want to do. Impossible, grumbled his father, a tiny but well-muscled paper mill worker who had fled Vietnam for western Michigan when Yen was an infant. “Do you see any Vietnamese on TV?” Yen recalls him saying. No, Yen replied, but “I could be the first.”
Yen, who considers the arrival of Black Entertainment Television a formative event, hasn’t made it on his favorite channel. But 25 years later, the Lawrenceville father of three is still trying. A security guard who moonlights as a soul singer, Yen is part of a small but growing breed of performers who cut against the cultural grain in metro Atlanta. As home to both a red-hot music scene and one of the nation’s fastest growing immigrant populations, the city’s clubs and MySpace pages pulse with the beats of a new South. African-American reggaeton. Bosnian rap. These are the sounds of the melting pot mixing. Like performers everywhere, the stereotype-defying performers dream of the big time. Some say not looking the part might help. Others fear industry pigeonholing dooms their chances. All feed off the doubts of others. Yen, for one, set out to convert the dubious, including the man in the living room that day.

A love offering
Before passing oaken plates for the love offering, emcee Kevin Lemon leads the gospel festival in prayer and introduces one more performer. “Would you please put your hands together for Ye-, ye-” he says, studying the unfamiliar name on his program, “Yen.” The spiky-haired Yen (pronounced
EE-ang) bounds from the pews at First Baptist Decatur and onto the stage. Having learned to sing gospel with an otherwise African-American choir in Kalamazoo, Yen is used to being the only Asian in
the room. He scans the crowd knowing some out there, maybe many, are wondering what one woman actually yelled at one event: “Can that Chinese boy sing?” The question lingers in the cavernous sanctuary as Yen eases into the first few notes of “You Are the Center of My Joy.” The keyboardists start an octave lower than Yen likes, forcing him to lay off the gas. But a minute into the song, Yen’s voice builds, slowly. Then the horsepower kicks in. Dwarfed by the hulking church organ behind him, Yen opens up the pipes inside his 135-pound frame. He bends at the knees and points skyward.
“All that’s good and perfect comes from you,” Yen booms. A few people rock back and forth in their seats. The crowd is feeling him now. “You’re the heart of my contentment,” he sings, “hope for all I do.”
Yen’s voice lifts most of the 150 or so people out of their seats, including members of the much-revered Atlanta Masonic Choir. Maria Rowland, a gospel fan seeing Yen for the first time, can’t help but jump to her feet and clap, even as she clutches her 22-month-old daughter, Mikayla. Rowland sways, then closes her eyes as if to inhale the sound with ears alone. When her eyes reopen, the big voice is still wearing a size small red T-shirt and a loose-hanging gray suit. “He’s Asian, and he can sing gospel music,” Rowland says during the love offering to benefit the American Heart Association. “I mean sing.”

Can I get a witness?
Yen, 32, is trying to take his act beyond gospel festivals and charity events. He spends Saturdays at a Lawrenceville studio recording an R&B album due out early next year. This in addition to nights at his security job and days working toward a degree in recreation management at Gwinnett Tech. Yên senses some family members wondering why he doesn’t move on and accept he’s never going to have a career in music. They wish he’d at least sing in Vietnamese. Asian refugees don’t move to America so their children can be soul singers. That’s what they’re thinking. “You hear ‘Oh, he’s too
Americanized,’” Yên said. “They don’t understand that not all Asian-American kids grow up to
be doctors or engineers.” Yên knows that kids today can still be told that, in a commercial sense, there are no Vietnamese soul singers. “We’re supposed to be timid, quiet people,” Yên said. “I’m not. I’m going to be heard. Somebody’s got to knock down that wall.” After escaping Vietnam, Yên’s family landed in Parchment, Mich., where a church had agreed to sponsor them. He shared a bedroom with
three of his brothers and, being the smallest in his family in a 900-square-foot home, never remembers sitting on the floral couch. His father, a political refugee who fought for the South Vietnamese, had worked for the Postal Service and owned a general store there. But speaking little English left him few options in “The Paper City.” So he took a job at the mill that made the parchment paper for which the town is named. When Yên would visit, he’d see his father hoisting giant bales of raw paper into the maw of a roaring machine. Ot - Atlanta Journal Constitution


Atlanta-based singer Yen is the first to admit that he "doesn't look like a typical soul singer." But rather than hide his cultural roots (as TK Records did with early Bobby Caldwell records, showing only a silhouette of the singer to hide his race), Yen embraces his Vietnamese background on his debut album, Introducing the Sound of Asian SoulRnB. And, with his heritage front and center, Yen has released a solid contemporary R&B album that further expands the definition of that genre.

To make sure his point is made from the start, Yen leads the disc with "My Calling," an Asian music-tinged tribute to his father, who emigrated from Vietnam to raise his 10 children in Western Michigan. It is a beautiful, heartfelt song and the album's highpoint, with Yen delivering a message that will be understood by first generation Americans of all races. And "My Calling" kicks off a strong first part of the disc that includes the horn filled "Let's Just Take It Back," the duet "Let Me Hold You" (featuring Bien B. Nguyen) and an old school slow jam, "Part of Me."

As a singer, Yen is raw but promising. His bright voice and earnestness generally cover up technical flaws, but his tendency to oversing becomes more pronounced on the musically less attractive (though lyrically interesting) songs on the second half of the disc, such as "Temptation" and "Where Do We Go."

In the broader picture, Introduction is another positive step in the expansion of soul music into a truly international sound and a display of the fascinating directions that varied cultural influences can have on a music the roots of which lie squarely in the African American church. And in the narrower view, it is a generally successful introduction to a developing young singer with a solid vision of where contemporary R&B music can go.

By Chris Rizik - Soul Tracks


The second Soul Sista's Juke Joint "Men of Soul" evening was a great success, introducing fresh faces in the Atlanta soul music scene to a standing room only audience. One of those fresh faces belonged to a talented artist by the name of Yen. Yen, accompanied by his band “Soul Fine”, which included his wife singing background vocals, came prepared to give a show He immediately commanded the crowd's attention with his rendition of "Outstanding" by the Gap Band. The crowd was taken aback by the powerful soulful sty lings emerging from the lips of this diminutive Vietnamese gentleman. Each of his songs was followed by thunderous applause and an echo of wows that could be heard from each corner of the room. Yen's original song "Where do we go" proved that he was more than just a voice, this man also had a beautiful flair for writing. The song touches upon the social ills ailing our world today and begs for the cures of social diseases such as racism. The hearts and souls of many were touched that evening by the voice and heart felt words of this conscious artist. It was a performance that will not be forgotten.

Written By
Shauna Marie Phillips
Partner of Soul Sista's Juke Joint


"The igniting energy of Yen plus the beautiful and dynamic presence of his backup singers make an incredible presentation!"
Christy Robinson
Partner of Soul Sista’s Juke Joint

“From the moment Yen and his band took to the stage, the performance was captivating! Such a soulful spirit and sound from this artist!”
Kimberly Stewart
Partner of Soul Sista’s Juke Joint

“It was fabulous!’
Nichole Edmond
Partner of Soul Sista’s Juke Joint

“Yen clearly connects with his passion for music, understanding its roots and its power in moving people.”
Kemi Bennings
Visionary/Founder of Soul Sista’s Juke Joint


Yen performed on at Soul Sista's
Juke Joint "Men of Soul" evening at Endenu restaurant
of Atlanta, Georgia.

Soul Sista's Juke Joint is an evening highlighting
local upcoming and independent female artist from all
over the country.
- Soul Sistas


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

Yen may not look like your typical soul singer. Then again, souls are on the inside-- and so is Yen's powerful Voice. "Man this guy can really sing," said Man at Large, a DJ on Detroit's 93.1 radio station the first time he heard Yen sing. Yen has been amazing crowds every where his voice resounds. Now, with the recent release of his first solo debut album "Introducing The Sound of AsiansoulRnB," Yen has been electrifying the internet with his unique blend of soulful melodies, and urban beats interlaced with traces of Asian instruments. He doesn't just sing love ballads. He tackles race and religion, and the album is a personal reflection of his life experiences.

Born in Vietnam but raised in Parchment, Michigan, Yen (pronounced Ian) was the youngest of ten children. His parents fled Vietnam due to the war and his father worked in a paper mill to support the family. "I am grateful to my father and mother for sacrificing so much," he says, "so all of their children can have a better life." Like other Asian families, his parents wanted him to get a good education and find a job as an engineer or doctor. Yen, however, found his life's passion in the local music beat- Motown.

Inspired by such artists as Stevie Wonder, James Ingram, Take 6, and other legends, Yen honed his soul singing in the Kalamazoo Mass Choir as a teenager. His commanding stage presence and
incredible vocal range quickly turned him into a fan favorite and he was soon opening for national acts such as John P. Kee, The Chicago Mass Choir, The Williams Brothers, and 98 Degrees.

Some of Yen's accomplishments include being featured on Fox 5's Good Day Atlanta (2007) and the Atlanta Journal Constitution(2006), selected Vietnamese Star Search Winner (2004), Michigan's "Next Rising Star" on ABC's Good Morning America (2002), prize winner of WDIV's "Say What Sing Along Contest" (2001) and being a cast member of the nationally acclaimed Detroit musical "Perilous Times." This musical featured star acts such as gospel greats Vanessa Bell Armstrong and William Murphy III, Tommie Ford of the "Martin Lawrence Show", and Tiny Lister "Debo" of Friday and Next Friday.

Since relocating to Atlanta in 2003, Yen has performed at various Gospel Festivals, City of Decatur Concerts on the square, The Oakhurst Arts & Music Festival, the Apache Cafe, The Rialto
Center, Cafe' Tu Tu Tango, The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, and more.

His father, a politcal refugee, would shock other mill workers in "The Paper City" by lifting bails as large as he. Yen gets the same looks. Only he lifts his lyrics. His first single, "My Calling," is a tribute to his father.

The album "Introducing The Sound of AsiansoulRnB" is currently available at iTunes, Rhapsody, E-music, Napster, and local CD stores.