Go Away With ... Gu is 9

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Born in the United States, musician Gu is 9 (ne Brian Kim) spent the first six years of his life in Maryland, where his parents attended graduate school. When the family moved to his parents’ native South Korea, he was in for a culture shock. “I said, ‘Mom, everyone is Korean here!’” he said. “I remember in kindergarten, some kids made fun of me for my (poor) Korean speaking skills. I felt like an outcast whenever anyone asked me to speak English for them. Eventually, though, I assimilated to the point where English became my second language.” Like his parents, Gu returned to the U.S. for college and now calls Atlanta home. His latest single is “What to Say” ( He stays in touch with fans on Instagram ( and YouTube (

Q. Where have you traveled to that you were surprised at how good the live music culture was?

A. I was in Botswana once (and had) the opportunity to watch Bushmen dance by the fire. They had shells attached to their ankles like shackles, and every time they stepped it made a sound, functioning as percussion. The group of about 15 people all sang, harmonizing to one another, clapping, stomping in a half circle and they were taking turns dancing in the middle. Dance and music was one and the same without separation. It was a beautiful sight, and I’ve never experienced music in a more wholesome way.

Q. You’ve lived in San Diego and Atlanta. What are some things they had in common and some of the differences?

A. San Diego and Atlanta are very different cities. It’s harder to find what’s in common other than the fact that people live there. San Diego is by the beach and is pretty warm all year long. Atlanta’s nickname is “The City in a Forest” and the scene behind my apartment changes with the change of season. Kind of like in Korea where I get to see leaves change their color, eventually fall out and then grow back again as baby leaves. This alone makes the experience very different. The way houses and apartments are built is different. I guess something I like about both cities is that there are communities where immigrants are concentrated in. It was Convoy in San Diego, along BuHi in Atlanta. It’s a beautiful thing. You get to have a part of home and also visit parts of other people’s homes. Being respectful is very important.

Q. How has living, studying and growing up in two different countries affected your views as an artist?

A. It affected me as a human and naturally as an artist. It still continues to affect me. I feel as if I have two value systems inside me that don’t necessarily match 100 percent. I think I’m a product of trying to navigate and make sense out of things my own way. I also grew up listening to songs that come from both cultures. If you’re a musician, you are always the sum total of the music you’ve listened to. Having been exposed to both sides makes my music unique in its message and flow. If you hear it in the music, that’s great; if you don’t, that’s fine too.

Q. Some Asian-American artists have told me that they felt they had to leave the U.S. to have an opportunity to work as a musician full time. How has your experience been, being based out of Atlanta?

A. America is experiencing an interesting change. People are beginning to be invested and interested in “other” people, and are reading into the narratives that they didn’t once belong. This is happening in film, literature and music. Being Asian at this point in time could be a weapon rather than an obstacle, if I were to play my cards right. The shows my super low-key crews throw are always filled with people of all sorts of backgrounds. Being neither white nor black is a (double-edged) sword. You could be excluded from the conversation all together, or you could be the bridge that (helps) bring people together. I believe we are doing, and will always be aiming to do, the latter.

Q. What was the last vacation you took?

A. I went into Panther Creek Trail, which is a mountain trail in North Georgia. It’s famous for its waterfalls, but it was an amazing time in the woods. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. Music, clothes to dance in, a book, something to write in.

(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at You may also follow “Go Away With...” on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)