Mina Yu: ‘No mansplaining, please!’

I first met Mina Yu at a Fem Belling performance; I was instantly blown away by her playing, her crisp sound, and the way that she seemed to be lost ‘in the zone’ while performing. When she resurfaced, after the gig, we had a chat and she confirmed my first impression of her as someone who lives and breathes music (I’m resisting hard the urge to use the term ‘jazz nerd’ which for me is a term of affection.) Since then, I’ve been actively trying to keep up with her performances, and learn more about her musical journey. This is exactly the theme of the concert she’s about to give at the Melbourne Recital Centre — which, as everything else she does — is absolutely not to be missed.

What are you going to present at the Melbourne Recital Centre?

The concert will be my story as an immigrant told through music and some narrative. It is full of adventures, acceptance, friendship and family.

The audience will get to experience music that I’ve encountered all around the world — from the Korean music my parents listened to, to the gospel church music in the USA and the jazz played in the clubs of New York.

The audience will travel to the personal and strange places of mine throughout the concert.

What are your expectations from the audience?

I enjoy it when the audience gives me some feedback. The performer/audience relationship is a two-way connection. Tell me if you like something. Send me an email or talk to me after a show. But no mansplaining please!

You are playing with Fem Belling, bassist Simon Starr, and drummer Ben Charnley, your life partner. How would you describe your rapport with them?

Fem has been a close friend and musical collaborator for quite some time now. We perform together in ZEDSIX, the Fem Belling band, Kon Shes, the Mina Yu band, and we also have a duo called FEMINA.

Fem has an amazing energy of bright positivity – she’s welcoming and that’s exactly what I was looking for when it comes to performing this story and music. Fem is also an immigrant; she was born in South Africa, lived in London and is based in Melbourne now. Not only she is an AMAZING singer, but she is also a wonderful violinist which I really respect. As we are close friends, I am happy and at peace when working with her, which for me is a necessity.

The same goes for Ben. We are partners in many ways and Ben knows how to do things well in many different areas. Ben has an amazing knowledge of music history, records, culture and language that helps me a lot in music programming and storytelling. As we are partners, I get to have a lot more time to think and discuss with Ben (e.g. what kind of music to play, which grooves and styles). This helps in creating a good show as we are constantly bouncing ideas off each other.

Simon is a new friend. I met him through playing piano for his regular performances in Classic Southside and we also recently recorded and launched Skov’s album, K’s Confusion. Not only is he one of the best bass players in the town, Simon is very serious about music and I am looking forward to playing with him and hearing his musicality and artistry in the performance.

Honestly, I find myself so lucky to have these amazing people in my band and very grateful. I can’t wait to present this special band to everyone.

What does the title ‘Migrant’s Home‘ mean?

There were times that I felt a little lost and perhaps didn’t belong anywhere. I don’t know the children’s show that everyone seems to know, the special hair product that everyone seems to use and what’s a hot trend these days — even in my own birth country of Korea. 

On the other hand, I feel at home and comfortable in many places. Usually, it happens when I am with friends who are considerate and accepting. Hence, I wanted to play music that expresses these experiences as a migrant around the sense of belonging.

How has your cultural background and life journey affected your approach to music and your evolution as an artist? 

I have been lucky to live and travel to many different places. I grew up listening to Korean pop music from the ’80s, like Kim Kwang-Seok and Yoo Jae Ha, which are surprisingly musically great, African American gospel music, which I used to play every Sunday, to Classical and Jazz music that I received a lot of training in. I make music that represents these diverse influences, and it makes for quite interesting music. These diverse influences also help me a lot to work with many different artists as I can channel my sounds in a way that is suitable for each project.

Have you faced any migrant-specific challenges in your musical journey? 

When you are always moving, obviously it can be a challenge as you need to find your collaborators from scratch again. For me, working with other musicians is important. Some things can only be learned by playing and spending a long time together.

It’s been seven years since ‘Papa’s Records’; where is your next album?

Time flies, hey? I am cooking something up for next year – which I can’t wait to share. Tune in.

You’re also doing a tribute to Vince Guaraldi’s classic Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack — which is only the greatest Christmas album of all time; how do you relate to this music?

I agree, it’s the greatest! I really like the warmth of the sounds — it really captures the nostalgic feeling of childhood innocence of Christmas.

The piano trio format is great, as it is easier to direct the band spontaneously to somewhere unexpected, especially if you have played with the trio for some time.

Playing in a trio is hard, it can be challenging to keep things interesting for the audience.

This album completely proves how wonderful and memorable the piano trio can be without relying on intense energy and chops.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

‘If you come into my mind’.


Mina Yu presents ‘Migrant’s Home’ at the Melbourne Recital Centre, on Friday 2nd December.

Mina Yu presents ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ at the Paris Cat Jazz Club on Sunday 11 December.