That was the one word I could use to explain my experience listening to and meeting Sophia Chang, a music, fashion, and TV mogul.
This woman from Vancouver, British Columbia had much to say. A whole lot in fact ranging from the actual music business world, to her times in high fashion, to her her days now as a television producer. But more importantly, she spoke to her experiences as a Canadian-Asian and growing up in a racist and prejudice world, being privileged to work in the realms of Hip hop amongst legends. She acme to Harvard University in Cambridge, MA to give a talk on what it was like to be of another ethnicity in a purely-caucasian dominated society, and how she had the chance to grow from that, find her identity, and develop her passions. She learned so much from her past to her present, and has accumulated a resume that exceeds any entertainment business woman’s dream.
Her career has taken her through a multitude of experiences in the music industry including working with Paul Simon, and managing Wu-Tang Clan, Q Tip, A Tribe Called Quest, Raphael Siddique, RZA, GZA, and ODB. And, she has had the chance to work in marketing for Atlantic Records, A&R for Universal and Jive. In addition, he had the chance to create her own fashion line along with and has also Truly an inspiration, a big thank you to her and her incredible insight into the music business realms.
When she entered the room, everyone excitedly hushed themselves, but she was quick to crack a sassy joke and then took her place at the front center of the lecture hall. She was dressed like a mystery. Black-brimmed hat, little black body con dress, and black pumps, she looked like a Zoro-esque fashionista. She was enigmatic, chic, edgy, and elegant.
She started out by introducing herself, her lifestyle from childhood until now, and the various careers she became involved in. She explained how she was bullied, the struggles of making it into the industry, the honor she had to work with the people she had, and the joy of being a mother of two children.
But it was no easy feat, of course. “I had to make my way; I will not be marginalized, I always had to kick and punch my way through,” says the audacious tycoon. She recalls how being Asian, really had an affect on the way people saw her; “every f*cking day I suffer a thousand little indignities,” but she also admitted that these trials brought “identity out of rage.” The “privileged white kids” taught her that her immigrant work ethic was stronger than their cruel commentaries.
How this revolutionist described working with Wu-Tang Clan though, was something I’ll never forget. Just the way she said it was so humbled and so appreciative. “They were the umbilical chord that showed me to appreciate my race and find my Asian renaissance.” Their celebration of African American and Asian cultural showed her that white supremacy should have never made her doubt who she was to begin with, “and I’m forever grateful for that… It’s in how you speak, how you move, how you engage in their music. Understand their lyrics…it’s courageous and transparent.”
She also called out those who try to stray away from the topics of race and ethnicity because of their own fears of it stating “you can’t fear the conversation, fear won’t get you to where you want to be.” She then quoted one of her former artist clients, D’Angelo, “at some point you gotta grab your nuts…”
Well said, D’Angelo. But he was right. Whether for stepping up for yourself or for your passion, in order to qualify yourself in this world, you have to just suck it up, say f*ck it, and go about your way. You do you! Chang explained that the friends she has made from clients to just personal relationships, are were a humongous part of what defines Sophia Change today. “It all comes from trust and a place of love…You get to curate your friendships…”
After that little segment, she brought in an analogy from her own experiences as being the owner and manager of a Shaolin Kung-Fu temple. In order to make it to the top, or be a better person, the best that you can be, you have to be flexible and stretch outwards to new heights. Similar to the martial art sport. You need practice and you need to persevere until you make it.
The musical connoisseur went into further detail about the people she met, the metaphors she has come across in life and lived by, the artists today versus those from the past, the music industry now, and more about her family and ethnic discoveries.
There was some time for Q&A, and she answered all of the students thoroughly and genuinely. Just when they were about to end the discussion, she finally saw my hand raised and allowed me to ask my question. I then proceeded to ask her how she dealt with foreign parents who don’t accept the hip hop scene or even just the domains of music as a possible career path? She smiled, in complete understanding, and then continued to tell me how it is difficult for parents of another generation to understand the music that appeals to our own today, and parents are only thinking about our safety. Overseas “professional” careers were seen as successful, and it is hard for them to grasp the concept that there are other occupations in the arts and in communications and in anything really that could make a solid job, so long as you put your heart into it. She said that one day they will understand, but until then I would just have to keeping pushing and doing my thing until I get there and can show it to them, and you know what? Sometimes, that may mean not listening to them, and it seems scary to disrespect them or for them to get angry at you, but it also doesn’t make sense for them not to encourage you to follow your passion.
I really appreciated that. After the event, everyone got up to thank her and take pictures. I introduced myself, and told her how much her words meant to me and how I admire her courage and strength to make it to the position she always dreamed of, despite the obstacles that attempted to stop her. She reached out to me and embraced me in what was one of the sweetest hugs I was ever given, and then whispered,”they’ll understand one day, don’t you worry.”
Truly a cool woman and mom! Thank you, Sophia Chang.