Who am I & what am I good at?

My name is Zavi, pronounced Zah-vee. If that sounds like a mistake, it’s because it was. Most people thought Zavi was a Japanese name because I was born in Japan. The truth is that my mom meant to name me Zev, the Hebrew name for ‘wolf.’ But she forgot the specifics, and so I grew up in Richmond, Virginia as a Japanese-American kid with a weird, made-up name. Unsurprisingly, I often felt isolated from the community around me and spent a lot of my childhood playing guitar. At the time, I didn’t know that music would end up becoming the way I connected with Richmond. As an adult, having a background in music gave me opportunities to get involved in my community in a positive way. I began performing at neighborhood events, festivals and local venues, which led to a variety of meaningful and valuable relationships that I continue to cultivate. These experiences also pushed me to network and gave me enough credibility to be invited to join Richmond-based indie band Spooky Cool and to initiate my own project. These bands now function not only as a creative outlet, but as a business venture as well.

Besides writing and performing, these projects challenged me to design websites, produce and direct a DIY music video and build our bands’ brands from the ground up. Combining my proclivities for networking and strategy drove me to eventually take on a managerial position for these projects. Through this role I learned how create press kits, coordinate press releases, and communicate professionally with venues, media personnel and record labels. These new resources pushed both bands to the next level, which granted us opportunities to play at renowned venues like the National and to tour with popular indie artist, Lucy Dacus. These experiences also qualified me for employment in the nonprofit sector. I became the marketing coordinator at the Chrysalis Institute and a program leader at ART 180- positions that allowed me to further develop my repertoire and skill set. In my first year at Chrysalis, I utilized marketing techniques that doubled the organization’s membership and social media following, and participated in a team that generated over $80,000 in fundraising. With ART 180, I created an after school DJ and music marketing class for teenagers in Richmond Public Schools. As a mentor I was able to share music as a method for expression, connecting with peers and engaging with the community, the way music was for me.

A place that has influenced me.

I began my life in Japan, surrounded by my Japanese family- parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Though we moved to the States when I was four years old, my mom and I would visit every summer until I started high school. I would reconnect with family, hear the language again, eat the food and explore different parts of the country. However, going back and forth was somewhat of an emotional struggle. Trying to fit in with my peers here in the U.S., I began to feel increasingly self-conscious about that part of my heritage. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I could see how Japanese culture had been ingrained in my identity and day to day life.

My early years in Japan instilled a sense of comfort associated with my Japanese family, the food and language. The simple rituals of staying in one intergenerational household, eating traditional Japanese meals together as a family and being immersed in the language and culture are all aspects of that time in my life that I highly value. As an adult, I cook a lot of Japanese cuisine at home, watch Japanese movies in the original language and enjoy Japanese rock music. I routinely seek out these activities as a way to rekindle that sense of home that I miss from my childhood in Japan.

My experience of participating in ancestral rituals at my grandparent’s house and at Shinto Buddhist temples where my family resides in Niigata has also greatly influenced me. The art of tea ceremonies, my grandfather’s funeral and even the cleanliness of public spaces and ubiquitous politeness of Japanese people demonstrated a carefulness and attention to detail that resonated with me. Additionally, Japanese culture brings two seemingly opposing elements together- the traditional reverence for nature combined with the sleekness of modern design- to create something historically rich and innovative that I find very appealing. This manifests in my work ethic, personal style and daily life. I have incorporated certain Japanese rituals into my routine, such as lighting incense, creating small altars in my house and meditating. Even the way I decorate- white walls, plants, wood and natural found objects- is influenced by this minimalist, natural yet contemporary style common to Japanese homes.

In my experience, Japanese culture seems driven for perfection and minimalism in a way that I admire. I constantly strive for a refined quality in both my professional and creative endeavors, a value deriving from having visited and lived in Japan. When it comes to music and visual art, I usually try to get the product down to its simplest form. Specifically in my graphic design work, I use a few curated elements to convey the message I want to express. While composing, I will scour a thirty-second section of a song for hours at a time until I feel like it is perfect. Also, I will record and re-record to ensure that extraneous blips and errors have been removed, the parts have been played to a tee and the final product is polished and complete. Finally, my music style leans toward creating succinct, well-rehearsed pieces that have been highly considered, as opposed to improvisational or spontaneous styles of composition. In these ways, my relationship with Japan and Japanese culture surfaces in many aspects of my life.

A personal failing.

I was home from college for winter break biking around one night when I happened upon my childhood elementary school. Wandering around the building feeling nostalgic, I noticed that one of the doors had accidentally been left unlocked. I was curious and decided it would be fun to take this rare opportunity to explore. I walked around the school for about thirty minutes visiting old classrooms, the cafeteria and the auditorium before I realized that other people were in the building with me. All of a sudden, multiple police officers and two dogs turned the corner in search of whoever had tripped the alarm. They found me standing in the hallway, completely caught off guard. Needless to say, I was allotted 100 hours of community service over that next summer and ironically ended up volunteering as a tutor at an elementary school. Now that I live in the neighborhood I still pass by my old stomping grounds, but I make sure to never go inside.