Jonah Xiao Is In His True Element As An Artist On 'California Santiago'

Meet Chilean artist Jonah Xiao, an artist you should know. A singer/songwriter/producer, who's heritage comes from Chinese immigration into LatinAmerica.

Get to know more about him + watch his latest visuals down below!

For anyone just being introduced to your music, who are you?

I'm a Chilean artist, songwriter and producer. I'm Latino but I also have Chinese heritage from my dad's side; many people aren't aware that there is a huge Asian community in the north of Chile. My different backgrounds bring extremely vastly different influences into what I consume which I hope reflects in the art that I put out. I'm also gay (most times at least) My sexuality is fluid and I think in our youth we're all figuring things out as we go along this journey.

Placing my sound into one box would be difficult because it spans across pop, R&B, reggaeton, hip-hop and trap. When I was a kid my mom and I would listen to a lot of Mariah and Cher, but then in high school I consumed more hip-hop and R&B (Drake, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, Frank Ocean, Beyoncé ...) My sound reflects a lot of these mainstream artists that are able to tap into many different influences.

When did you discover your love for your craft and what made you realize you wanted to pursue a career in it?

I feel like I've always gravitated towards art and performing. My mom would clean the house blasting Mariah's #1s DVD. I lost count of how many times I've watched The Beyoncé Experience. I was 15 when I first started writing music and 19 when I started using Ableton.

In college I studied business and then my masters. I've been all over the place. In the last two years I've lived in 5 countries. It has been a blessing to be able to encounter people, culture and art among so many different walks of life. The pandemic, however, was the perfect moment for my tornado life to slow down and finally put my mind into releasing music. Going to college gave me a lot to write about too. Dating boys, going abroad and different adventures. I documented everything over these EPs that I'm going to be releasing. The one I'm currently working on is San Diego 18, back when I was an exchange student. There's a lot of thrills in pursuit of foreign love, ideas and self-discovery that I went through. 

Were your parents supportive of you choosing music as a career?

Not at the beginning. I feel like they were the reason why I forced myself to study instead of focus on music. I understand why they did it, every parent wants security for their kid. It's hard over here to sustain yourself without an education. Arts are very undervalued, I think that's something worldwide that needs to be addressed. BUT they couldn't really prevent me from writing music... that kind of happened naturally, I just started accumulating songs.

Things are different now. I'm blessed to say that now my parents are my biggest fans. I have to stop my mom from playing my music all day inside the house! They expect me to show them first whatever I'm releasing now.

Do you have any passions outside of music?

Absolutely! I love the art form behind fashion and making visuals. Creating visuals and looks is honestly the best part of doing this (after the music of course). I have so much fun creating new stuff, collaborating with other artists, editing, and making polished mood boards come to life.

Many people are unaware of how I pride myself in being very present in every aspect of my craft. I put a lot of work and thought so it looks fresh and new. There is intention behind the photos and melodies. Even with my music videos I am sitting there in the editing room trying to create moments that are memorable. It's all about curating my own world and inviting the audience in, in a way.

Talk to me about the Chilean music scene and how LGBT representation is out there?

I love the new Chilean music scene. It's honestly so original and inspiring. I specially love Polimá Westcoast and Paloma Mami so much. The underground scene is also killing it, there's a lot of amazing raw talent but for many there's a lack spaces or funding, which sucks. Many independent artists have to go through this period of feeling like they're on their own when they start.

In regards to the LGBT+ community... there is representation on the pop side of music but not on the urban side. Regardless of the gender, it's always been harder for an LGBT+ musician to gain attention. I don't think Chile is a conservative country at the ground level but people that make the important decisions are.

What’s the deepest struggle you had to deal with in your life.

Coming out was hell, and a long accepting process. I can say that I'm really comfortable and happy now but it wasn't like that all along. I was miserable for a long time and felt the need to hate myself. I was bullied in high school, and seeing international hate crimes against our communities would damper my spirit.

Being a Capricorn, I always find it in my nature to stand up for myself and what's right. Taking things lying down isn't in my nature...and well homophones aren't going to like that...

In University I finally came out to myself and my friends. With my latest track and music video, "California Santiago" that was my universal coming out message to family and whoever desired to know. The music video and song is one giant love anthem and I think our community needs moments of just a primal love that outshines the hate we experience. Now with my music I'm trying to give back and be as open as I can be with my stories... even if sometimes its a little scary. I don't want kids to feel the way I did growing up. It's 2021 and there are still a lot of boxes i check mark off that aren't visible in main stream media. Through my music I want the upcoming generation to have their coming of age moment to be full of triumph and romance rather than violence and fear of coming out. There are many things I was not exposed to growing up which made it okay to be queer. I hope to change that.

Best advice for anyone who wants to pursue music

If I've learned anything in this last year is that you need to put in the work. As i work towards releasing a full length project, I'm understanding the importance of being in charge of whats going on with your craft. Not just one aspect, but with everything that goes in. If you don't fight for every step of your art sometimes messaging can fall through the cracks or you leave bits of your story untold.

The industry is going to try to push you into different directions but you need to be true to your vision! For myself that came though spending countless hours in the studio, re-watching and editing up my music videos... Have people in your team that are willing to listen and understand where you're coming from and what you want to portray. But also, have an open mind to listen to other people who might know better about things you don't. It's a tricky balance but follow your artist intuition. 

Do you mainly focus on pop or have you tapped in with other genres.

I feel like my music strikes as pop inevitably because of the way I make melodies. But if you listen closely to the rhythms and the beat, it comes from other genres. Gatito is r&b. Inhala Inhala is more of a soft trap. California Santiago has a reggaetón beat. I'm working on a hyperpop song which might confuse some people but honestly, I'm just having fun with music right now. 

What's the meaning behind your latest visuals?

That would be the California Santiago Music Video. Well in the California music video we wanted to portray an inevitable split between two guys who met over the summer, which is a real story. I took heavy influences from Call Me By Your Name and Shelter; a coming of age movie about two surfers. That was the first gay romance I ever saw, it's a bit of a full circle moment for me to have seen these visuals and spin my interpretation on it. 

For the montage footage I was watching random music videos that I liked and I really liked a Bryson Tiller video with the portable camera edit. But none of the visuals would have been possible without my incredible team who put a lot of work and thought into the process, so shout out to them: Chito, Santo, Gaila, Hector and the guys at Moveshot. And Dani Ride of course!

Who do you hope to work with in the future?

In the future I would love to work with local urban artists. I would have to find the right songs to pitch though. I want to work with dudes with cool flows. People like Polimá Westcoast, I feel like I would love his personal Spotify library... Hands down Gianluca, Easykid, and Tomasa del real are also up there in my vision of people I'd love to collaborate with. Honestly I'm such a big fan of the local scene here in my area

Then, of course, there's Bad Bunny... yeah Benito would be a dream.

What do you hope to accomplish by the end of this year?

By the end of this year i'm working towards securing funding for all of these projects and ideas I have envisioned. I'm surrounded by a lot of people who are rooting for me and see the vision. I think one aspect that would help is to find a manager. Right now i'm a one man team but all of these projects I have in the works are so exciting, I know my moment is arising.

Apart from that, I started producing my next Ep which will be in Spanglish. It makes sense to me in my story telling to tell it this way. I was living in London at the time. I'll collaborate with my all-time favorite chilean designer and friend Matias Hernan. Those visuals are gonna be sick, I'm really looking forward to that release.

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