Dutchman Leon Yap is in the running for the Underground Music Award, to be presented in New York on Sunday. It’s seen as the Grammy of underground urban music. Leon is the only European to be nominated and the only nominee with Asian roots. “It feels like a dream that’s coming true.”
And the winner is...
Leon Yap (32) is a risk management consultant, but for over a decade he has also been a creative force on the contemporary R&B scene. One year ago he could never have dreamed he’d be performing at BB Kings on Time Square this weekend. Back then he thought his music “wasn’t yet good enough”.
Leon got hooked on R&B as a young boy, discovering it as a new genre emerging on MTV Soul. Today he’s regarded as one of its hottest new properties. The ball started rolling when his track Say Yes was discovered on the internet. Leon now finds himself in negotiations with major US record labels such as Warner Bros and Universal. (story continues below the video)
The attic of his Rotterdam apartment is home to three electric keyboards and a piano. They are accompanied by an electronic drum kit, a huge microphone (“the crème de la crème”) and an impressive mixing console with several speakers and twin screens. The walls are padded with soundproof material. Every inch of the room breathes music. “My stuff is a combination of trance and house from Germany, hip-hop from France, R&B from England and Scandinavian pop. It’s a sound that’s new to American ears and they love that.”
He orchestrates his musical empire from his living room, single-handed. Not only does he compose his own music on keyboards and guitar, but he also writes and sings his own lyrics. He releases his tracks online and even takes care of his own promotion in the US, the only country that really matters when it comes to R&B. Not bad for a business studies graduate.
His Indonesian background also comes through in his music: “My father is from Bandung on Java and my mother hails from Jakarta. I lived in Indonesia for a while. It was there that I discovered a culture of small bands playing on stages in the street and I thought ‘that’s for me!’” Much of the music produced in Indonesia revolves around love songs and broken hearts. “That was all you heard on the radio there, and it’s reflected in my music.”
Right now he can’t make a living from his music, but he hopes that’s what the future holds: “I’m still working as a consultant and a music teacher, but in five years’ time I hope to have two albums under my belt and a contract with a major label.”
Leon admits that a private life is a luxury he can’t afford. “My days are about two things: sleeping and making music. Any time I have left over, I’m working. Holiday? I’m not sure I can remember the meaning of the word,” he grins.