The World’s Top Electric Cellist is on a Zen-like Mission of Healing

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7:27 AM HKT, Wed September 13, 2017 3 mins read

Dana Leong is standing in front of a crowd at a sleek, modern community space in Shanghai. Between his loose white clothes, wooden beaded necklace and shaved head, he looks more like a monk than a two-time Grammy award-winning musician. To his right are a guided meditation expert, and a woman laying out a one-of-a-kind set of crystal sound bowls. Dana calmly introduces himself to the hushed audience — there’s no fanfare, no space for applause in this simple, contemplative room. It’s immediately clear that this is a place where sound has meaning. Dana picks up his instrument, and the next hour is filled with both sound and silence.

Dana has worn a lot of hats over the course of his career. The son of a Japanese pop star mother and a Chinese father, Dana was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he started playing piano at the age of one. His mother’s diverse background as a singer-songwriter, pianist, and guitarist rubbed off on him, with Dana going on to study trombone, cello, and a host of electronic music mediums. His work has taken him from his home of California to New York City and Asia, having seen collaborations with artists from Paquito D’Rivera to Kanye West.

Official music video for Tektonik’s “Isobel”

“My approach to music is not so dissimilar to my approach with a lot of things in life. I’m very experimental and curious, even in my hobbies of photography, cooking, things like that. I’m always looking to deepen my understanding – and that comes through questioning, through learning from those who know more than I do, and it certainly comes from trying things out.”

Nowadays, though, Dana’s work has expanded in scope. Dana directs the Tektonik Music project, a global initiative for cross-border healing through music.

“Tektonik Music is an organization I started in 2011, geared towards remediating the negative impact of natural disasters using music,” he tells us. “I started it because my mother’s family was affected by the earthquake and the tsunami in Sendai, Japan, and I wanted to find a way to use music to help support people who were experiencing stress and trauma.”

Today, the Tektonik Music project — through concerts, music therapy, digital downloads, and fundraising — has reached more than a hundred million people.

Today, the Tektonik Music project — through concerts, music therapy, digital downloads, and fundraising — has reached more than a hundred million people. They’ve partnered with countless NGO’s and other platforms to spread their message, and to raise money and awareness for the people who need it most. Dana even completed a business certificate last year through Harvard and the World Economic Forum’s transformative leadership program — a step for the artist closer towards the role of a CEO.

That’s because Tektonik’s role is expanding as well. What started as a project geared towards disaster relief has grown into a wider force, one that aims to help people everywhere. That’s what Dana means by “healing music” — tapping into the universally affective energy of music and using it for something uniquely positive:

We’re in one of the most incredible times, in terms of innovation, technology, and connectivity. But we’re also in one of the most challenging times in terms of violence, digital security, stress, overexertion and exhaustion. So I think that it is absolutely imperative to think about what music brings to the global conversation on major issues around the world, such as cultural diplomacy and human resilience.

How do we take care of ourselves? How do we make sure that we’re not being consumed by our own technology? Music has always been one of the most powerful conduits to connect people and allow them to break down cultural divisions. That’s why it’s most important to put a conscious message in the music, and a deliberate positive energy into it.

For Dana, getting to Shanghai was a crucial step in that mission. Moving to Asia was a longtime goal, he tells us, and after visiting China several times for performances and speaking events, he packed his bags and set off for Shanghai.

“I was just seeing that there was so much exciting energy, so many creative, innovative people. China is becoming very international in its first-tier cities. So really, the opportunity to collaborate with some very open-minded and very cool people is what drew me to start spending more time here, and to look as far as setting up an office here, as well as creating my next album here.”

What’s next for Tektonik? They’ve launched a series of music and mindfulness gatherings in and outside Shanghai, which we were lucky enough to attend. You can’t really understand the message of Dana’s music until you’ve experienced it firsthand; rows and rows of people making time in their busy days, just to assemble and soothe their addled minds. The music is layered and beautiful, unlike any performance we’d seen before. It’s equal parts concert experience and meditation assembly.

It’s all leading up to Tektonik’s next project: a full-size Tektonik electronic orchestral album, with sounds and artists from across the entire spectrum of music. Events like this are Dana’s way of bringing together a likeminded community around the project, and he’s excited to move forward.

“All in all, I’m continuing to be curious. Continuing to search for how I can bring music to more people in an authentic way. I myself have had many challenges along the way, many points of defeat — but many fantastic, uplifting experiences with music as well. I’d like to continue to share the secrets of how I’m able to overcome moments of stress, how I’m able to let go of traumatizing thoughts and negative experiences, using music. As I find those amazing feelings and transformative experiences, I’m looking to encapsulate them and create new music that helps other people to do that too.”

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