Eliezer Santiago — Staff Writer
As the lights dimmed in the Charles Garner Recital Hall in Engleman, “Feel So Close,” the Benny Benassi remix blasted through the speakers, getting concert goers ready for the dance-pop music show that was ahead of them.
A projection screen lowered to the stage displaying images of models dancing, walking and posing in various situations and locations.
It was very abstract, very avant-garde.
Fans and students came to the concert hall for one thing–to see Akira perform.
“I liked it a lot,” said Sam Jaronko, an arts education major at Southern. “I’ve seen him perform before and it’s amazing to see how much he’s grown.”
Samson Rutkin, also known as Akira, a communications major with a minor in music at Southern, put on a concert with the help of his friends and collaborators Wednesday night, April 18.
The stage–colorfully filled with crumpled posters and a city cut out of cardboard with neon colored windows that glowed when the projector’s light shone through–set the mood for Akira’s performance.
“We wanted to do a New York City theme for the show,” said Robert Diaz, a communications major at Southern. “We were going back and forth. I was thinking more of a ‘grunge’ look, but he was like, ‘I want colors,’ so I said ok. We work on the seat of our pants.”
Akira and Diaz met at a Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender Prism club meeting. The LGBT Prism club is an undergraduate student club that works to promote awareness and equality for sexuality differences. Since meeting, the two have become a tag team, said Akira.
“I just listen to his ideas,” said Diaz. “This kid will pull out an idea like, ‘I want to come down on a rope of salami with a giant hat made out of whale blubber,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Ok, we can tone it down, but let’s try it.’ I’m willing to try anything that he’s willing to think of.”
Much thought was put into the concert. Intermissions, props, backdrops, features and wardrobe changes added to the show’s depth.
Akira brought rappers and singers out on stage to sing multiple songs alongside him. Jahkeem Ohizep, a music major, and Yoyo Callado, a social work major, came on stage with Akira to cover a song by British rapper, Tinie Tempah, called “Written in the Stars” featuring American singer, Eric Turner.
Akira sang while Ohizep and Callado showcased their rapping talents. Jordan Figueroa, a graphic design major at Southern, sang a duet with Akira for his original song, “To Be Brave,” and Virginia Calcagni, a journalism major, sang with Akira to cover Marina and the Diamonds’ song “Prima Donna.”
“I enjoyed watching him,” said Kiera Blake, a journalism major at Southern. “You could see on stage that he was enjoying himself. He was glowing. I am extremely proud of him.”
Growing up in a Filipino family, Akira says he’s always been surrounded by music and dancing at family gatherings and parties. He gained a love for music but says that he gained a love for performing while on an eighth grade trip to Washington, DC.
“The moment that I knew I wanted this forever was on the cruise ship from Washington,” said Akira, “At the bottom floor there was a DJ playing ‘La Tortura.’ At the time I knew the choreography from the video, and when the song came on my friends kind of pushed me into the middle of the dance floor to perform it. I remember everyone looking at me and be like, ‘Wow! What is this? Who is this?’ That was the spark where I knew this is what I wanted.”
It’s apparent that Shakira is an inspiration as his stage name Akira is a derivative of her name; he projects his voice to the audience in a fashion reminiscent of Christina Aguilera, and Akira’s blue and platinum blond wigs are something that Lady Gaga fans would appreciate.
All three women Akira cites as an inspiration.
“My blue hair, that’s who I am. It’s a part of me,” said Akira.
Being gay, Akira is no stranger to adversity and challenge.
In his song “Blue, Forever Free,” he addresses the issue of him being different from everyone else and explains that with his blue hair and new sense of self-being, he’ll never be oppressed again.
“Why put the energy into being sad?” asked Akira. “That seems like such a waste because if you put the energy into being sad, but you’re trying to be happy all your life–that’s stupid. Of course you’re going to be sad, so I’d rather channel all my energy–even my most upsetting moments–into something uplifting, something that’s positive, something someone else can take away from it.”
He acknowledges that he isn’t a star, but Akira does consider himself a public figure. And with the status of being a public figure, Akira realizes the burden he carries.
“Your words–they mean something to people,” he said. “They listen to you. You have to be that positive face because they may not be in a great place.”
Even though Akira is sending out a positive message to listeners, he doesn’t want his personal life to overshadow his music.
“I want people to live in the fantasy of my music,” said Akira, “so when they listen to my music they can apply it to their life and be happy for themselves. I do this only for everyone else.”