Essay: Housefires’ Ryan Ellis on What AAPI Heritage Month Means to Him

Housefires © 2023
Housefires © 2023
In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of essays reflecting on identity, music, culture, inclusion, and more.
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Today, Housefires musician Ryan Ellis shares an essay reflecting on his Filipino identity and how it has shaped his art and music as a part of Atwood Magazine’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month series. Says Ellis, “Being asked if I want to be a pop artist or worship artist is like asking me if I want to be Filipino or white. I’m both.”
The worship landscape was forever rewritten in 2014 when Housefires released their two premiere projects within a few months of each other. Worship leading, songwriting, and collaboration were now re-evaluated and reconstructed to reflect the Housefires model that embraced a more unfiltered sound and approach to worship from the writing room to the set. Since the unprecedented success of Housefires launch, the group has continued its mission in writing and releasing songs and sounds that are birthed from what God is doing in their midst as a collective.
Their latest project, ‘How To Start a Housefire,’ is about stripping away the veneer and illusion of “success and fame” within a worship or music industry context and reminding people of the foremost mission of the group. The songs were meant to be a resource for the church in thought and creed rather than elements to tack onto a Sunday setlist.
Housefires continues to embrace a more unrefined sound that’s free of the safety and restraints that a normal studio and even live recording set often offers. Its stripped back settings furthers this idea by visually demonstrating a community that not only embraces its sound within.
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by Ryan Ellis

As an Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and a Filipino man, I am honored to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month every May.

This month gives us a chance to reflect on our rich history, culture, and contributions to society. For me, this month is a time to embrace and celebrate my Filipino identity, and how it has shaped my art and music.

Growing up, my family instilled in me a deep appreciation for Filipino culture. I was exposed to traditional Filipino dances, music, and food. These experiences sparked my love for music and inspired me to pursue a career in music. As a member of the Housefires community, I have been able to bring my cultural background into my art.

Housefires perform live (Ryan is in the blue cardigan)
Housefires perform live (Ryan is in the blue cardigan)

For me, music is a universal language that transcends culture and race. However, I also believe that it is important to honor our cultural heritage and incorporate it into our art.

I believe that music can be a powerful tool for cultural exchange and education. Through my music, I hope to introduce others to the beauty and richness of Filipino culture. I want to show that there is more to Filipino culture than just food and festivities. There is a deep history and a vibrant artistic tradition that is worth celebrating.

As an AAPI, I am proud of the contributions that our community has made to society. AAPI Heritage Month is a time to recognize these contributions and to raise awareness about the challenges that our community still faces. It is a time to celebrate our diversity and to come together as a community.

I am grateful to be part of a community like Housefires that values diversity and inclusivity. In this community, I feel free to express my cultural identity and to share it with others. I believe that our differences are what make us stronger and more resilient.

In the Housefires gospel music community, we strive to create an inclusive and welcoming environment, where everyone can come together and worship through music. We believe that our differences are what make us stronger, and we are committed to celebrating diversity and promoting unity.

Housefires © 2023
Housefires © 2023

As a Filipino trying to make a mark in the Christian music industry, there are several challenges to overcome.

One of the biggest obstacles is the lack of a strong cultural narrative. Unlike other races who have well-established musical traditions and have made their mark, Asian America Pacific Islanders are still forging their own path and create a unique sound that resonates with audiences. There’s a lot of honor in being able to try my best to walk that out and open door for people who look like me.

Another difficulty is breaking into a predominantly Western-dominated industry. Many Christian music labels and events are based in the United States, which can make it challenging for Filipino artists to gain exposure and recognition. Additionally, there may be cultural biases and stereotypes that must be overcome in order to be taken seriously as a multi-racial artist.

However, despite these obstacles, many Asian Americans and others have successfully carved out a niche in the Christian music world, bringing their own distinct flavor and perspective to the genre. By trailblazing a new look and sound, they are not only elevating their own careers but also paving the way for future generations of Filipino artists. I believe that events like AAPI Heritage Month can help to raise awareness about these issues and promote greater understanding and empathy. It is an opportunity for us to celebrate our culture and history, but also to recognize the challenges that we still face. – Ryan Ellis

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