No-No Boy's new album "Empire Electric" out September 29 via Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, new song "Mekong Baby" debuts today

No-No Boy’s new album “Empire Electric” out September 29 via Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, new song “Mekong Baby” debuts today

July 19, 2023 — Empire Electric, the anticipated new album from No-No Boy—the acclaimed musical project of Dr. Julian Saporiti—will be released September 29 via Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (pre-order/pre-save here). Ahead of the release, new song, “Mekong Baby,” featuring vocals from Viet-American pop icon, Thai Hien, is debuting today. Watch/share the official music video, directed by Saporiti and his wife, Emilia, HERE.  

Produced by Saporiti alongside his wife, Emilia Halvorsen Saporiti, and Seth BoggessEmpire Electric was inspired by Saporiti’s time at Blue Cliff monastery in upstate New York. A period of raw reflection and healing, the visit allowed Saporiti to open himself up, both mentally and musically, leading him to experiment with the American folk sounds, Asian instruments, electronics and field recordings that became Empire Electric. Across these 10 tracks—stories based on his own research as well as archives, oral histories and site visits—Saporiti explores his own identity as a Vietnamese-American, while also examining the complex topics of spirituality, intergenerational trauma and imperialism. 

In addition to Julian Saporiti (lead vocals, instruments, programming) and Emilia Halvorsen Saporiti (lap steel, harmony vocals), the record also features P.T. Banks (harmony vocals), Hamilton Berry (cello), Diego Javier Luis (spoken word on “1603”) and Kristin Weber (violin, vocals). 

Of the new song, Saporiti shares, “The spare lyric considers two things: 1. Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist teachings on ‘listening to one’s inner child’ and 2. my family living through war and empires in Vietnam down in the Mekong River Delta. This song is a lullaby to the inner child, mine, and my family’s, amidst shards of broken, beautiful, and difficult memories. But intentionally, you can dance to it. Through war and loss, we keep living, keep doing our best. That’s vital to understand. We are not flat people, not black-and-white photos of our most traumatic eras, not just ‘refugees.’ I’m in awe of my mother, her sister, and their mom. They have lived with instructional grace and perseverance. They have handled death, displacement, and broken families with art, faith, and love.”


Empire Electric is a wandering; a letting go. A search party. For sounds, for history, and for self. It is a coming back,” Saporiti shares. “If you find this music to your liking, I invite you to settle in with good headphones or a stereo and listen closely to all the sounds present, to unravel them, to take time, to breathe, and hopefully to listen beyond even the music, to yourself, to the world around you, to history, to your community, to nature.”



1. The Onion Kings of Ontario!
2. Nashville
3. Mekong Baby
4. Western Empress of the Orient Sawmill
5. Jakarta
6. Nothing Left but You
7. Little Monk
8. Sayonara
9. Minidoka
10. 1603
Raised in Nashville and now based in Oregon, Saporiti has spent his career bridging the gap between art and scholarship, creating projects that evoke difficult conversations about culture and identity. Empire Electric is his third release as No-No Boy, following 2021’s acclaimed album, 1975—a central component of Saporiti’s Ph.D dissertation at Brown University. Of the record, NPR praised, “one of the most insurgent pieces of music you’ll ever hear…an act of revisionist subversion,” while American Songwriter called it “insanely listenable and gorgeous” and Folk Alley declared, “a remarkably powerful and moving album.”
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, the national museum of the United States. The label’s mission is to document music, spoken word, instruction and sounds from around the world, continuing the legacy of Moses Asch, who founded Folkways Records in 1948. The Smithsonian acquired Folkways from the Asch estate in 1987 and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has continued the Folkways tradition by supporting the work of traditional artists and expressing a commitment to cultural diversity, education and increased understanding among peoples through the production, documentation, preservation and dissemination of sound.