WORLD WISE: 5 International ASCAP Writers Making a Global Impact

By Etan Rosenbloom and Erik Philbrook

Pictured (l-r): Yuna, James Bay, Pinar Toprak, Keith Ape, Kaija Saariaho 

The great ASCAP band Violent Femmes once sang “Don’t you like American music, baby?” Of course we do. Music is one of our country’s greatest cultural exports. In fact a full 35% of our 2014 revenues came from ASCAP music played outside the US. ASCAP music is truly the world’s music.

Of course, the globalization of music cuts both ways. Music written by foreigners regularly infiltrates American charts and soundtracks domestic box office hits. ASCAP is equally stoked to represent the many thousands of songwriters and composers who hail from overseas.

In celebration of the global scope of the ASCAP repertory, we’re thrilled to present 6 ASCAP international writers who are currently making waves around the world. Some are direct ASCAP members, some we license on behalf of our sister societies around the world. What unites them, other than their ex-US provenance? They’re bringing the sounds of their homelands to a global audience, and they deserve all the attention they can get.


Already a star in her native Malaysia, singer-songwriter Yuna is making major headway in the United States. Spend some time with her 2013 album Nocturnal, and you’ll understand why. Yuna’s songs rocket her unique blend of pop, R&B and indie-folk into a colorful production cosmos, and then bring them all back down to earth with her charismatic voice. How to keep up the hot streak that found her working with Pharrell, playing Conan and earning critical raves wherever she went? Yuna is hard at work on her next album - and if her recent single “Broke Her” is any indication, it’ll offer up a fresh take on classic R&B/ soul. Catch Yuna on her US tour throughout October and November.


25-year-old James Bay (PRS for Music) is an old soul. You can tell from his voice, a weathered, soaring thing that puts him in the company of British blue-eyed soul greats from Van Morrison to Sam Smith. You can tell from the songs on his critically hailed debut album Chaos and the Calm, with their mix of organic groove and pop smarts. You can even tell from his love of vintage hats. While Bay clearly adores the music of yesteryear, his time is now. Chaos and the Calm debuted at the top of charts around the world, buffeted by the stellar singles “Hold Back the River” and “Let It Go.” He earned the 2015 BRITS Critics Choice Award, and was named Breakthrough Solo Artist of the Year at the GQ Men of the Year Awards. And he sold out show after show on his last global headlining tour (if you missed him, he’s swinging through the US again in November). Back in 2011, Bay was part of our ASCAP Song Camp at Château Marouatte in France. We can’t take all the credit for his well-deserved success - but we’re proud to be part of his story.


Even in a profession as naturally varied as composing to picture, Pinar Toprak has brought her refreshing musical voice to a staggering array of projects. After studying composition and multiple instruments in her native Istanbul, Toprak moved to the US, earned a degree in Film Scoring at Berklee, and worked under Hans Zimmer on Pirates of the Caribbean and The Last Samurai. Toprak has since brought her background and expertise to more than 30 major projects, and earned two International Film Critics Association Awards in the process. On the feature film front, Toprak has tackled thrillers (The River Murders) and period dramas (The Lightkeepers), action (Breaking Point) and animation (Light of Olympia). She scored the Xbox 360 game Ninety-Nine Nights and the PBS documentary The Wind Gods, about the America’s Cup. Her music also graces the upcoming sci-fi thriller Resilient 3D, the documentary The Gift of Fear, an untitled Cecil B. DeMille biopic and the anticipated Geostorm for Warner Bros.


21-year-old Korean rapper Keith Ape has his sights set on conquering America. And if his song “It G Ma” is any indication, he has a great shot. Many Korean-Americans and Koreans living outside of Korea (aka gyopos) are naturally fascinated with any cultural exports that originate in their homeland, and were quickly drawn to Ape’s video for “It G Ma” on YouTube, which went viral earlier this year. His first performances this year at SXSW in Austin led to collaborations with American rappers and producers. That resulted in a subsequent “It G Ma Remix” video, featuring Waka Flocka Flame, Dumbfoundead, Father and A$AP Ferg, which currently has more than 14 million views on YouTube. His ambition, cultural exchange skills and homegrown creativity should serve him well as he turns his big international break into an extended run.


In a career that spans over 30 years of musical horizon-seeking, award-winning Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (TEOSTO) has written operas and string quartets, concertos and oratorios, and countless pieces in forms that have no name. Inspired by the French spectralist school, Saariaho’s works from the early ‘80s blurred the lines between acoustic and electronic music, often using computers and tape as compositional tools. She has since created an oeuvre that sounds as if it’s composed of light and timbre rather than harmonies and rhythms. Whether it’s the expansive cosmos of orchestral sound she conjures in Orion, or her inward-looking, one-woman opera Émilie, Saariaho’s work charts a sensual - and remarkably colorful - sound world that is wholly her own.