Most musicians don’t expect their pandemic Zoom collaborations to land them on the red carpet of a Hollywood blockbuster premiere, but that’s exactly what happened to Seattle producer Chong the Nomad.
Chong, whose given name is Alda Agustiano, found herself at the Los Angeles premiere of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” on Aug. 16, which also happened to be her birthday. (“Shang-Chi” opens in Seattle-area theaters Sept. 2.) Staring out into the sea of faces on the red carpet and seeing many Asian nationalities represented was a powerful moment, Agustiano said.
“It didn’t really hit me until I was at the premiere and it was just 80 to 90% people of color there. It was just amazing to witness,” said Agustiano, who is of Indonesian descent. “I can only hope that it really has an effect on Asian audiences. It really hit me right when the movie started: This is big.”
Agustiano’s brush with Hollywood — which included meeting fellow musician Niki, also of Indonesian descent — almost didn’t happen. Her association with Rogét Chahayed’s TruSauce publishing company, with whom she has been collaborating for the past year, opened the door to working with 88rising, a music company that seeks to elevate Asian artists. Marvel tapped 88rising to create the soundtrack for “Shang-Chi,” and with her TruSauce collaborators, Agustiano was asked to provide several beats, loops and other ideas for consideration.
“It being a very commercial product, it’s a Marvel movie, it’s Disney, they were very specific about what they wanted for the soundtrack,” Agustiano said. “I worked a lot on Zoom and we sent 15 or 20 ideas out. A couple months in, we kind of gave up pursuing it.”
The opportunity all but forgotten, Agustiano was traveling when she found out that rapper 21 Savage was going to make an appearance on the lead single of the “Shang-Chi” soundtrack, “Lazy Susan.” Even better, 88rising wanted her to produce the beat switch, the section of the song where the beat changes and 21 Savage raps his verse.
“They wanted someone else to increase the ‘wow factor,’” Agustiano said of 21 Savage’s involvement. “I clicked my heels in the airport after hearing that.”
Chong hopped on Zoom and “hashed it out” with collaborators Chahayed, Taylor Dexter and Wesley Singerman, as well as 21 Savage’s team, in just a matter of hours.
The song already had all the vocals except for 21 Savage’s, and provided an infrastructure for Agustiano to add her own twist, including two or three “almost obnoxious sounding robot noises” she was pleased made the final cut.
“Honestly, especially with the hip-hop beat, I want to add as much weird as I can but have it hit hard,” Agustiano said. “It’s something that just comes pretty naturally to me.”
A few months later, Agustiano got the news that “Lazy Susan,” which also features Rich Brian, Warren Hue and Masiwei, would be used in “Shang-Chi” trailers as the first single off the soundtrack.
Agustiano’s momentum is not slowing. She was asked to write an original song, “Forward,” for the Amazon Prime series “Modern Love,” and produced a music video for it in Detroit with alt-pop musician Jax Anderson (formerly known as Flint Eastwood) that will be out soon.
“It was a great and freeing experience,” she said. “The episode covers a couple of queer teenagers dealing with teenage sexuality and that’s something that so many people like me had to go through. It was a very healing experience writing the music for that show and doing the music video, because it’s still hard for me to be open.”
At 26, Agustiano’s journey in the music industry is still getting started, but it’s clear that her two loves — electronic music and film composing — are coming together in a way she said she never could have expected when she first downloaded a demo of the beat-making software Fruity Loops on her family computer as a teenager.
Just how far she’s come hit her after she struck up a conversation with Niki at the “Shang-Chi” premiere.
“My sisters and I have been fans of her for five years and I’ve been dying to work with her,” Agustiano said. “Eventually I mustered up the courage to say ‘hi’ to her and it was great. It was a full circle moment.”