In my first posts last year, I alluded to the fact that the music that I grew up with is not the genre that I particularly enjoy listening to, write and sing today. Being raised in a Chinese family household, I listened to Hong Kong Pop (aka Cantonpop), Taiwan pop and on occasion music from China (Mandopop). At the time I enjoyed the music and was a huge fan girl of The "4 Heavenly Kings" of Hong Kong pop back in the day. The "4 Heavenly Kings" were and still are great musicians but like most music in this genre, their music does not appeal to me. There are a lot of ballads in Chinese music, rock and they value the "oldies" which I respect! R&B and neosoul are almost unheard of music genres of music and from what I've heard recently, their music hasn't evolved very much. I don't know if it's due to a cultural component where our conservative nature doesn't allow change in music. However, there are a few hidden gems I gravitate towards and guess what - their music resembled R&B, groove and most recently soul. The common denominator among the 3 artists is the language they sing in - Mandarin. An interesting fact from my own observation - I speak both Cantonese and Mandarin (thanks to my Mom!) but when it comes to singing, Mandarin is the language to sing in for R&B and soul genres. If you try to sing in Cantonese, the phonetic sound of the language itself kills the style of the music. Cantonese is a very harsh, forceful sounding language. R&B and soul are the complete opposite - smooth, groove, feel and emotion. My Chengdu music festival is fast approaching and I find it fitting to introduce 3 artists I listen to in the Chinese music scene - very small list but they exist!
1. Khalil Fong 方大同
Don't let appearances fool you! You would expect a particular sound when you see this picture but I kid you, when he starts singing and you listen to his songs, you won't believe it! I don't remember exactly when I "discovered" him - I believe it may have been one summer when I was watching a Chinese singing talent show I heard a song that immediately captured my attention and I had to find out who was the original artist. Khalil was born in Hawaii and was introduced to soul, funk, and jazz at a young age by his father who was also a musician himself. Khalil is now based out of Hong Kong but he has done a lot of redefine his own style and incorporate huge influences from soul, R&B, funk and jazz. He is an extremely talented multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, producer and his voice is absolutely unexpected! His first studio album was what got me hooked, "Soul Boy". Immediately you can hear influences of Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, D'Angelo, Michael Jackson and Musiq Soulchild. He's also fused Chinese cultural influences that lead to the introduction of diversity in Hong Kong. Unfortunately he is still one of the most under-rated artists but I am one of his biggest fangirl!! Can we collaborate?!
2) David Tao 陶喆
Again, do not let appearances fool you! First I have to say this artist is almost 50 years old - thank you Asian genes! 2nd David is a Taiwanese singer-songwriter and known for creating a crossover genre of R&B and hard rock (which is the mainstream genre in Taiwan). This fusion has become his musical style and because of his music have popularized R&B in the Mandopop industry. He came from a family who was already in the industry and actually started by writing and producer for other artists before he released his own self titled album David Tao in 1997. I was drawn as a young teen to his sound when I heard his single, "Airport 1030". This sound was almost unheard of at the time in 1997 and his album broke new ground with its heavily western R&B style. I believe this may have been my first encounter with R&B till I discovered Alicia Keys in 2000.
3) Wang Lee Hom 王力宏
Lee Hom was not just my childhood crush, but my sisters and I would fight over him. He is a Chinese American singer-songwriter and in the same ranks as Khalil and David, he is an amazingly talented multi-instrumentalist, producer, actor, and film director. He received formal music training at one of the best music schools in the world of Eastman School of Music, Williams College and of course, Berklee College of Music. This guy is no joke like the others when it comes to musical talent! Lee Hom is known for fusing Chinese traditional music elements with R&B and hip-hop. The first song that I heard from this artist was "Don't Be Afraid" - I remember being so moved and mesmerized. Lee Hom debuted in 1995 and since released 25 albums and sold over 50 million copies!
You may notice that there aren't any females - I have yet to discover a female Chinese R&B/Soul artist and when I do I will be the first to rave about her. Perhaps I will be the first - haha I am so funny aren't I? But why not - anything is possible!