Singer and musician Kristin Fung is not easily categorized. Moreover, in her original compositions such as “You for You”, “Transcontinental Crush”, and “Massive Stride”, the Vancouver songwriter and keyboardist demonstrates astonishing vocal range.
“Right now, in 2023, with all the experiences I’ve had up to this date, I’m cool with my kind of music being called funky soul,” Fung tells Pancouver over Zoom.
Even though she’s performed at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and delivers smooth vocals and swinging rhythms—often in a red dress—she doesn’t describe herself as a jazz singer. It’s because Fung agrees with British bass player and producer Anthony Tidd’s definition of jazz as “total fusion”.
In her view, jazz represents ultimate freedom in music, including the possibility of new genres being discovered and created.
“I still love the word ‘jazz’,’ Fung emphasizes. “It’s a complicated word… I just want people to know jazz is so much more than the red dress and the sultry vocals.”
Earlier this year, the charismatic and joyful musician released her second EP, “Live at the Garden”, which includes the three songs mentioned above. Recorded at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the disc also features one of her earliest compositions, “Beauty is a Wound”, as well as a cover version of “Wreckless Love” by Alicia Keys.
Over Zoom, Fung speaks freely about the motivations behind writing the upbeat and funky “You for You”.
“I once heard someone say we all have something unique to contribute to this world,” she says. “And those words kept ringing and ringing in my ears.”
Watch Kristin Fung perform “You for You”.
Fung is more than her music
The phrase made her think of people with different abilities, including those sometimes considered as outcasts of society. She wanted to let her listeners know that everyone has value beyond simply what they do for a living. Fung reflects this sentiment in her chorus, “I want you for you”.
Later in the song, she triumphantly declares: “Give me your everyday, ordinary story / You’re already extraordinary.”
Fung tells Pancouver that it can be difficult for artists, emerging and otherwise, to recognize that they are so much more than their work.
“I am not my music—and that’s a hard thing for me to say because I’ve accomplished a lot that I’m really excited about in my music career,” she says. “I celebrate those things and the people that I’ve gotten to work with who said ‘yes’ to being on my records.”
She has a spiritual side, noting that we all have deeper purpose and meaning in our lives. For her, creativity is God speaking through each one of us.
“There’s something very divine about creativity if we open ourselves up and allow ourselves to be just the instrument—almost an empty vessel—just being filled by goodness,” Fung continues. “That’s a deeper message of ‘You for You’. And on the surface, it’s just a really fun song to groove along to.”
“Transcontinental Crush” by Kristin Fung
Singing in many languages
On Friday (October 20), Fung will perform at 7 p.m. at the Annex (823 Seymour Street) at a Jade Music Fest showcase called Feel the Beat. All events are free at the Jade Music Fest, which aims to support Chinese-language music in Canada and abroad.
Language keenly interests Fung. In fact, she thinks musicians have an upper hand in learning new dialects because music is a language that’s tonal.
“When I did my bachelor’s of music at UBC in classical voice, I sang songs in French, German, Italian, and English,” Fung reveals. “And more recently, I’ve been experimenting with songs in Mandarin, which has been terrifying but really fun.”
Fung usually performs in English and she plans on playing some of her English-language songs at the Jade Music Fest. At the recent IMPACTfest in Moncton, New Brunswick, she also sang in Mandarin and Bahasa—the national language of Indonesia. Her first language before attending school was Cantonese.
“I’m singing in Mandarin as a way to connect more deeply with myself and my Chinese background,” Fung explains. “I plan to sing in Mandarin and Cantonese some more—I’m really just a baby Mandarin singer.”
One of her career highlights was playing the role of Alva in Anthony Braxton’s 2014 experimental opera, Trillium J in New York. She also sang on the Trillium J 4-CD and Blue-ray Box Set, which was released in 2016. In addition, Fung sang on GTM (Syntax) 2017 under Braxton’s guidance.
“He’s a very experimental, creative composer and improviser who embodies that freedom in music that I was talking about,” Fung says.
Watch Kristin Fung perform “Massive Stride”.
Living the dream
Performing in the opera in New York was particularly meaningful because as a girl, Fung dreamed of playing Little Orphan Annie on Broadway. It broke her childhood heart when her loving mother told her that this wasn’t possible because of her Asian face.
“She’s so well-meaning,” Fung says. “She didn’t want me to be disappointed.”
As much as this stung, Fung never gave up on the dream. And she feels that performing in Braxton’s production was even better than playing Little Orphan Annie.
In fact, this childhood experience inspired one of Fung’s songs, “Massive Stride”. It’s a power-packed message about keeping the fire alive.
It opens with someone telling a curious child that her dream was out of reach.
“Tried to tell her because of the colour of her hair / She would never get to Broadway if she went there,” Fung sings. “Tried to shield her underneath the veil of love / But sometimes you gotta learn even when it’s tough.”
Fortunately, her mother put her in piano lessons when she was a child. Though Fung sometimes disliked this activity, it came in handy when it came time to write her own songs, including “Massive Stride”.
“You can always build your own Queendom in your own corner,” Fung says today. “People will see you in your corner and they will come to you.
“And then suddenly, you wake up one day and you realize, ‘My corner has become a room full of people,’ ” she adds. “Another day, if you’re so lucky, it becomes a festival of people. Or thousands of streams on your songs, all across the world.”
The Jade Music Fest presents Kristin Fung at the Annex (823 Seymour Street) at 7 p.m. on Friday (October 20). To learn more about Kristin Fung, visit her website. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.