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Jade Music Festival outlines historic opportunity for Vancouver to become hub for Chinese-language music production

Clarence Au, Ginalina, Amy Xe, Charlie Wu
Hip-hop producer Clarence Au, family folk musician Ginalina, TD executive Amy Xe, and The Society of We Are Canadians Too's Charlie Wu were at the Jade Music Festival's November 28 news conference.

Some might wonder why I wrote so many articles last week about the Jade Music Festival in Vancouver.

It’s because I felt like a piece of Vancouver history was unfolding right before my eyes.

So, what made the Jade Music Festival, which aims to make Vancouver a hub for Chinese-language music production, so historic?

Well, let’s start with the times that we’re living in.

My friend, Craig Takeuchi, wrote earlier this year about six former UBC students who’ve pursued musical ambitions—and succeeded wildly—on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. His article appeared in Alumni UBC’s magazine.

During  the Jade Music Festival, which was presented by TD, I wrote about two Canadian-born musicians in Vancouver, Ginalina and Clarence Au, who’ve also enjoyed tremendous success in Asia. A Toronto singer-songwriter at the festival, Silian Wong, once toured in Asia with Hong Kong superstar Jackie Cheung.

B.C.-born biracial multi-platinum artist Tyler Shaw headlined the event. His dad is from Hong Kong.

Tyler Shaw
A trip to Hong Kong with his dad transformed Tyler Shaw’s view of himself and the world.

The Society of We Are Canadians Too general manager Charlie Wu organized the festival. He posted a photo on-screen at the opening news conference with several other Canadians who’ve moved to Asia to pursue music careers.

“They didn’t have any connection with Canada after they became stars in Asia,” Wu said. “And we’ve been losing talents like this. And we are hoping that they will reconnect with Canada one day.”

Chinese case generates concerns

Canadians who perform in China must be careful nowadays, given Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power in recent years.

The Jade Music Festival began three days after a Canadian music superstar in Asia, Kris Wu (Wu Yifan), was sentenced to a 13-year jail term in Beijing on sex offences. He’s no relation to Charlie Wu.

The Chinese president has already launched a massive crackdown in Hong Kong, leading to the arrest of Canadian singer and democracy activist Denise Ho.

I have no idea whether Kris Wu, who attended Sir Winston Churchill secondary in Vancouver, is innocent or guilty. But many of his fans in Asia flooded my Twitter notifications with claims that police had framed him.

Keep in mind that the Chinese legal system convicts almost anyone who is charged with anything. So, we can assume that there was little due process.

Kris Wu’s arrest came in the summer of 2021 as the B.C. Supreme Court extradition hearing of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was approaching a climax.

After Meng was arrested at Vancouver International Airport in 2018, a Bloomberg reporter noted that people were chattering on Weibo about the possibility of a retaliatory arrest of Kris Wu.

Entertainment-oriented media sites have speculated that Kris Wu’s mother, Stacy (Wu Xiuqin), was arrested after trying to get her son released on bail. However, this cannot be confirmed.

The Jade Music Festival also took place less than four months after Taiwanese superstar Jolin Tsai, was vilified in China for not retweeting a Weibo message declaring support for “one China”. This followed U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

According to NextShark journalist Bryan Ke, Weibo users also “called out” overseas celebrities Jay Chou, JJ Lin, Hebe Tien, and Michelle Yeoh.

It’s clear that if entertainers don’t conform with the Chinese government’s official line on its territorial ambitions, their careers in China could suffer. Actor Richard Gere is just one example.

Opportunity for Vancouver

Beijing and Hong Kong continue as major hubs for Chinese-language music production. However, creative expression doesn’t always thrive within an ideological straitjacket orchestrated from the top.

As a result, Vancouver, as a Pacific city, has an opportunity to siphon off some of that business.

But this will only occur if organizations like the Vancouver Economic Development Commission, the B.C. Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, and Heritage Canada get behind this idea. They need to move quickly before they’re beaten by Seattle, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.

Another revelation from the Jade Music Festival was the heartache suffered by Canadians of Asian ancestry who felt that they had no alternative but to go abroad to pursue music careers. It’s no fun having to abandon friends and family because the mainstream doesn’t make space for your cultural expression in a language that you spoke with your parents at home.

Therefore, we need our domestic media to wake up to the possibilities by freeing up more airtime on radio and column inches in newspapers for Canadian musicians of Asian ancestry. Let’s make this investment for the future of Vancouver’s creative economy.

Talent exists here

In recent years, we’ve seen a growing number of Hong Kong popular musicians make their homes in the Metro Vancouver area. So, we already have the talent here to make Vancouver a hub for Chinese-language music production.

We also have the recording-industry oomph—this city, after all, has given the world Michael Bublé, Sarah McLachlan, and Bryan Adams. We just need more effort—beyond the Jade Music Festival—to bring people together in the same way that the Taiwanese music industry does.

Kudos to Creative B.C. for its support of the festival and for paying attention to what was said there.

As Charlie Wu has pointed out, Cantonese and Mandarin are the second- and third-most spoken languages in Vancouver.

The Asian market is enormous. Significant numbers of people in many countries—including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan—speak Chinese languages and love Chinese-language entertainment.

It’s incredibly easy to add subtitles on streaming platforms like YouTube. That’s vastly expanded opportunities to export Chinese-language music to other countries around the world.

Now, for those who think that Chinese-language popular music can’t break through in North America, let’s talk for a moment about South Korea.

K-pop stars have managed to top the Billboard charts singing in Korean. It’s a testament to the popularity of the Internet, streaming services, and growing Asian populations in North America.

Then there’s the appeal of Hindi-language Bollywood songs in many countries where Hindi is not spoken, including in the Arab world.

What are we waiting for?

Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.