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#JMFinAsia: Building transnational friendships and reclaiming mother tongues

Jade Music Fest in Asia brought together Chinese-language music artists from Taiwan, Canada, Hong Kong, and Australia.

A cross-cultural event happened across the ocean this spring. Vancouver’s Jade Music Fest held its first edition of Jade Music Fest in Asia in Taipei, Taiwan. The event invited a total of 17 artists from Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Australia to share a stage.

First launched in 2022, Jade Music Fest is a Vancouver-based music festival and conference aimed at elevating Chinese-language music in Canada and beyond. Organized by The Society of We Are Canadians Too, the event includes not only live music showcases but also panels, workshops, and networking sessions. Jade Music Fest’s goal is to build a global network of Chinese-language music artists, opening the door for more transnational collaboration and opportunities for emerging artists to be heard within the industry.

On April 27 and 28, Jade Music Fest in Asia held two live music concerts and a series of panels and workshops. Working together with Huashan 1914 Creative Park, the outdoor venue and free admission gathered fans and passersby alike.

The lineup included 10 artists that attended the 2023 Jade Music Fest in Vancouver. Some of them, like Kapa Arkieh, Mirabelle Jien, Aiko Tomi, Ginalina / Darling Sparrows, Van Lefan, and Kim Yang, have roots in Taiwan. For many of them, it was their first time performing on the island.

Kapa Arkieh, who is Amis (Indigenous of Taiwan) but grew up in Vancouver, says: “I am thankful Jade Music Fest invited me to play in Taiwan for the first time. It helped me reconnect with the people from the city I was born in. Ever since I was a kid growing up in Vancouver, I’ve always felt disconnected and struggled with my identity. Performing in front of a Taiwanese audience helped me find my sense of belonging and who I represent in North America.”

Michael Hollett attended the event in support of JMF’s vision and also to scout Asian talent for NXNE.

Jade Music Fest in Asia also invited the founder and curator of NXNE, Michael Hollett. He joined the CEO of Kaohsiung Music Center Baboo Ding and Managing Director of Jade Music Fest Charlie Wu on a panel to discuss the potential of Chinese-language music in the global music market. This visit was also a chance to see the different Chinese-language music talent gathered, with the possibility of appearing on the NXNE stage.

One such performer, a young rapper from Tainan, proclaimed on the stage during his performance: “Uncle Mike, I want to go to Canada!”

Aquaman is breaking expectations as the next generation of Taiwanese rap.

Aquaman was one of the headliners for the first JMF in Asia. Rising to fame as the champion of THE RAPPERS S2, a Taiwanese hip-hop competition, Aquaman is known as the “poet of Taiwanese rap.” He delivers quick-witted lyrics in Taiwanese with the charisma to match, capturing the hearts and ears of all generations. (According to Michael Hollett’s Instagram, Aquaman is the “second rocker after Jon Bon Jovi to call [him] ‘Mike’”.)

Another headliner was Enno Cheng, whose first Taiwanese album won her a Golden Melody Award for Best Taiwanese Album and Best Female Taiwanese Singer. Out of a desire to communicate better with her grandmother and inspired by Ming-yi Wu’s short story “How the Brain Got Language?”, Enno Cheng shared with the audience her journey of rediscovering herself through making Taiwanese music.

Joining her on a panel on Chinese-language music and diversity in the arts was Hong Kong singer-songwriter Serrini. One of the highest educated living celebrities in Hong Kong, Serrini creates songs in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. She seeks her true self through music, within the complexities of language and the different cultural environments in the place she calls home.

Enno Cheng is reclaiming her mother tongue through songwriting.

These artists’ use of their mother tongues in their art and their perspectives on how music can be a tool of language reclamation resonates with the Asian-Canadian musicians who took part in JMF in Asia.

Daniel Lew, who will be embarking on a Canadian tour this summer, is teaching himself how to sing in Mandarin and Cantonese. Tennyson King, a familiar face at folk music festivals across the continents, is inspired to experiment with traditional Chinese instruments. Mirabelle Jien, who regularly shows off her improvisational skills on Twitch, is happy to practice her Mandarin and be able to connect with a wider audience around the world. Jacq Teh, JUNO Award-winning songwriter, says that it’s surprisingly comfortable writing in Chinese-languages, and she can’t wait to try new things.

Kapa Arkieh invited Amis DJ Dungi Sapor to join him onstage for his set at JMF in Asia.

Darling Sparrows, who even invited a local Taiwanese singer 駱玟錡 LUO to perform with her after meeting at the networking event, says: “It’s a privilege to create, connect, and explore our Asian heritage through language, culture, and the arts. Jade Music Festival is a friendship bridge, one that links the industry together to uncover deeper roots and exciting stories.”

Darling Sparrows invited Taiwanese musician 駱玟錡 LUO to perform with her after meeting for the first time the day before. Music has no borders!

Jade Music Fest in Asia bridges the Pacific Ocean by bringing together musicians of different backgrounds, all of them with the same experience of reaffirming their identities through Chinese-language music. This event not only opens up conversations on the topic of language reclamation, but also encourages audiences in both Taiwan and Canada to be more adventurous in their personal music curation.

In November, the 2024 Jade Music Fest will take place across various venues in Vancouver. The artist call for the festival is currently open, and local artists experimenting with their mother tongues and Chinese-language music are welcome to apply.

Award-winning indie folk rock nomad Tennyson King says: “It feels like we are really building a strong community together.”

Learn more about Jade Music Fest on their website or follow them on FB and IG @jademusicfest.

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becky tu

becky tu

becky (she/her) is a writer invested in telling stories that resonate with people in all corners of the world. She welcomes everyone to share their stories with Pancouver.

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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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.