Toronto-based singer Silian Wong says it took several years to find her authentic musical voice. And it came as a result of plunging into deep sadness about six years ago.
At the time, she was living and working in her hometown of Hong Kong. In 2010, she had moved back there from Toronto to pursue her musical career.
In Canada and Asia, Wong had sung other people’s music in a variety of venues, including weddings, Chinese community functions, and professional gigs. From 2010 to 2012, she sang backup on tour with Cantopop legend Jackie Cheung.
She tried to master many genres, such as jazz, folk, soul, funk, and world music. But doing covers just didn’t feel right. Wong sensed that she had lost touch with herself and went into a mental tailspin.
That was coupled with severe asthma, which forced her to shut down her career for almost half a year.
For solace, she rested and often went hiking, allowing the trees, mountains, grasses, and wind to energize her and help her heal.
“At the same time, melodies and lyrics just flowed into me naturally,” she recalls.
Songwriting focuses on nature
In 2018, Wong released her first song “Journey”, describing her voyage of recovery from depression.
“As you can hear from ‘Journey’, I like to talk about nature,” Wong says. “During that time I was so sick, I had to stay away from the city, stay away from all the cars, and all the buildings.”
To Wong, it felt so good writing original music in English that she decided to create a concept EP called Insomnia. She praises her producer, Orlando Bonzi, for understanding “her vision and language, and turning the pictures in her mind into beautiful orchestration”.
The disc features seven songs and closes with “Journey”, which was a semi-finalist in the 2019 U.K. Songwriting Contest. Another of her songs, “Where Are You, My Angel”, received a special mention in the same competition.
“The EP is actually telling a story of one evening,” Wong explains. “If you read the lyrics and listen, it gives you a background of the sickness and the story of why I feel sad.”
Insomnia opens with “I Don’t Belong Here”, in which she writes: “Is this all there is/Will there be a life for me/Have I fallen with no sod to nurture me/Am I in the wrong place”.
As the songs continue, the mood improves. An angel helps pass the midnight hour. By morning, peace arrives.
“You have to listen from track 1 to track 7 in one roll,” Wong advises.
Listen to Silian Wong’s Insomnia EP.
Wong suffered from insomnia
Wong’s nature-oriented spiritual pop will be part of this year’s Jade Music Festival in Vancouver. On November 30 at 7 p.m., she will be part of the JMF Showcase at the Vancouver Playhouse.
TD is presenting the six-day festival, which was created by The Society of We Are Canadians Too to promote Vancouver as a hub for Chinese-language music production.
“Insomnia had been a problem of mine since my teens,” Wong says in a message accompanying her EP.
Her awakening came at the age of 34 as she realized how much she needed to be connected to greenery.
She freely acknowledges that when she was younger, she didn’t feel that she belonged to the world of humans. “I like to talk to plants,” Wong says. “I like to talk to the grass.”
While she’s sung many Chinese-language songs in the past, she’s eager to perform her original compositions in English in front of mainstream audiences.
“That is one of my goals for the coming years,” she states.
Wong says that her original music might remind listeners of U.S. psychedelic folk singer-songwriter Linda Perhacs or Japanese folk singer-songwriter Ichiko Aoba.
“We tend to very soft, very intimate, and expressive,” she declares.
She has another song about nature called “The Moment”, which is inspired by a Margaret Atwood poem of the same name. It hasn’t been released yet but Wong plans to perform it at the Jade Music Festival.
Finnish instrument strikes a chord
Wong spent the first 12 years of her life in Hong Kong, where she learned to play piano before her family immigrated to Toronto. In recent years, she’s been learning a Finnish instrument called the kantele. She heard it for the first time during a break when she was performing with a big band in Hong Kong.
A woman in another band was tuning the instrument.
“She was plucking the notes,” Wong recalls. “It started to ring through the speaker. She wasn’t even playing—just checking the sound—and I started to have tears coming down. It’s a tone that rings in my soul. I would say it’s a very spiritual instrument.”
As the interview comes to a close, Pancouver has one more question: is there a story behind her name “Silian”?
Wong laughs before revealing that her sister made it up.
“In Hong Kong, kids from primary school to the first year of secondary school have to come up with an English name,” she says. “My sister said ‘There’s Vivian, there’s Lillian, why not Silian?’ It sounded a bit silly but it still sounds nice… Silian is how they remember my name.”
On November 30 at 7 p.m., Silian Wong will perform at the JMF Showcase at the Vancouver Playhouse. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia. For information about Jade Music Festival events, visit the website.
當時她住在自己的家鄉 — 香港 — 並在那裡工作。她在2010年從多倫多返港，以追求她的音樂事業。
Silian 在2018年發表首支作品 Journey ，紀錄自己從憂鬱症康復的心路歷程。
「你可從 Journey 聽得出我對大自然的喜愛。當時我的病情很嚴重，令我不得不遠離一切喧囂。」
對 Silian 來說，以英語作曲的感覺實在太好了，更啟發了她創作迷你專輯《Insomnia》。她讚揚製作人 Orlando Bonzi 對她的願景和對歌詞的了解，並將她腦海中的景象編成動人的曲調。
專輯總共有七首歌，最後一首歌 Journey 更在2019 U.K. Songwriting Contest入圍前四強。她另一首作品 Where Are You, My Angel 則在同一項比賽中獲得特別提名獎。
I Don’t Belong Here 是《Insomnia》的第一首歌，歌詞寫道：「Is this all there is/Will there be a life for me/Have I fallen with no sod to nurture me/Am I in the wrong place」（這是我的一切嗎／我能否生存下去／陷入低谷的我會有人安慰嗎／我是否不屬於這個地方）。
專輯後段的氣氛會漸漸轉佳：一位天使出手相助，助 Silian 渡過午夜。到了早上，她終於找到內心的平靜。
Silian 將於今年在溫哥華舉行的 Jade Music Festival 唱出以大自然為主題的靈魂流行樂。11月30日晚上7時，她將會在Vancouver Playhouse 的 JMF Showcase獻唱。
為期六天的活動由道明加拿大信託呈獻，並由 The Society of We Are Canadians Too 舉辦，旨在將溫哥華塑造為華語音樂的產製中心。
Silian 認為自己的原創音樂可能會令聽眾聯想起美國迷幻民謠唱作人 Linda Perhacs 或日本民謠唱作人青葉市子的作品。
她另一首關於大自然的作品名為 The Moment，靈感來自 Margaret Atwood 的一首同名詩。這首作品尚未發表，但 Silian 計劃於 Jade Music Festival 時獻唱這歌曲。