Burnaby musician Athena Wong’s (黃敏晴) passion for performance began when she was young. Really young.
As a toddler and small child growing up in Hong Kong, she would listen to her mother playing folk songs on her wooden guitar.
“That’s how I started having an interest in singing,” Wong tells Pancouver over Zoom.
With a smile, she adds that she enjoys being an entertainer in any group she belongs to.
“I was always a performance freak,” Wong declares. “I loved doing musical drama, choir, and performing on-stage when I was in school.”
On December 2, Wong will have another opportunity to entertain at the JMF Concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. This time, it will be as an award-winning Cantonese singer and songwriter.
TD is presenting the concert as part of the Jade Music Festival. It’s a six-day conference promoting Vancouver as a hub for Chinese-language music production.
Language adds flavour
Wong moved to B.C. at the age of 18 to attend Simon Fraser University. Even though she speaks excellent English, she prefers writing songs in her first language, Cantonese.
“Music is music,” Wong says. “But putting in the language adds the flavour and the culture.”
Wong looks forward to performing her newest unreleased song, “Style Z”, at the JMF Concert. Vancouverites Victor Tse and Allan Lau—who also trace their roots back to Hong Kong—produced the single. Another Hong Kong expat, Jone Chui, wrote the lyrics to Wong’s melody.
“They were so kind to help me and put this project together,” Wong says. “It made me feel like I am getting somewhere.”
Watch the music video for “Style Z”.
They are all members of the Vantopop Collective, which aims to stimulate Cantonese-language popular music production in Vancouver and other western cities.
In Hong Kong, Wong was exposed to many genres of music because she attended international schools. Her classmates introduced her to music from other countries, including the United States and Canada. This marked a stark contrast from her younger days, when she mostly listened Cantopop.
Wong then mentions how her boyfriend, guitarist-songwriter Dan Wen, once defined Cantopop to her as mellow yet dramatic, with the singer becoming a character in a performance.
Video: Watch Athena Wong’s video for “Sunday”, which is sung in Cantonese and English.
Wong’s “Sunday” wins national competition
She certainly embraces being a performer in the video for her single “Sunday”. It begins with her struggling to get out of bed on the weekend. By the end, she’s singing joyously and charismatically on the Richmond waterfront and in the studio.
“Sunday” won the SQ2020 My Favourite Song competition put on by the Fairchild broadcasting company. It’s one of several singing awards that Wong has captured since graduating from SFU in 2016.
“Sunday, as the lyric says, is really very casual, very simple,” Wong explains. “You just have to imagine being happy.”
The concert at the Queen E will also feature TikTok sensation Tyler Shaw, a mixed-race Canadian with Chinese ancestry. The Richmond, B.C.-born singer-songwriter’s hits include “House of Cards” and “With You”. During his career, he’s opened for Shawn Mendes, Alessia Cara, and Selena Gomez.
In addition, the concert will include new age singer-songwriter Yu-Han Huang (黃宇寒), winner of the 2020 Hakka Pop Music Contest. Huang’s father is Taiwanese Hakka and her mother is Indonesian Chinese. Huang’s music reflects these different cultural influences.
Also performing will be Vancouver singer-songwriter and environmental activist Vanessa Lefan, who appeared on the cover of the Georgia Straight print edition in August. This came after the release of her album, What Holds Us Together?, which refers to her journey from northern Taiwan to Maple Ridge, B.C.
TD will present Tyler Shaw, Yu-Han Huang, Vanessa Lefan, and Athena Wong at the JMF Concert. It’s part of the Jade Music Fest and begins at 7:30 p.m. on December 2 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia. For information about Jade Music Festival events, visit the website.