UPCLOSE: EMMY THE GREAT

HK Magazine - - NIGHTLIFE -

HK Magazine: Your video for “Con­stantly” is splitscreen: On one side you sing English, on the other Chi­nese. Are you point­ing to your dual iden­ti­ties? Emmy the Great: It’s some­thing that I wanted to ac­knowl­edge be­cause I’ve ac­knowl­edged it to my­self.

I spent half my life grow­ing up in Hong Kong and the sec­ond half into adult­hood grow­ing up in Eng­land and I re­ally do have two dis­tinct selves: a set of cousins I only speak Chi­nese to, a set of cousins I only speak English to. It’s very nat­u­ral that there should be two selves. I al­ways used to be like

“who am I? Which one do I ac­cen­tu­ate?” and now it’s like “No, you can be both.” Any­one grow­ing up in Hong Kong feels that—Hong Kong has a split per­son­al­ity, let alone any­one in it.

HK: Why did you de­cide to trans­late your mu­sic?

EtG: When I moved to Eng­land from Hong Kong, I went from be­ing the only per­son who spoke English at school to the only per­son who spoke Chi­nese: I be­came a lit­tle shy of speak­ing Chi­nese. But as I re­con­nected with my full self, that led to this de­sire to sing in Chi­nese. I trans­lated a few of my songs and I felt like I had un­locked all this stuff that had been buried. It felt so free­ing and nat­u­ral.

HK: How did you do the trans­la­tion?

EtG: Me, my mom, my aun­tie and a friend of my dad were email­ing back and forth. We were even us­ing Google Trans­late! Mom would be like, “OK, here’s the di­rect trans­la­tion, but here’s some­thing that sounds better”—so we would change it to some­thing that was more po­etic. It was a lovely rit­u­al­is­tic ex­pe­ri­ence to go through with my fam­ily.

HK: You don’t speak Pu­tonghua. Why not just sing in Can­tonese, as you know it al­ready?

EtG: I felt that Man­darin has this ro­mance that re­ally suited this song. Man­darin is a re­ally great lan­guage for long­ing. Like that beau­ti­ful Teresa Teng song [“Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo Di Xin” (“The Moon Rep­re­sents My Heart”)]. But there’s an­other song that we trans­lated into Can­tonese—it’s about walk­ing around on the street. To me, that was def­i­nitely a Can­tonese song. To me Asia and the Hong Kong I grew up in is like a Ba­bel: ev­ery­one is speak­ing their own lan­guage, they’ve all come to­gether in this place, and we’re un­der­stand­ing it to­gether. HK: These days, west­ern artists cover Chi­nese songs as quick cash grabs. Do you think your songs could open up the China mar­ket to you?

EtG: It’s some­thing that peo­ple have been telling me to do my whole ca­reer, but I don’t want to do a cash grab.

I’ve fi­nally come to a point where it feels nat­u­ral and im­por­tant to me: It’s lit­er­ally a ques­tion of what’s go­ing on in my soul. I’m so glad I waited and didn’t force it.

HK: Any plans to come back to Hong Kong soon?

EtG: I think so, yeah—my par­ents live there. I come back once a year and I want to do it twice, but it’s so far from New York. But I just feel so happy when I’m ex­plor­ing Hong Kong. I feel like it’s be­come more peace­ful re­cently.

“Sec­ond Love” is out now on Bella Union. Watch both videos for “Con­stantly” at tiny.cc/hk-emmy.

“Anti-folk” singer-song­writer Emma-Lee Moss, aka

Emmy the Great, was born and grew up in Hong Kong be­fore mov­ing to the UK at age 11. The singer has just re­leased her third al­bum “Sec­ond Love”—and on­line she’s re­leased ver­sions of her new song “Con­stantly” sung in both English and Pu­tonghua. She tells Adam White about get­ting mom to help with trans­la­tion and em­brac­ing her Eurasian roots.

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