Vancouver singer Kristie Yung never expected her musical tribute to an ailing Pakistani pop singer would attract such attention from Bollywood fans and become a hit on YouTube almost overnight.
Born and raised in West Vancouver, the 23-year-old Chinese-Canadian musician writes, produces and performs her own material in a variety of genres, including pop, jazz, electronic, rock, hip hop, Afro-Cuban and African.
When approached last summer to help arrange, perform and co-produce the title song and soundtrack for a Toronto-based television series called
Mangoes, Yung was a little daunted by the thought of working in Urdu, a language unknown to her. But with the help of television producer and actor, Adeel Suhrwardy, and radio host and producer, Nick Chowlia, she was soon up to the challenge and able to put together a fine soundtrack.
The title song, called Keh Dena, is an Urdu/Hindi song made popular by the legend himself, Alamgir, who is known as the ‘Elvis of the East.’ Alamgir, who was one of the pioneers of Urdu pop music in Pakistan in the 1970s, has polycystic kidney disease and must undergo dialysis three times a week while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant. The singer currently lives in the United States where he is receiving expensive medical treatment.
youtube::MM3bgGhFtJw::Mangoes features lively tales about South Asian youth. The series aims to epitomise the true potential of a new generation — both at home and in countries around the world —by depicting them as intrepid characters who are eager and ready to take on the role of global citizens.
Yung, the daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong, always wanted to be a singer growing up in Vancouver. She first stepped into the limelight and onto the stage as a young girl after grabbing the lead role in a musical production put on by her elementary school. Since then, she has charmed audiences across Canada and Internationally.
“I’ve been in love with music for as long as I can remember. In kindergarten, I was the little girl in the corner who would just sing and sing. Back then, I just knew that I loved to sing. In Grade 2, I auditioned for the lead role in my school play and got it. My first solo performance in front of hundreds of students, teachers and parents was at the age of seven.”
“Growing up, I just knew that singing was the right path for me. Music has an incredible power to unite people and places. I wanted so much to just be a part of that.”
As a teenager, Yung acquired formal training from an instructor of vocal technique at the Vancouver Community College. She also studied operatic style for a number of years and took the Royal Conservatory of Music examinations for voice.
Yung, who can carry on a conversation in Cantonese or English, said her singing in other languages, such as German, Italian, Hindi and Urdu, has improved since accepting the challenge to sing Keh Dena.
For the past two years, she has pursued a solo career and performs at various venues around Vancouver. She is currently working on her debut extended-play album called The Set List Project.
Last summer, during one of her performances at the Vancouver Café, she met Suhrwardy, the actor and film producer who was then working on Mangoes. He asked her to help arrange and produce Keh Dena for the TV series.
Response from the Urdu-and-Hindi-speaking community was very favourable and inspired Yung to expand her repertoire to include German and Italian songs.
“I am so proud to work on this multicultural project. It gave me a lot of confidence and experience to try different languages. If the opportunity arose, I would love to sing for Bollywood movies,” she said.
“It was a great experience working with Alamgir. He is a very popular singer and when I met him he was so nice to me, very supportive of the whole project.”
Alamgir, who came to Vancouver for the recording, worked all day on the video shoot and shared his experience with the young singer. Although his 1982 release of Keh Dena was very popular, Yung said she was pleased with her arrangement of the song.
“I came up with a new version. It was easier than I thought to learn Urdu.”
About 175, 000 British Columbia residents speak, write and read Urdu on daily basis. Urdu speakers hail from Pakistan, India, Fiji and various part of Africa where South Asians have migrated. A large number in the province are Indo-Canadians who were born in British-ruled India prior to the birth of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the partition of Indian in 1947.
When Suharwardy called Alamgir about the project, the ailing singer was very supportive. Video release on Pakistani TV channels and YouTube has garnered good reviews.
“It’s the commonality of the people around the world that brings them together to inspire something unique, an amalgam of ambitions, emotions, laughter and camaraderie all in the defined boundaries of a peaceful coexistence,” added Adeel.
Millions of Pakistanis and Indians want peace and an end to the nuclear rivalry between the two countries. Adeel said he believes the common people from Pakistan and India can help bring about peace in the region.
“This series is a very good message for peace in the world, especially in South Asia. Pakistan and India can become closer, common people can prove it one day.”
Following the new release of the title song, Alamgir received a lot of support coming from fans around the world. This video is being downloaded on iTunes, and played on various Pakistani and South Asian TV stations. The song was an immediate hit with YouTube viewers.
“Alamgir was so happy that people still remembered him and … is feeling much better after getting moral support,” added Adeel.
Mohsin Abbas writes for Diversity Reporter, a multilingual newspaper for newcomers and immigrants in Canada. He blogs at www.diversityreporter.com
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