'The Power of Images Through Music'
Agnes Chan was born in Hong Kong and started her singing career when she was fourteen years old. Her single "The Circle Game" was a smash hit and she became a household name not only in Hong Kong but in South East Asia over night. She debuted in Japan in 1972, and her first Japanese single "Hinageshi no Hana" also became a big hit and brought her to teen pop idol status with numerous musical awards. Since then, Agnes had released more than 100 records and CDs in Asia and Japan.
Agnes' genuine feeling that she must share her good fortunes with others made her special and endeared her to Asian fans. Agnes is not only a singer, but an author, a professor, an advocator for child's rights, an opinion leader and a great TV personality. She is truly a multi-faceted women of the 21st century ... and now has a new album out, entitled Forget Yourself.
Chatting recently with Agnes, I first noted that as she had personally witnessed children struggling against hunger, war and oppression in underdeveloped regions worldwide, that it had made her lyrical tales on Forget Yourself all the more profound. So, had there been moments when recording these songs that she had become too emotionally attached to their images to actually sing? "All images of songs with real models caused my hert to shudder, but 'One Step at a Time' and 'Sorrow Lives in this Village' were really challenging. The images of Arumeto and Arage always mist up my eyes. They are two orphans whom I have met in and ethiopina camp. Arage's mother died and Arumeto's mother vanished. Arumeto was so malnourished that her legs were bent and she was not able to talk with heavy anal bleeding. Arage nursed her back to life. He even taught her how to walk beyond eveyone's expectations. When I was leaving the camp, Arage ran to stop our car. He let Arumeto down and said 'Come ,come'. And one step at a time, Arumeto walked. It was just two or three steps, but the whole camp roared. It was such a touching moment."
"Sorrow lives in this village was originally in a higher key. But it sounded so sad, that we put it down to make it more soothing yet a little chilling. I met a real child soldier in Southern Sudan, who saw his father killed at six and was sent in to the army at eight. He was 12 years old when I saw him shot and injured in the leg. Villages were deserted of young men. Only children, women and older people were left. Thinking of Santino's fate and the women's eyes always chokes me up. Those were the two songs that were really challenging to sing while remembering them."
Your album title nods towards the belief that with so much hunger, war and oppression going on around us that we should 'forget ourselves' and concentrate on others less fortunate. A true statement or perhaps another meaning was meant? "Forgeting yourself is liberating and it can actually solve your own problems. We do not need to concentrate on the less fortunate all the time, we only have to be aware and care for them. When we are ready to help, we can lend a hand."
With your album's lyrics so embodied in the vicarious scenes of devastation and such, was there ever a point where you thought that certain atrocities were just not right for songs - no matter what the message? "Definitely. I have been trying to write songs that are both 'audible' and 'up lifting' but at the same time tell the true stories of the children. It was not easy at all. I think this time with Robbie's help, we were able to make songs telling the stories of the children but at the same time did some wonderful music. These songs make people love not pity the children. That is what is most important."
At what point did actor Jackie Chan get involved with you on 'It's A Wonder' - and is he related to you in any way? "We are not related, but we are old friends. Jackie is also an UNICEF ambassador and I told him about the project when he was in Tokyo. He agreed to sing for me and we did the recording in Tokyo. That was last year. Jackie loves children and he really shared my feelings about helping children as much as we can."
And, with his regard, I've interviewed Jackie before and will probably do so again, so is there something interesting that he did whilst with you for this recording that I can bring up to him later down the line and possibly embarrass him with?! "Well, we ate a lot of peanuts after the recording. Jackie wanted to surprise me with the appearance of a mutual friend, but the friend was late. But he could not give it away, so we watched video and ate a lot of peanuts."
Originally hailing from Hong Kong, it's noted that aside from earning a PhD in education from Stanford University in 1994 and being named Japan’s ambassador to UNICEF in 1998, that you have also authored over seventy books! WOW! Please tell us more about your written works and to what beneficial end your work with UNICEF will hopefully accomplish? "I wrote many kinds of books: research, essays, commentaries, love stories, cook books, children's books etc. My newest book is a cook book about Chinese Herbal eating. Recent best selling book of mine is a book about some of my UNICEF missions and a large part of the sales go to UNICEF. I hope to help children gain their rights: right to live, right to develop, right to be protected and right to be involved."
"Unforutnately, 1.1 million of children still die each year before thier fifth birthday, 150millin children so not go to school, 5.7 million children are doing hard labor, 1.8 million children are trafficked every year. Every minute, a children die of AIDs..... the figures go on and on. I hope I can make a difference by raising awareness and soliciting more donations."
Tell us a bit about the fourteen year-old Agnes. When her debut single "The Circle Game" became a smash hit over night in South East Asia, how did it change her? "I was a very shy person before I found children with volunteer work in junior high and I found music to be my langauge. I often think music is my wings. Music gave me the tool to connect people. Music set my feelings free."
Knowing the depth behind your lyrics, please explain to us more the vicarious inspiration behind 'Beautiful Child' "This is the only song in the album not written by me and Robbie. Stevie Nicks dedicated this song to UNICEF many years ago. I am thrilled to be able to sing the song with JR from dishwalla and I am most honored to know that Stevie approved and encouraged the recording."
On a lighter note, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! "From the eighties? 'Eternal Flame?' I was in love when the song came out and I sang it in my concert. I would not mind doing it now. I was going to say 'Imagine' but it is not cheesy."
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "Oh yes. Have you ever try putting your figure to the glass of the peguin tanks. They will come to you and follow your figure. I love peguins, they are so cool. I love the way they care for the eggs."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Agnes' brand new CD, just answer this easy question: In what year did Agnes enter the doctoral program in the School of Education at Stanford University?
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new and AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before May 15th with your answer and the subject title 'AGNES CHAN SIGNED CDs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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