Cheng Lin is the first generation of pop music singers in China, and has loved music since childhood. Her first involvement in the music industry was at the age of 13 when she released the track "Little Horn".
In 2013, Cheng Lin has been invited by French artist Jean Michel Jarre to “Sino-France Culture Year” concert held in Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City broadcasted live on CCTV all over the world
WE ARE CITIZENS OF THE WORLD
They came by plane and automobile from New York, Paris, Oran, Mumbai, Beijing and Ondo to film "Citizens of the World", on top of the Capitol Records Building, a 13 stories round landmark tower of Los Angeles. It’s a musical super-group that comprises an underground New York City rock band and pop stars from Algeria, India, China and Nigeria. The project sponsored by Backer, a Lebanese-born industrial magnate who became wealthy selling soap and agricultural products in central Africa and now lives in Paris and donated $1 million of his own money into it, to promote change supported by wonderful artists like Bollywood star Kailash Kher, popular King Sunny Adé, singer-songwriter, Khaled Hadj Ibrahim and Chinese star, Cheng Lin. Read our special interview with pop superstar, Cheng Lin from China.
CHENG LIN: The process of making the video [Citizen of the world]. We were very happy together, and 'we are the citizens of the world' indeed. and I was very happy to meet all those talented artists from around the world.
ANNICK: I appreciate very much your granting me some time with you this morning. In China, it is now Monday, September 6th and in Arizona, it’s Sunday, September 5t;. how are you this morning?
CHENG LIN: I am very well, thank you.
ANNICK: Cheng Lin, people in the United States hesitate calling you by your first name which is Lin. What is the proper way to address you?
CHENG LIN: Everyone calls me Cheng Lin. My first name is Lin but in China, we put our family name in front so everyone calls me Cheng Lin.
ANNICK: You are an accomplished musician, a pop superstar in China since the age of 13; a master of the Erhu (the two string Chinese violin pronounced 'ar-hoo), A dedicated environmentalist and a beautiful woman as well as being the mother of a 5 year old little girl. Not only are you all these things, but you are also someone who cares about humanity, the world and its environment. Your work is like worship. Please tell us more about yourself and how did you get so motivated to do so much?
CHENG LIN: First, let me say I was born and raised in China. I play the Chinese violin and I love singing and teaching. I guess you could say that I care about everything on this planet. I care about people of all ages and backgrounds. Helping to educate everyone about the environment is most important to me. It was about sixteen years ago when I was living in the US for a few years that I realized that China, which had a large population and great environmental issues that were not being addressed, started to open up. I realized that with all the expansion and building and of course the big corporations among the likes of Coca Cola coming to China to do business was a good thing for the country was a good thing b ut I also felt we needed to be more concerned about the environmental issues as well as more responsible. Allowing All those giants into China to do business was, of course, a good start and it was very helpful for the country that had been closed for so long but at the same time I sensed that we really needed to protect the environment.
ANNICK: It is very commendable for you to be so concerned about your country (the environment and humanity.) We don’t see many pop stars worrying about the environment and humanity at the same time. We are all very proud of your achievements. What do you see that China needs to do to protect the environment while benefiting humanity at the same time?
CHENG LIN: There is great pollution in China because of the gold and coal mines. The corporations are about selling their products to make money and not caring about the pollution they are causing. Today, there is a national survey showing that every six months China is building a New York-size city, not the size of Manhattan but the City of New York. It is just incredible when we think about it. We cannot ignore how fast things are changing. How many resources are being used and how much waste is being created every week. Pollution is also produced by cars, every day. We must remember that every month there are millions of cars being sold in Beijing.
I was concerned about the environment at a very early age. I wrote a song about preserving the environment and in 1985 I released a song called “Panda Mimi”. You know, the Panda, this animal that looks like a mini bear with black fur on its ears, eye patches, muzzle, legs, arms and shoulders and the rest of his coat is white. It’s a very rare animal. They have a hard time surviving in Central China. ‘Panda Mimi’ is about helping Pandas which is the same as helping ourselves. It was also a friendly environmental song, a wake-up call. And, it was a big hit and it is still very popular and people are still requesting for me to sing it on stage.
ANNICK: I think you were way ahead of your time at such a young age. Were you?
CHENG LIN: Yes, I guess you could say that. I was called to do things that are different from others because I see things from a different angle. For me it’s more than pure entertainment. And, I don't like using the word “entertainment”, you know. I think that Ted Turner’s daughter once said that we should use entertainment as a tool to teach. And that is good, but for me everything we do must have a meaning today, most people are too busy consuming and building instead of saying “Let’s slow down. Let’s think about what we are doing and where we are going”, you know.
It is just incredible when we think about it. We cannot ignore how fast things are changing. How many resources are being used up and how much waste and pollution is being created every day. So, when I was introduced to the idea of creating a concert called ‘Peace Green China’, I became very excited.
We had a conference call with Jimmy Page and other artists from the West together with some non-profit organizations to focus strictly on how to clean up the air and how to promote clean, clean energy. Then, they all discovered my song called 'Only One Earth' and said that they wanted to introduce me to Al Gore's project. And so, today, I'm working with Al Gore's organization in China.
Everyone seems to be very much interested in finding out how music and culture can affect people’s lives and how to promote this. I think that in China we are at the starting point of realizing that something needs to be done. This is a very serious issue and the good news is that many companies and individuals are doing something about it by using solar systems. China is a big country and if all the people are doing something about it then it will make a big difference. We are trying to help but the problem of pollution is so huge. We must talk about it and find ways to promote it. I was pleased to be able to present my song to Al Gore who, as you know, is very much involved with environmental issues. We are going to redo the song so people of all ages can enjoy it. I wrote and composed the song with James Wong, about sixteen years ago.
ANNICK: In 2003, you were invited by Grammy Award winning producer KC Porter to participate on the "Embrace the World Tour" in North America and were also invited by French artist Jean Michel Jarre to perform in a concert held in Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City which was broadcast live on CCTV all over the world. Your hit song "Only one earth" received the first national environmental protection "Golden Song" Award. Will you share more about it?
CHENG LIN: Yes, it was a hit and still is. Most of my songs are composed with other artists because I like to collaborate . And sometimes you really need to go out there and learn all you can. You learn from being with people from different backgrounds. For instance Jean Michel and I really enjoyed working together. He loves the Chinese people. Also, he gave me full freedom to be myself. He said “do whatever you want” and I liked that very much because usually artists will give you a whole range of orders and rules so it is just the way they want it. Jean Michel was very open and said “jump into the song and take it from there, do as you please and put all your emotions into it.” It really touched me and that taught me a lot.
Working with musicians from different backgrounds and different cultures helped me to learn a lot. Before this concert with Jean Michel, I was with K.C. Porter on 'The Embrace the World Tour' and that really prepared me a lot. WE have to be open minded and free in order to learn how to perform with ten artists coming from ten different countries. It is not easy and at first, you wonder how you are going to make it work. So, you just try to be unified with one part of you being you and at the same time being the whole by setting yourself free. You really have to put yourself into the whole and forget who you are,’. We must all become one. Working with KC and Jean Michel Jarre prepared me step by step to this new experience of the video documentary of the song “Citizens of the World.”
“You know I know that is the truth
Embrace the innocence of youth
So let's all stand up, and raise our hands up
I've got to let you know, we are citizens of the world
No matter where we go, no borders on our soul
We are citizens of the world”
It has been an incredible journey and looking back, I consider myself very lucky and I am very proud because I don’t think there are many artists who have been given this great opportunity to work with all these incredible people. And, on top of that, it is such a meaningful song, not just pure entertainment. It has a great message to be shared with everyone around the world which is why it has been received so well by everyone since its release.
ANNICK: Is there a special connection between the New York Rock band ‘Flying Machines’ and KC Porter who is an American record producer, songwriter, musician and singer?
CHENG LIN: You know, KC Porter knows everybody and he is a wonderful person, everybody loves him. He knows what he is doing and he is not only a manager but a great friend. It was KC’s friend who was introduced to the Flying Machines NY band who called him one day and said “We are doing this song and we want Lin to be involved in this video”. So, that’s how I became a part of “Citizens of the World”. KC brought us all together and made it happen. Actually, it all happened the same time that he was helping me with the production of my new CD album. And, Citizens of the World will be included in this album. So, they called me and said “Can you come to the US? We would like you to sing and play the Erhu,”
ANNICK: Were you able to just jump on a plane and fly to Los Angeles from Beijing?
CHENG LIN: Well, at the time, I already had a US city tour organized by the Chinese government. It is very difficult to do those tours when you have a five year old child and you are not married so it was not easy for me. I had to choose between the US tour and being part of the video documentary ‘Citizens of the World.” You see, each year, the Chinese government sends one artist abroad to attend many concerts for the Chinese New Year and other special events which I enjoy very much because it is a wonderful time to be with your fans but then this new project of Citizens of the World came and I did not know what to do. I tried to see if I could juggle both invitations but then again with a small child nothing is easy.
At the end, I told the Chinese concert manager that I was sorry I could not participate in the US tour because I have a child and traveling all over the place with her would make it very difficult for her. And traveling with the “Citizens of the World” project, we would be able to just stay in one place. However, it all turned out well because the Chinese government is still inviting me to do their concert tours. Really, Citizens of the World is a one-of-a-kind project, one that I cannot pass on because it has never been done before and it sends out a great message of love and unity.
The entire project has been sponsored by a young French entrepreneur who had this vision to bring artists from around the world together and was, at the same time, able to fund it. Flying artists from everywhere around the world to Los Angeles is not easy and very expensive.
ANNICK: How did you manage to do all this traveling and work with a 5 year old?
CHENG LIN: Well, my daughter and I flew to the States from China. The manager hired a nanny for my daughter while we were performing and filming the video. Also, KC Porter and his lovely wife, Aimee helped me a lot. They are like family to us.
ANNICK: How did your daughter like coming to the US?
CHENG LIN: She was happy and thought it was fun. It was an incredible experience for her. While we were working on the top of the Capitol studio in L.A., During the shooting of the video, we caught her singing in the studio “I'm a Citizen of the World, a Citizen of the World” and I said “wouldn't it be cool to catch her voice on the video?” so we asked her to sing again and she said “O, Mommy, I’m done”. That’s what she said twice “Mommy, I'm done” so we could not do it. Then on the top of the roof when the cameraman in the helicopter was shooting the video, she said “Mommy is the helicopter a toy?” She has a toy that flies and wasn’t sure if it was real or not. She enjoyed the experience very much. She said “Mom, I'm a Citizen of the World” and I said “ yes you are.” You know, she doesn’t see color.
ANNICK: Being a master of the Erhu and a famous pop star in China, how did you feel when they asked you to be part of a Rock 'n' Roll band?
CHENG LIN: This song is really good. You know, my range of music styles is pretty wide. I can go Jazz, Folk, about everything and when I heard “Citizens of the World” I was excited. I haven't done Rock 'n' Roll for a while. You know, I was first a Rock star in China and I started doing Pop Rock and then stopped. It just happened when I became a mother. When I heard the song I said "Wow, that's a Rock 'n' Roll song!", and my daughter said "I like it." And, I said to her “We are going to do it. I can rock with them on the top of the building. Why not?” Then we put the lyrics together. I really like the song a lot because it reminds me of the song that I wrote for the children, called “This earth but one country and mankind its citizens...”
It was easy for me to do something that I really believe in because we are all one and we are all Citizens of the World. I love it. When we were children, just like my daughter, we saw no color, only brothers and sisters. That's how I grew up and that’s the way it should be and now that we are older the world seems to be colder. I feel we really need to do something about that because it’s wrong. We need to teach the world that we are all ONE.
I was very famous in China when I was thirteen years old and it was very difficult for me to participate in many events and projects because of the poor level of perfection. I always struggled with that but it’s getting better and better because we are trying to raise the level of standards and it is very important for me to work with all kinds of people so everyone believes and is inspired by unity and love. I learned a lot from all of these people. My musician friends are really rising up, doing better and better and the reason that I struggle with that is because I do not want to produce something that is not professional and mostly because I can reach so many people. People in China are following me and looking at me as an example so whatever I put out there people are watching and listening. I must only produce the best.
I teamed up with KC Porter and many other musicians and I think it's really great. KC is wonderful. He came to China a few times and really proved to me his level of professionalism along with his love and his great spirit, always willing to help.
He really knows how to touch the hearts. He is a great teacher. We are very close friends, he and his wife and his family. We are all very close. As a matter of a fact his youngest son has been adopted from China which made me his Godmother. It’s really nice. I wrote a song called 'Angel.” It is all about angels that were born in this world but they are not from the mother but coming from your heart. If we want them from our own soul and heart we must first love them as they are our own. All my songs have a meaning, a story and I am very proud of that.
ANNICK: Your English is very good. How did you learn how to speak this language so well?
CHENG LIN: In 1990, I studied at the University of California in the United States, that’s how I learned it. All my friends speak English and in China many people speak English. I'm still learning. I was in the US for 4yrs but today I live with my daughter in China. I feel lucky because we have the chance to come to the States when we need to. I have a lot of connections in the US, so that is really good and helpful. We are like one big family.
ANNICK: Cheng Lin, you are the perfect example of what an artist should be about today. They have a true mission of teaching people how to love. They need to put their talent and heart to good use and make a difference around the world. Times have changed and we should all be of service to humanity. Artists have a big responsibility in bringing change. We are all so proud of you and can only thank you for all you are doing to make this world a better place.
CHENG LIN: Thank you. I'm very excited about all these projects. KC Porter and I along with the cooperation of another friend, Anis from Australia are planning to produce a concert in L.A. to raise the awareness of the friends being in prison in Iran. This situation is not right at all. We must all make some noise about this, so we are thinking of bringing some big names to do a concert or a tour. We are not sure yet but KC Porter and I met with legendary music producer Quincy Jones as well as Herbie Hancock, one of the most influential Jazz musicians in the States. They both are wonderful musicians. We should take this opportunity to bring people together and open their heart. Those legends really do care about what’s happening to the world and I think that is because they all have reached a point of no return understanding that is not about wealth anymore but our love for humanity. They came to understand that, so I'm very excited about this, you know.
ANNICK: China is growing fast and like you said many people are speaking English, today. What vision do you have about China?
CHENG LIN: You know China is a wonderful country. I believe it is the country of the future.
ANNICK: It was a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you so much, Lin, for all your hard work and for giving me the chance to do this Skype Interview with you all the way from Arizona to China. It's was so wonderful hearing from you. There is only one like you, and it's you. The world loves you!
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