Bonnie Li’s Intercontinental Symphony

Photo Credit: Kiril Bikov

She wouldn’t call herself a master of language, even though she knows her way around a handful of them. See Bonnie Li has called a lot of places home, including China where she grew up. An intriguing note in her story that we talked about, including whether or not her youth filled with various cultures made their way into her music today. Find out if they did and a lot more…

Kendra: Growing up in China you definitely got an interesting view of the world. Did your time there shape your musical side at all?

Bonnie Li: It definitely did! I grew up in Hong Kong, a city quite different from main China, so I grew up listening to MTV. The icons we all know but it wasn’t really what made me vibrate. Luckily, as I was visiting my sister Gaelle X Desroches (director of my upcoming music video), all the time, who then lived in Nanjing, a city located an hour south of Beijing, I had the opportunity to discover Classic Chinese Opera and the local pop music scene that really thrilled me. I loved the kitschy/tacky yet dramatic vibe of Chinese Classic Opera and its transvestite tradition. In my music, I tend to pile up a lot of vocal layers, as different ways to narrate my speech, mixing low deep voices and high pitched ones together.

Kendra: Is there one place in China, that no matter where you are in the world, that you will always miss?

Bonnie Li: Difficult to pick just one place as when I think of China it’s like I’m thrown on the front seat of a rollercoaster, my heartbeat accelerating with the strong smells of dried fish, exotic flowers and burning incense sticks of street markets, mixed with the polluted black smoke of the Star Ferry boat taking me from Hong Kong to Kowloon Island.

But if I have to, I would say Hong Lok Street and its Bird Market. It doesn’t exist anymore, as the government relocated it, continuing its breathless run into a never ending construction mania.I remember arriving there early in the morning, smiling to the many old grandpas who looked so proud to show off their new favourite birds, each one singing their own particular tune trapped in beautifully sculpted bamboo cages.

Kendra: Living not only there, but a variety of places…you’ve become a master of language. Do those different languages and dialects affect how you approach songwriting at all?

Bonnie Li: A master of language…hahaha! Not so much, I make a lot of mistakes when I speak French, for example, even if it’s my mother tongue, I tend to invent words all the time. But yes, I use them a lot in my music, I like to blend Chinese Mandarin, English and French lyrics in my songs, and as we’re now based in Berlin with Elia, and in September I’ll start German class, and will probably soon add bits of German too.

Kendra: Creatively speaking, what does Elia M bring out in you?

Bonnie Li: As Elia starts to produce industrial and hard techno music in the middle of the 90’s, he gives me a new vision in production, with a more powerful sound and a darker side in composition. He has a very large musical background and plays guitar and bass, which also allows us to explore new directions, acoustic songs for example. During all these years in the techno scene, he develops a specific technic of live act that gives us a rocky way on stage; I can now focus more on my singing and front woman performance.

Kendra: Let’s talk about “Mallory” now. An interesting woman you met at a bar one night. Does she know she inspired a whole song?

Bonnie Li: Of course. She accepted with joy to be the main character of the music video.

Kendra: Other than using your name, if someone was to pen a song about you…what do you think the title would be and why?

Bonnie Li: “Mandarin Smoke:” I don’t wear perfume but I like to rub the mandarin skin on my wrists when I find them at the market. It’s a fruit that reminds me of holidays in Provence with my grandparents and my life in China. The Mandarin Chinese tree is very popular there, you offer those fruits during Chinese New Year. Mandarin in Chinese is called 橘, pronounced jü, which means luck, and I consider myself a very lucky girl. As for “smoke,” it’s something you can see and smell, but it vanishes, yet stays on your clothes, like a souvenir of a previous trip you made, and less poetically I smoke a lot of cigarettes.

Kendra: When it comes to the second half of the year, can fans expect anything like a tour, new music?

Bonnie Li: Ouiiii! On the production side, we are currently finalizing the work on Plane-Crash, our 5-track EP which will be out late October on our Label Icons Creating Evil Art. It’s second single “I Want to Run with The Wolves” is coming up late August followed by a remix (keeping the artist’s name secret for now…) and a music video. And parallel to that, we are working on our debut album planned for Spring 2018, but we will release its 1st single along with its music video in December, as a mise-en-bouche to what will come up next. And as for the tour, we have just started approaching booking agencies so it’s a work in progress, but with Plane-Crash coming up next Fall, perhaps you can expect a few release parties and showcases in different European cities…Surprise surprise!

Kendra: Focusing back on living many places, if you had to make a mixtape that best represented your various homes – what five songs would have to be on it?

Bonnie Li:
Rum and Coca Cola” The Andrews Sisters
Bonnie and Clyde” Serge Gainsbourg
I’m Waiting for the Man” The Velvet Underground
Cha Cha” Grace Chang
Fuck the Pain Away” Peaches

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