The Nigerian-born performer Emmanuel Uwechue, a k a Hao Ge, has risen to stardom singing in Mandarin Chinese.
Watch two videos on him below…
Emmanuel Uwechue performing in China….
Profile (As seen in the New York Times
Hao Ge (pronounced How Guh) is perhaps China’s most unlikely pop star: he is Nigerian, and he sings in Mandarin.
His real name is Emmanuel Uwechue, though he is better known by his stage name, which sounds like the words for “good song” in Chinese. Mr. Uwechue, 33, has developed quite a fan base, particularly among the children and middle-aged women who watch “Xin Guang Da Dao,” the “American Idol” knockoff show, where he first gained notice a few years after his arrival almost a decade ago. He has performed alongside a host of Chinese superstars — including Sun Nan, Na Ying and Han Hong — and has been enthusiastically embraced by the Chinese media.
“The African Who Searches for His Dream in China,” read the headline atop a 2006 article about Mr. Uwechue on QQ.com, a popular social networking site. Articles by the state-run Xinhua news agency and in the Web-based magazine Sina Entertainment, as well as a television documentary, have similarly chronicled his unusual story. Mr. Uwechue even appears on bus ads: “Good Song Comes From Good Wine,” reads an advertisement for the Guan Gong Fang company, which signed him to represent its brand of wine.
“He’s good — he’s not just another foreigner who got on TV because he could speak and sing in Chinese,” said Yu Na, 40, who lives in northwest Beijing, adding that she likes to “jump up and down” to Mr. Uwechue’s more upbeat songs; many of them are soul-infused versions of classic Chinese love songs, with faster rhythms.
Mr. Uwechue is not the first foreigner to have made a name for himself in China, but he is the first African to have reached widespread success. Some music industry experts in China credit part of his fame to the close economic and cultural ties — including friendship and exchange programs and other joint ventures — that have long existed between China and some African countries. In a recently televised public performance, Mr. Uwechue dressed up as an oil rig worker and sang alongside a Chinese fellow laborer.
Among nations with close Sino-African ties, Nigeria in particular has benefited from Chinese capital. China has invested more than $7 billion in energy, communications and infrastructure in the country, which exports some $4.7 billion in crude oil to China each year, according to a recent statement by Li Yizhung, China’s minister of industry and information technology.
“This is not just about Hao Ge,” said Long Hu, 38, a music producer and talent scout in Beijing who cultivates young musical talent. “It’s about China and Africa.”
Mr. Uwechue got his start singing in the choir at House on the Rock Pentecostal church in Lagos, Nigeria. After receiving a degree in engineering, he decided to pursue music against the wishes of his father, who “disowned me for a while,” Mr. Uwechue said, adding, “He thought I was throwing my life away.”
A Chinese friend, Li Yayu, who was working in Lagos at the time, was aware of Mr. Uwechue’s interest in singing. When Mr. Li moved back to Henan Province in 2001 to open a hotel, he called Mr. Uwechue and asked him if he wanted to visit.
Mr. Uwechue accepted in 2002, and eventually started performing in bars and hotels in Henan and Hebei Provinces. He got his big break when Liu Huan — a top producer in the music industry who helped pioneer pop music in China by performing and composing for television — discovered him singing one night at the Big Easy, a bar in Beijing that has since closed. With Mr. Liu’s backing, Mr. Uwechue became a devoted student of Mandarin and eventually gained a following. It was his performance in 2007 at the wildly popular Lunar New Year Gala, seen by hundreds of millions of people on television, that made him a star. It’s the Chinese equivalent of the Super Bowl and China’s highest-rated broadcast event of the year.
Mr. Uwechue is mindful of rigid cultural controls imposed on artists by the Chinese government. His albums — “Red and Black” (2006), “Hao Ge’s Latest Songs” (2008) and “Beloved Life” (2009) — hew to themes of heartbreak, redemption and love, the kind of pop that is played on the airways. He is also frustrated by those strictures.
“I feel boxed in, always singing romance songs,” he said. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I would like to expand the horizons of my distributed work.”
To that end, he has formed a new band, which, in a recent jam session at the One recording studio, played a dozen songs that he conceded had “no chance” of being taken up by China’s pop producers. Mr. Uwechue said he preferred singing upbeat, rhythmic songs to the slower commercial fare — some of it sappy by Western standards — that his producers insist mainland Chinese will listen to.
Mr. Uwechue is working on a new album that he says will be a “radical departure” for him, although it remains to be seen whether it will be distributed or promoted in the same way his previous work has been.
Being a recognizable star and being African obviously has its complications in China. Whatever racism he has felt, he said, has come from “other singers and competitors” within the industry, not from the public.
Despite the fame he has found in China, Mr. Uwechue is aware that many Nigerians harbor mixed feeling about his adopted country, with its increasingly visible global financial power. He says that while many in his homeland are “appreciative of China coming in and helping the economy,” others fear the Chinese presence could be “another form of colonization.”
When Mr. Uwechue took his first album to his friends and family in Nigeria, they were, he said, “a little bit surprised, yet proud” to learn that he had become a pop star in China. He recalled his mother’s response: “‘China? Wow! I never could have imagined.’
Story via the New York Times