Interview with musician Ember Swift: on building bridges with Chinese music, language & ways of acting for change

This week on my regular shift on 4ZZZ FM, (Brisbane’s independent music and news radio station), I interviewed Ember Swift, an interesting Canadian-born musician and advocate for activism.  She recently made her fourth appearance at the Woodford Folk Festival, and is playing her final Australian show this weekend on Saturday night (Jan 23) at The Troubador in the Valley Mall.

Her style of music has been labelled as ‘folktronic’, although she is clearly someone interested and inspired by a wide range of musical styles – sufficiently inspired that she and the musicians she has worked with have put out 10 albums in around 13 years, which is fairly prolific by modern standards.

We spoke about her most recent project/album, called Lentic; a fascinating attempt at blending western folk and electronic styles with Chinese musical themes – including singing the songs partly in English and partly in Mandarin.  She has long had an interest in China and has lived in Beijing for much of the last two years.  She has also long been active as a campaigner on social issues – and a strong vegetarian, which naturally also appealed to me.

I was interested to hear her talk in a previous interview about the very different ways people living in China act for social change, compared to the standard way activists and campaigners in the western world operate.  Some of this is due to the authoritarian regime which currently rules China, but a lot of it also due to a different cultural approach.

As someone who has often tried to highlight some of the serious human rights abuses inflicted on many people in China, I have wrestled with dilemmas of how to be effective in doing this.  So I was very interested in asking Ember Swift to expand some more on her views on how people living in China engage in pushing for social change – and was interested to hear her answers, and how that blended into the wider cultural and musical aspects of her recent work.

If you’re interested in hearing Ember’s responses, as well as her talking about her music and her current trip to Australia, you can listen to the interview – and a song from her Lentic album called ‘That’s Right’ – by clicking here (or click here to directly download a podcast of the interview).  You can hear some of her other songs from the Lentic album/project at her MySpace page) .

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