The Shànghăi Mimi star forming stronger ties to her Chinese culture

The Shànghăi Mimi star forming stronger ties to her Chinese culture

Photo credit: Yang Xiaohuo

When singer-songwriter Sophie Koh was growing up, she rarely saw anyone on the screen or stage who quite looked like her. Born in New Zealand to Malaysian-Chinese parents, and now living in Melbourne, she never truly felt connected to her culture or heritage.

Today, Sophie is filling in that gap in the arts industry, by featuring as the lead role of Mimi in the exciting production of Shànghăi Mimi for Sydney Festival 2019.

From what started off as an email, the role has become one of Sophie’s most challenging performances to date.

“I will be singing quite a few traditional songs, some of which I didn’t really understand because they are in such traditional phrases or expressions,” Sophie explained.

“I had to google a lot of what I am singing about so that I could actually understand what I am performing, so it has been a huge educational process for me.

But, it has been really good to reconnect with my history and ancestry in a very abnormal way because I am revisiting it through music and dance.

Photo credit: Yang Xiaohuo

Shànghăi Mimi is inspired by 1930s Shànghăi, and according to the Sydney Festival, it was at this point in history when the Chinese city was known for its “flamboyant clubs and heady nights”.

The production has been directed by Moira Finucane, a multi-award-winning performer and director, and will also feature a live band playing Chinese jazz and blues, as well as dancers, acrobats, aerialists and singers from China, Cameroon, Australia and France.

With a repertoire of Chinese classics from the 30s and 40s, Sophie said she expects many older Chinese-Australian attendees will sing along.

“I think the audience, mostly those who are of Chinese background, will actually understand and have been brought up with these songs,” she said.

They aren’t performed on stage in Australia in this way, so I’m very excited to be the presenter of these songs to the audience and I do really think there will be a few tears in the room.

However, this isn’t the first time Sophie has connected with her background through music, with her most recent album Book of Songs, featuring a few tunes sung in Mandarin, including popular Chinese song Gan Lan Shu.

Working alongside Machine Translations producer J.Walker, who studied and spoke Mandarin for a number of years, Sophie has made an album that was most reflective of her as an artist.

“I wanted to be really honest about the mix of who I am as a person; I am Chinese-looking but I have been brought up in a Western, classical piano world, but I am also known as a pop artist,” she explained.

I wanted to make this most recent album more of a symphonic poem, something that's coloured with an identity.

“With more Asians living in places like Australia and New Zealand, I think we’re shaking that cultural hold more and more as the generations pass, and we’re encouraging each other more to explore our identities through the arts and through music.”

She hopes works like her album and the production of Shànghăi Mimi will lead to Australia becoming more confident with putting Asian content on screens and on stage.

Photo credit: Yang Xiaohuo

Catch Shànghăi Mimi from January 10-20, 2019 at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta.

Check out Sophie Koh’s website HERE, or follow her on Facebook HERE, Instagram HERE or Twitter HERE.

Event details
Dates and times: January 10-20, 2019; various times
Venue: Riverside Theatre, Parramatta
Ticket prices: $36 – $66 (+ booking fee)
Tickets available HERE

Anisha Mistry

As the Editor of CulturalPulse, Anisha is passionate about listening to, writing and sharing stories of Australia's multicultural achievement. Got a story to tell? Get in touch: editor@culturalpulse.com.au