It’s not everyday a world leader invites you to his home. But during a visit to Tokyo, that’s exactly what happened to China’s Zhang Liangying, better known as Jane Zhang, who sang for Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on the occasion. The singer from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, was part of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s “warm spring” tour of Japan in May, where she had been designated Youth Cultural Ambassador thanks to her enormous popularity in her home country. On only her second visit to Japan, Zhang was actively helping promote cultural understanding and friendship between the youth of both countries through her music.
Just three years ago, she was a total unknown entering a TV competition in her homeland. But after 400 million people watched her in the final of the TV phenomenon that was "Supergirl," where she delivered a string of stunning performances in English and Chinese, she is now an international jet-setting star. “Before I was just staying in my hometown, never going anywhere. After, I have been to many places,” she said.
Idol shows are much maligned in the West, but in a country whose pop music heritage is limited, it was a unique way to instantly reach across the enormous country. Zhang was quickly dubbed the “dolphin voice” due to her ability to sing in the whistle register - from D below middle C to G above soprano C. Since the show, she has marched onward, first reaching Japan’s shores in 2007 as a guest for the Miss China Pageant.
Attention to Zhang’s international potential is being mirrored by interest in China as a whole, particularly with the Olympics on the horizon. And Zhang may get a chance to be center stage. In collaboration with Andrea Bocelli, she has recorded “Embrace in Love and Dream,” favored to win the competition to open the ceremony. Thousands of singers submitted tracks, but hers, written by David Foster (producer of Céline Dion, Barbara Streisand & Madonna), is considered a standout.
“I never dreamt to sing with a singer like this,” she said. The winner will be announced on the day of the opening ceremony. “Chinese people have been awaiting the Olympics for years,” Zhang said. “It’s a dream of peace, friendship, love, understanding and communication among all different countries.”
With the huge fame she now enjoys among Chinese audiences, Zhang wishes to introduce new music genres and a new musical sensitivity in the Middle Kingdom. A fresh innovator, she would like to see a fast change in the Chinese music environment. “I like jazz, blues, soul, and I want this music to use Chinese lyrics.” It may not come as a surprise that her muse is Mariah Carey.
Zhang recalled how she grew up buying each of her albums and learning them faithfully one after the other. And of course Carey’s songs were her favorite repertoire at "Supergirl." “But the judge said: ‘You can’t always sing Mariah!’” Other Western idols include Craig David, Eric Clapton and British soul singer Beverley Knight. “I sing them in my concerts,” Zhang said. “Songs like ‘Every Time You See Me Smile’ and ‘Black Butta.’”
Zhang also sang the theme song for the Chinese music drama "Impression West Lake," which is composed by Japanese musician Kitaro and was released in June. This cooperation may just be the beginning of a wider debut in Japan. From the Middle Kingdom to the Land of the Rising Sun, the “dolphin voice” keeps enchanting audiences.© Japan Today