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Without Musical Borders: Thomas Chen

Thomas Chen is a singer/songwriter from Kolkata (India). He sings in Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi and English. In addition, he has also sung in Bengali, Cantonese and Nepali. Thomas is a First Indian Chinese Artist to sing successfully in Mandarin for innumerable prestigious Chinese Festival since 2007. (New Year celebrations, Mid Autumn Fest, Elders Day Celebration, Chinni Adda, China-Kolkata International Book Fair 2013, Kolkata Christmas Carnival 2014 & 2015, Kolkata's First Dragon Boat Festival 2015 to 2017, etc. When was the first time you realized you wanted to pursue music?

Music always played a vital part since childhood. I was actively involved in the church choir as school kid, and am still involved. I took vocal lesson from Pandit Shyam Sundar Goswami and am a trained pianist. I play for my parish St. Francis Xavier Church. Next year will be my 10th year as singer performing Chinese songs for Indian Chinese Association. There have been instances where friends and well-wishers have suggested that I pursue music full time, but I never took anyone seriously. Coming back to your question, I think it was a gradual process, very organic; each encouragement leading and affirming that I pursue music.

Language has been no barrier for you and you’ve sung in six Indian languages, how do you go about that?

Thank you for your kind words. It’s always an advantage to be multi-lingual. You connect instantly with people and communities if you speak their language. I can share few instances from my experiences. My colleagues had nicknamed me as “Tapas Sen”, they changed “Thomas to Tapas”, and “Chen to Sen” cause they thought although I was a Chinese but I spoke Bengali fluently, and was like one of them. [if !supportLineBreakNewLine] [endif]

Recently, when I performed my original Bengali song during “Dragon Boat Celebration 2017”, quite a few people came up and said that if they had closed their eyes, they would not have been able to make out that a Chinese was speaking and singing a Bengali song. Similarly, when I send my Chinese songs to my friends in China for review, they say that they cannot make out that someone from India has sung these Chinese songs. [if !supportLineBreakNewLine] [endif]

Furthermore, because, I could speak Chinese and Bengali I had the opportunity to feature on Zee Bangla’s “Didi na Dada NO.1, and acted as Chinese Chef on “Happy Parents Day Show – 2”. For me being multi-lingual has been a gift of opportunities. I feel humble and blessed. How do you go about writing songs? What inspires you?

I like to write songs based on a theme or an idea. Then try to write the lyrics based on it. When I’m done with the lyrics I start composing the tune. The orchestration comes in the later part. However, I don’t stick to any pattern, at times play around with the flow. I’m just 5 songs old, still long way to go. [if !supportLineBreakNewLine] [endif]

The year 2013, I met Chung Shefong, creative director of “Trees Music & Art” independent Music Label, Taiwan, who inspired me to write my own compositions. I also performed with their musicians. She saw potential in me as a songwriter which I didn’t know I had it in me. Robert Hsu, a dear friend also encouraged me to take up music compositions after hearing my first Chinese composition 圆圆的月亮 -Round Moon. A beautiful theme or an idea excites me to compose songs. [if !supportLineBreakNewLine] [endif]

What has been your greatest achievement personally?

I was invited as a guest Chinese singer, and performed a Chinese song at Zee Bangla, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, which was telecast on 5th December 2016. It was a satisfying experience, reaffirming that I was on the right path.

This performance was an interlude to a Bengali song, based on Chinese folk by legendary Bengali singer/ composer Shri Hemango Biswas. I used a verse from the legendary Chinese poem “但愿人长久” by 苏轼 to compose a minute intro based on Shri Hemango Biswas song. I was also fortunate that I got to meet late Kalika Prasad Sir. You’ve been active on social media sharing your songs, how has the internet been helpful for you as an artist? It’s a boon, especially for upcoming and independent artists, like me. We would have been unknown had this new technology not come into place. Three cheers to the correct use of technology! Tell us a bit about you future projects? Last year I shot for a big budget Bollywood movie called “TUBELIGHT,” directed by Kabir Khan and starring Salman Khan, Sohail Khan and Chinese actress Zhu Zhu. I had a very minute role, as a Chinese soldier, in that movie. This movie is about to release soon, on 23rd June, this month. If I may so, call this as one of my future projects. Again here, knowing Mandarin Chinese helped me to crack the audition and get selected.

I’m planning my next single in Mandarin Chinese and English, which I plan to take up soon. As I said earlier, next year I will be completing 10 years of live performance as a Chinese singer. Let’s see, plan to do something exciting.

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