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The best kept secret in music



by Adrian Ma
Staff Reporter

Jul 21, 2007 04:30 AM

British-Chinese sisters combine modern pop, Eastern melodies to create dynamic sound.

For most musicians accustomed to playing clubs, concert halls and television shows around the world, it might seem strange to be the headline band of a food festival.

But for Chi2 – a pair of electric violinists who have toured with acts like Moby, Anastacia, and Lamb – playing at Harbourfront's Dim Sum Chinese festival tonight feels just right.

Chi2 is a band where East meets West. Comprised of British-Chinese sisters Liz Chi Yen Liew and Sarah Chi Shang Liew, the duo combines modern pop music elements with Eastern melodies to create a dynamic sound born out of the cultural intersection.

"Our background as BBCs (British Born Chinese) has definitely influenced our music," says Sarah, who shares with her sister the Chinese name of Chi (which means "precious stone") – hence, the band name Chi2. "I think it's an expression of our roots growing up in multicultural London."

"It's what comes out naturally and has evolved over the years," adds Liz.

Their parents moved from Singapore to England in the 1970s. Their mother was a music teacher and their father was an avid violinist and trumpeter, and both encouraged their daughters to pursue music. Both sisters are classically trained in western instruments like the violin, but also learned to play traditional Chinese instruments like the liuqin (Chinese mandolin) and the erhu (Chinese fiddle). After studying music at different schools in the U.K. and Asia, the sisters came together about seven years ago and began experimenting with electronics and developed their unique sound.

They performed in underground clubs and caught the attention of big-name artists. Chart-topping dance-rock mogul Moby recruited them into his band for the live tours of his two biggest-selling albums Play (1999) and 18 (2002). Playing electric violin on hits like "Porcelain" and "Natural Blues," the Liew sisters took the stage at stadiums around the world.

They also played with Canadian star Nelly Furtado for a London performance on MTV when she first cracked the charts with her hit "I'm Like A Bird."

As much as they enjoy working as backing musicians, Sarah says it doesn't compare to the experience of showcasing their own material.

"Performing as Chi2 is completely different and we love the total creative freedom and challenges that brings," Sarah says.

"We've put together a varied set for our show," Liz says. "It will be a melting pot of style and influences and improvisations on electric and Chinese violins and mandolin, with a plethora of weird noises, a sprinkling of effects, vocals, and harsh percussion with electronic beats."

Their performance at Harbourfront will also include specially commissioned visuals from their latest endeavour: a 90-minute modern Beijing opera that's been four years in the making.

Liz says it's their most ambitious project to date. Based on a classic Chinese fable about a monkey king, this electronic opera will feature Chi2 providing a traditional Chinese opera-inspired soundtrack to visual works by a team of international artists.

"We're really excited about the music ... we've got lots of amazing instruments, exotic percussion like the tabla (Indian drums), opera gongs, and I'm even playing the pipe organ."

The sisters have been busy finishing their studio recordings for the project in time for its London premiere this October. The plan is to tour the opera in the U.K. in 2008.

Liz says they have no current plans to bring the opera to Canada at the moment, but she hopes to perform here more in the future.

Armed with new material from their forthcoming operatic epic and taking the stage at a Chinese cultural festival, Chi2 are excited to have a rare chance to leave a lasting impression in Canada.

They're also pretty stoked about the dim sum.

"Lotus leaf rice especially," says Liz.

Chi2 will be performing as part of the Dim Sum Chinese Festival tonight at Harbourfront Centre Concert Stage at 9:30 p.m. - TORONTO STAR


By Clark Ainsworth

Sisters Liz and Sarah have toured the world performing their eastern-tinged electronic and classical fusion. They draw on their combined Singapore Chinese and mainland Chinese heritage as well as their British upbringing for inspiration.

British born Chinese siblings Liz and Sarah Liew were exposed to music from a very young age.

Their mother was a music teacher and father played the violin and trumpet. Both parents came over to London from Singapore in the lates 1960s.

"Our parents always encouraged us to do well. Every Saturday I went to the Royal Academy of Music, it was a full-on timetable. Music was a very big part of our childhood," Sarah says.

Their decision to pursue a career in the arts industry may not seem the norm for people with a Chinese heritage but it is something that is becoming more prevalent as the second and third generations in London and the UK become more establish.


Both sisters are classically trained musicians; Liz studied at City University and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Sarah trained at Purcell School of Music, Middlesex University and the Academy of Traditional Chinese Opera in Beijing.

In 2000 they decided to form Chi2 which fuses electro-acoustic western and eastern sounds with electronic beats.

Over the past seven years they have performed and recorded with the likes of Moby, Boy George, Nelly Furtado, KLF/The Orb, Lamb and Goldfrapp.

They draw inspiration from their British upbringing and Chinese heritage but haven't always been as forthcoming about their roots.

Sarah says: "When you are young you tend to distance yourself from you heritage to fit in."

"But once we were at college we began to explore our background and use that to express ourselves", see adds.

Modern interpretation

The mix of cultures which underpins their music doesn't just relate to their British and Chinese heritage. "Our parents are from Singapore, born in Malaysia and Indonesia, and our Grandparents are from China so we have that mix there already", Sarah says.

They're currently working on an ambitious project called 'Monkey King - A Modern Beijiing Opera' which fuses the worlds of electro-acoustic music, film-making, theatre performance.

"It's essentially a modern interpretation of Beijing Opera, an artform that's over 200 years old, and loosely based on the classic tale of Monkey King.

"We've got a great team on board; music producer Tom Morrison, a great band with weird and wonderful Chinese instruments, and a seven strong team of international visual artists creating the visuals which will be mixed with footage we filmed in Beijing", says Liz.

Raised eyebrows

There plan to tour 'Monkey King - A modern Beijing' opera in the autumn.

There were some raised eyebrows over their decision to become professional musicians but they also experienced a lot of support.

Liz says: "We did get a bit of resistance. 'They're musicians. Why?', They'd say. But mum was a music teacher and dad played violin and trumpet so they always encouraged us and gave us opportunities to learn.

"Our aunties in Singapore thought it was a strange choice of career. But once they saw us perform and saw what we did it made sense", she adds.

Better opportunities

The sisters can understand why Chinese people who moved to London in the 50s and 60s want their children to pursue traditional careers such as banking and law.

Liz says: "The came here for a better life and they want to give their children better opportunities and better jobs so it makes sense to encourage them to try establish ed career paths.

"My brother is a doctor so he's fulfilled the criteria for our family", she jokes.

They don't feel their Chinese heritage has had anything other than a beneficial effect on their music career and they admit they tend to exploit their quirky image.


But according to Liz and Sarah there is still a long way to go before Chinese people are truly integrated in all aspects of British life.

Sarah says: "The stereotypes need to be phased out and I'm sure they will, in time. My husband is an actor and a lot of parts are of people who work in a Chinese restaurant, are Triads or women who are in subservient roles.

"It would also be nice to see Chinese people doing essentially normal parts like news reading", she adds. london/content/articles/2007/01/31/chinese_london_chi2_feature.shtml



by Victoria Durham

The musical duo Chi2, sisters Liz Chi Yen and Sarah Chi Shang Liew, fuse their Chinese heritage with Western influences to create a unique musical experience that some have called "a double violin assult" although Liz prefers the term "upbeat chill-out music."

Their approach makes them the perfect act for this year's Croydon Summer Festival. The event began as a one-day Asian celebration, or Mela, 11 years ago and has grown to incorporate a second World Party day that aims to involve the wider community through street theatre, dance and live bands.

Chi2 will appear alongside an eclectic range of artists including De La Soul and Ojos De Brugo a line up that reflects the diverse cultural make-up of the borough. "It's a good reflection of London's ethnicity," says Liz. "Also bands like us aren't mainstream, so we get the chance to perform at a free festival in London."

Playing with cellist Pauline Kirke, Liz and Sarah have provided the live string section for pop acts such as Moby, Anastacia and electronic duo Lamb. As session artists, they have recorded music for Goldfrapp, Uriah Heep and Nelly Furtado, to name a few. "We've had really good luck," says Liz. "We've worked with amazing artist and we learn from every band we play with."

It's a combination of musical pedigree and sisterly intuition that makes Chi2 so spectacular. Growing up in a musical household in North London, the sisters were taught piano and violin from an early age. Later Liz studied at the Royal Academy of Music and Guildhall School of Music and Drama, while Sarah's training included stints at Purcell School of Music and the Academy of Traditional Chinese Opera in Beijing.

"As sisters, we understand each other," says Liz. "We can finish off each other's musical phrases because we're in tune with each other. We're classically trained, but we like to take an old art form and turn it on its head."

15-16 July



By Cheryl Robbins
Staff Writer

Two British-born Chinese sisters, who share a talent for the violin, have formed Chi2. Dubbed “double violin assault specialists” by London’s Evening Standard their music is a blend of unique improvisations on electric/Chinese violins with keyboards and angelic vocals. Sarah Chi Shang Liew and Liz Chi Yen Liew explain that their performance are musical conversations, and since it is impossible to have the same conversation twice it is impossible for their music to sound the same twice. Thus, expect the unexpected from these two women.

With their unique style, they have made deep inroads into the world of music, playing with acts as diverse as MOBY, Uriah Heep, Boy George, Barry Adamson and Nelly Furtado. On their return to England next month Chi2 plans to work on their debut album.

Since the end of October, the Liews have been artists-in-residence at the Taipei Artist Village, as part of the cooperative effort between the village and the British Council. Since then, they have been busy touring the island meeting local musicians and performing at such events as the 2003 Hakka Arts and Cultural Festival.

When asked how they developed their unique style of music, Sarah explained that both sisters studied Western classical music, but wanted to break through the limitation of classical techniques to expand their creativity. She added that their music combines both Eastern and Western elements, as they have been fortunate to grow up in the UK, in a Chinese household, and to develop a deep understanding of two very different cultures.

During their stay in Taiwan, the sisters have taken the opportunity to tap into the islands rich musical tradition. For example, they have learned a traditional Hakka song elements of which have been added o their local performances.

Chi2 will perform tomorrow night at 8pm during a free concert at the Taipei Artist Village, along with DJ Alex 36 of Room 18. For more information contact the Taipei Artist Village at (02)3393-7377.



by Lennat Mak

Singapore - The name CHi2 may sound foreign to you. But chances are, you would already have heard their strings-based musical tinkerings with Moby, Uriah Heep, Anastacia, Goldfrapp, Lamb, Sixpence None The Richer, and the diverse list just goes on and on. You probably would have seen them as well, on a couple of MTV events, performing live along with Moby and KLF, and on the cover of Belle And Sebastian's Storytelling album dressed up as "Japanese goth/punks." Are you impressed with CHi2's powerful subliminal presence? Well, the good news is, the very presence is amongst us in Southeast Asia.

Brought in by the British Council for the closing of the Singapore Street Festival this weekend, CHi2 are Liz Chi Yen and Sarah Chi Shang Liew, a British-born-Chinese sister duo of Singaporean descent who plays a contemporary East-Meets-West fusion of electronic beats, electric violins, and traditional Chinese instruments like the Jinghu and Erhu. It sure does sound complicated, but wait till you see the girls live in action. Visually stunning with their vibrant and quirky dressing designed by their friend who operates in London's Spitalfields Market, the "double violin assault specialists (Singapore method)" also have a knack for spur-of-the-moment improvisations, an act that's fast becoming the trademark of their live shows.

"We're doing two half hour sets (each day). It will be quite varied and we'll give the Singaporean audiences a good sort of idea of our music. We do love improvisations, when we perform," said Liz when asked about the forthcoming street performances at Cineleisure and the Heeren Shops come this June 12 and 13 respectively.

"There might be some surprises," Sarah added mysteriously. "We don't want to give everything away!"

Although CHi2's music leans more towards the pop realm, both the sisters are classically trained with some imposing academic achievements. Liz studied at the Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and City University, while Sarah did her music schooling at Purcell School of Music and Middlesex University.

"We grew up with music in our house. Our mum is a piano teacher, so we learnt at a young age," explained Sarah. "It's always part of our lives to be involved with different music things, playing with different people and we've evolved that way. It seemed natural for us to (pursue music academically), even though it's not something that most Asian families would encourage."

The girls' love for music branched out further to traditional Chinese music -- a love so strong that not only did it spark off their fusion creativity; it also made Sarah also took up Chinese Opera at the Academy of Traditional Chinese Opera in Beijing.

"We have incorporated a lot of cultural heritage in our music. I was really interested in the really traditional Beijing opera, when I was studying in the U.K. I had the opportunity to learn with some friends from China. So, that was really interesting, as I didn't know a lot better then that it's a dying art as well."

Of course, all the hardcore classical training paid off. The girls are now one of the most in-demand strings session musicians who toured with electronic maestro Moby for four years. Other than their undisputed musicianship, does being a British-born-Chinese help their career at the international level at all?

"I really don't think it's because we are British-born-Chinese. I think we've been really, really, really fortunate with really good opportunities presented themselves to us."

Liz continued, "And I don't think it's because we are of a certain race or that we are born in Britain. With a lot pop artists, especially working as backing musicians, it may work against you to look a bit different."

Different or not, after so many years of playing behind other artists, Liz and Sarah are currently working with different producers for their very own album with a multi-media tour in the plans. But right now, if you want to catch CHi2's explosive live performances and find out what the "double violin assault specialists (Singapore method)" is exactly, here's what Liz has to say with a hearty laugh. "You will have to come and see for yourself at the Street Festival!"


Don't miss CHi2's Singapore Street Festival appearances come this weekend at the following times:

Saturday 12 June
7.45 pm to 8.20 pm: Cathay Orchard Cineleisure (Stage C)
8.55 pm to 9.30 pm: Cathay Orchard Cineleisure (Stage C)

Sunday 13 June
4.30 pm to 5 pm: Heeren Marche (Stage B)
6.30 pm to 7 pm: Heeren Marche (Stage B)

For more information on CHi2, check out the girls' official website at: - MTV ASIA


The Abduction of The Art of Noise - various artists, featuring Chi2's 'Eye of the Noodle' - (Iris Light Records) released May 2004
CHi2 EP1 - released Sep 2004
CHi2 MONKEY KING - to be released in 2008


Feeling a bit camera shy


A dynamic fusion of acoustic, Chinese and electric violins and electronics, C H I 2 perform their inimitable Eastern-tinged contemporary electro-acoustic style to stunning effect. Dubbed as “double violin assault specialists” (South China Morning Post) C H I 2 are Chinese Brit-born violinists Liz and Sarah Liew of Singaporean descent.

Their music is a melting pot of style and influences and improvisations with a plethora of weird noises and the odd sprinkling of live effects, coupled with keyboard wizardry and angelic vocals. Their music is harsh and pulsating one minute and lyrical and beautiful the next, interspersed with textural fragments and snippets of musical conversation, as they communicate in their sisterly language. Combined with specially commissioned visuals, they present a visual and aural feast.

With their solid technical grounding and improvisational abilities they have become a much in-demand session duo, and they have toured with Moby (‘18’ and ‘Play’ world tours), pop sensation Anastacia (Europe/ UK), electronic duo Lamb (Europe/UK) and have played/recorded with diverse artists such as Gnarls Barkley, Boy George, The Orb/KLF project, Nelly Furtado, Goldfrapp, Lamb, Barry Adamson, Uriah Heep to name a few.

Despite their pop tendencies they are classically trained violinists and pianists - Liz studied at the Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and City University and Sarah at Purcell School of Music, Middlesex University and Academy of Traditional Chinese Opera in Beijing. Sarah comments, “I’m glad we’ve done all that hardcore classical training as it’s given us a firm foundation from which to create and build our own music.”

So what have C H I 2 been up to? Liz responds, “We’ve just returned from performing a headline gig at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto Canada and we’ve recently toured in Asia - Singapore, Thailand, Shanghai, Taipei, Kaoshiung and Macau - which was fantastic and we hope to play there again! We’ve also co-written a track on the last Lamb album, wrote music for a Channel 4 documentary, BBC1 News, BBC Radio 4 documentary, short British-Chinese film Sauce and contributed a track on the Art of Noise tribute album. We’re currently working on an exciting multi-media electronic Beijing Opera production based on the classic Chinese tale of Monkey King…watch this space for more details!”