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24 September 2014

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Chinese New Year

Chi2 - where East and West meet

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.

Sisters Liz and Sarah of Chi2

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.

last updated: 06/02/07
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