Last Sunday afternoon, Wang Leehom, an American born Taiwanese singer-songwriter, spoke at the Oxford Union to a crowded debating chamber.
Leehom, 36, arrived amongst loud excited cheering and clapping. He focused his talk on how the east and west need to understand each other better and build a stronger relationship “like roommates”. He stressed the idea of generating a novel global music culture called “world pop”.
Leehom spoke of his mixed experiences growing up in New York and the difficulties that he faced as a minority there. Leehom stressed the importance of music in integrating different cultures. “It breaks down walls’, he said, “helping to build bridges, allowing people from different backgrounds to connect”.
He began his speech with a minute silence to pray for the victims of the Chinese Sichuan earthquake and the Boston Marathon bombings.
Leehom moved to Taiwan in his late teens. He learned to play many traditional Chinese instruments and learned what made the Chinese audience connect with “certain structures, melodies and rhythms”. Thus, Leehom began to fuse his western pop/R&B music with these traditional Chinese song elements and became a pioneer in combining eastern and western soundscapes to create his novel sounds: world pop.
In his talk, and the subsequent Q&A, Leehom strongly emphasised how the east and the west should make more efforts to understand one another, to allow for “more cross cultural exchanges” in order to “break down stereotypes” and remove misunderstandings”.
He said that popular culture can have an “enormous influence on how we think, interact with others, behave and understand one another.
“It is not only pure entertainment”, he said, but it can profoundly shape dialogues, “define values across the globe”.