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British performer sings China's praises through music

By Bo Leung in London | | Updated: 2017-11-30 00:42

British singer Mary-Jess Leaverland is on a mission to bring Chinese music to a wider audience.

The performer, who goes by the stage name Mary-Jess, is a past winner of China's equivalent of The X-Factor and is currently on a 27-day tour of the United Kingdom. Later, she wants to tour China.

Mary-Jess, who is from Gloucester in Western England, discovered her passion for the Chinese language when she studied Mandarin at school, and she reinforced it when she went on a language exchange program to Nanjing University, as part of her music and Chinese course at the University of Sheffield.

While there, she won a talent competition aimed at non-Chinese people that was named I Want to Sing to the Stars, before winning the final of the main contest in 2009. The live show was watched by 70 million people in the East Coast province of Jiangsu. She used her prize money to fly back to England for Christmas, and had signed a record deal less than a week later.

China is still very close to Mary-Jess' heart and she feels lucky to be able to combine her two passions; music and Chinese.

Although she has been back to China since she won the competition, the classical singer has not yet had the chance tour there.

"I want to tour in China and make an album for the Chinese market," the 27-year-old said. "I never had the chance to do that. It was such a whirlwind when I won the competition and I just came straight back to England. So many people voted for me on that show and I wasn't able to release anything and I would like to do it as a thank you for voting for me and dedicate the album to them."

She said touring China will also give her the opportunity to explore the different dialects around the country.

Mary-Jess said she believes singing in Mandarin sets her apart from other performers but she also does it because she wants to sing songs that are meaningful to her.

"If I didn't incorporate China and Chinese into what I was doing, it wouldn't be a true representation of me, of my story, and of my life, so it needs to be included somehow, somewhere," she said.

She also wants to show people "how beautiful the language is and make people more aware of that".

"I can only see that being a great thing, and then they might also appreciate my love of it a bit more as well," she said. "People in the UK love it when I sing in Chinese, because it's so different. One person came up to me after a show in Surrey after I sang a Chinese solo completely unaccompanied and said, 'I could listen to you sing that all night, can you do a concert full of that please?' It was just what I wanted to hear."

Mary-Jess is working on an EP with various young singers, including Tazmin Barnes, who also speaks Mandarin. The pair plan to do a duet in Chinese.

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