‘Music for your heart’: Greentea Peng talks healing, appropriation and her debut album
With her first full length set to land this summer, rising star Greentea Peng talks spirituality, liberation, creativity and more.
“Even as a young child, I was never attached to the idea of identity and self-image, always focused on forming and then reinventing myself,” says music artist Greentea Peng. We’re speaking over Zoom about her preference to never attach labels to any aspect of her life, be it her genre – which she loosely defined as “psychedelic” – the way she dresses or her perception of spirituality.
The 26-year-old continues, “For me, I come from so many different countries I can’t align with one culture, I connect with so many different things and my music reflects that, but I try not to get too deep into anything.”
A rambler who lets her thoughts and emotions ping-pong until they reach a natural conclusion, the rising star’s real name is Aria. Based in south-east London, her music, much like everything else in her life, is a constant ebb and flow of exploration and reflection. Approaching it in a vortex of carefully explored emotions and carefree experimentation, her debut album, MAN MADE, arrives in June. It is a transportive and transformative listening experience that comes together in meditative yet trippy measures and poses the question: who is Greentea Peng?
“I come from so many different countries I can’t align with one culture, I connect with so many different things and my music reflects that”
Set against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent years in recent memory – for the world and herself – the album is both humorous and political. It simultaneously looks inwards as it traces the journey of Aria, a young girl who partook in singing for school activities and community events, especially church choir, blooming into her distinct musical persona of Greentea Peng, while also expanding outwards, reflecting on current events.
Speaking of the creative process and inspiration behind the album, she says, “I was booked for tours, so an album wasn’t in my mind at all but then everything started kicking off and all of a sudden I was ready.
“So the album is somewhat of a political statement but explores a lot of general emotions that we probably all have been feeling as a collective; confusion, a bit of rage, disenfranchisement with the society and government. A product of my life in its totality thus far but sparked by current events in 2020 and spun off my personal experience, my reactions and interpretations of it.”
“There are lots of emotions and energies involved in the album, it was a sonic exploration made with an intention to offer healing but also explores loss and mourning”
For Aria, who lost her stepdad just as she settled into making the album, this collection of songs can only be described as a journey. “There are lots of emotions and energies involved, it was a sonic exploration made with an intention to offer healing but also explores loss and mourning.” Delving into her process for this album, the singer explained that as someone whose “creativity comes in sporadic doses,” the sonics of the album were constantly thrust between being really meditative or full of energy.
On her creative vision, she explains, “I didn’t want this album to just be random songs. I wanted it to be a body of work, to have a feeling. The slogan for the album is ‘music for your heart and not your mind’ but there’s a difference between your mind and your subconscious, so it is thought-provoking but in your feelings at the same time.” Pausing to thump her chest, she adds, “It’s been specifically designed to resonate properly, you know, in your chest.”
Despite always setting out with certain intentions, she tries to practice not getting too attached to her music.“Once you get too attached you begin to overthink, and at the end of the day, music is just expression. You can’t get stuck trying to constantly make changes to a song or album, you need to let go and move on to the next expression.”
This idea of letting go and moving on is possibly best explored in the hypnotic, low-lit single ‘Kali V2’, which she says is a “battle tune that seeks to give back power to the people.” The track pays ode to the Hindu goddess Kali Ma, and she explains, “I was really angry when I wrote it, being bombarded with lots of information with attention brought to a lot of things all at once. I think a lot of things were revealed about the illusion in which we are all living this past year. I do associate Kali Ma with a battle cry. But I also associate Ma with rebirth and creation. Moving out of the old, and into the new. Looking for a new way forward for everyone, a new sound, moving into the next frequency.”
“We all have different names, different stories and understandings of God. But we are all talking about the same thing”
On the topic of Kali Ma, the conversation swerves into the themes of spirituality. As someone making music that is often tagged “spiritual” – a description which she believes to be vague – Aria stresses that she is not a preacher. “When I began a spiritual journey, when I began to see things a bit clearer is when I also fell back into music. The two combined quite naturally, but I never set out to make ‘spiritual music’, people have attached that description to my music, but that’s never been something I’ve set out to do intentionally.”
Though she clarifies that she is still learning – careful to respect people’s opinions on spirituality and religion – she offers her take on the subject. “All religions and spiritual practices teach acceptance of one another, so we have to challenge this concept of appropriation. There is actually only one race, and that is the human race. We all have different names, different stories and understandings of God. But we are all talking about the same thing. Every different individual has a very different experience with it. It really is very personal at the same time as being encompassing of everyone.”
The end goal has never been to identify herself through any label awarded by the life she lives, but to better herself and by extension make better music. She explains, “All I want is to explore different states of being through different sounds. My main goal for my musical journey is to be so free at the end of it, so expressive that I don’t need lyrics, just sounds and people will still feel something.”
Reflecting on her career, she explains she considers this album – made from scratch by her and her band The Seng Seng Family – the biggest highlight, “I’ve never felt so creative before. The plan was always to go away and make music. But there were moments where I felt like I didn’t want to do this now, but overriding it was a voice that said this is the best thing to do right now. Once the music started, it was a natural motivation.”
Channelling her deepest inner-thoughts and delving into explorations of the human race beyond the illusions and ego that holds us back, she felt “she could make anything she wanted” and that’s exactly what she did. When the music stopped, she had said everything she needed to say and felt everything she needed to feel, leaving behind a rich and varied sonic landscape that thrums with an alchemy of music, imagery and messages.
At the end of our conversation, the answer to “who is Greentea Peng?” that seemed so mystical now appears clear and bright. Greentea Peng is different things to different people but above all her aim is to liberate and empower you with the poignant vibrations of her music.
Greentea Peng’s debut album MAN MADE is out 4 June. You can preorder it here.