Music and charity in Yi’s heart

Taiwan-based singer-songwriter Yi Jet Qi

This proud Malaysian musician hopes to inspire young people to give back to society.

HE has written songs for the likes of Jacky Cheung, Jolin Tsai, Fish Leong and Rene Liu.

These numbers went on to become hits for the top Asian names, but little do people know that they were written by a Malaysian composer from Sarawak.

Such is the relatively low profile of the formerly Taiwan-based singer-songwriter Yi Jet Qi, or Jet Yi as he is better known, whose greatest skill is penning songs despite having no formal musical background.

Among his notable Mandarin compositions are Long Time No See by Jacky Cheung, Ces’t La Vie and Stop Crying For Him by Fish Leong, Panda by Rene Liu, and Jolin Tsai’s My Reliance.

While Yi thanks God for his songwriting talent, he attributes the ability to compose a memorable and popular tune to luck (60% of it, he says).

“In my 12 years of writing songs and hoping people will like them, luck is very important and I’ve been blessed (with it),” says Yi, 38, in Mandarin during an interview in Kuala Lumpur recently to promote the upcoming second edition of the local charity concert, Ice-Cream 4U.

“Of course, hard work counts for 20% while the rest comes from help we receive from others.”

In some of his music videos, the Miri native can be seen strumming his guitar while singing. He says he only started picking up guitar at the age of 32, and a self-taught one at that!

Looking smart in a chequered shirt and dark blue fedora, the affable and down-to-earth Yi readily shares about his career, personal life and his current pet project – the charity concert (see Cool concert).

Yi, however, confesses that he was not always an easy-going or happy person, especially in the earlier years before 2006.

“I used to be petty and bothered about how people viewed me. Even during press interviews, I was aloof and gave only one-liners or brief answers,” he relates.

So how did the transformation come about, I ask him.

“It was my mum’s advice that made me become a better person. She said she has always been proud of me, but that I should learn to open up and be happy with what I was doing. Or it wouldn’t be meaningful,” says Yi.

Jet Yi (left) with lead actor Aniu in a scenefrom this year’s Ice Kacang Puppy Love, aromantic drama set in Malaysia.

The good son that he is, he took his mother’s advice whole-heartedly and now, years later, “I’m glad I’ve become a lot more relaxed and positive”.

Yi went to the United States to take up a course at 19. Seven years later, in 1998, he joined the music industry and was lucky to be under the tutelage of the Taiwanese music maestro Jonathan Lee, whom Yi calls his sifu (master).

Prior to that Yi had been working different jobs in countries like Australia and Singapore. When his songwriting career took off, he made Beijing, China, his base for five years before relocating to Taiwan, where he lived for seven years, and still flies to regularly for work.

These past couple of years, Yi has been spending more of his time in Malaysia, working and concentrating on the organising and fund-raising aspects of his charity concert to give back to society.

One cannot help but sense that it’s a sincere effort that Yi genuinely cares about.

“As an artiste, it is normal, even easy, to make albums, but a charity concert like this is something I’ve always wanted to do.

“I hope to inspire our younger generation to give back where they can, that if artistes like us can contribute our time, why not them?” he says.

The good son remembers his late father’s words of wisdom (the senior Yi passed away in 2003).

“He told me that no matter how much I’ve achieved, I must not forget my roots because Malaysia will always be my home.

»Ifartisteslike uscancontributeour time,why notthem...JET YI

“He was 68 when he passed on. I’ll always remember my dad as someone who worked very hard to support the family, with practically no time to himself,” Yi says quietly.

In memory of his dad, he wrote the song Qian Li Zhi Wai (A Thousand Miles Away), which was released as a single in 2003, that tells of the heartbreaking distance he feels being away from his family (he was in Taiwan), and the painful loss of his father.

So far, Yi has recorded three albums – Sad Without You (2001), Sky (2006) and Great With You (2008). Apart from A Thousand Miles Away, Yi has released another single this year, Yi Jet Qi “G” Live!.

He is currently working on his new album where he will breathe new vibes into some 10 old songs that he had previously composed for other artistes.

“The songs will be rearranged and played in acoustic style, with just the guitar and piano that I’m also picking up.

“It’s like a reflection of myself when I’m alone in my room. Moreover, an acoustic arrangement makes the songs sound fresh,” he says.

The new album is scheduled to be out after next Chinese New Year. He says there are no new materials for the album, thus eliminating the pressure to get a song right and make it the next big hit.

“I’m a writer with moods, so whenever I compose, it has to be with the right emotions and in the right state of mind,” he says frankly.

Our conversation naturally shifts to his love life. Yes, he has a girlfriend, and they have been going out for eight years.

“She is very supportive of my career, and I’m grateful for that,” says Yi of his lady love, also a Malaysian, who is two years younger than him.

“I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my girlfriend to any press so far!” he smiles.

On wedding plans, he says both of them are perfectly happy where they are and are not yet ready for marriage as the media in Taiwan would scrutinise their every move.

“I want to protect her. But when we do decide to tie the knot, I’ll definitely make the announcement, and we are likely to hold our wedding here in Malaysia,” says Yi.

Among Yi’s career highlights was winning the Most Promising Young Artiste Award at the Taiwan Golden Melody Award – touted as the Grammys of the East – in 2002. In 2008, he clinched a slew of trophies at the Malaysian Entertainment Journalists Association Music Awards.

“I never really thought about winning awards. But having won, it’s a motivation for me to work harder, to gain further recognition,” he says.

Yi says he loves listening to folk and disco, two very different music genres.

“I like folk music because it’s a very personal type of songwriting. And because I play the guitar, it’s easy to relate to these music notes that are sung close to the heart.

“As for disco, it’s because I like to dance! Also, at these clubs, I get to people-watch and relax as the music plays,” he quips.

Besides being passionate about charity, Yi is also committed to preserving the environment.

“I would never use disposable utensils. The environment and trees are like our mother. For all the destruction wrought by mankind, nature is now spitting its rage and punishing us,” he states.

On a lighter note, Yi, an avid foodie, reveals that the one dish he always misses is Penang char kuay teow (fried rice noodles).

“I can finish three plates of char kuay teow at one go!”

So it’s not surprising that Yi has plans to write songs about the popular food locations in Malaysia for an album promoting such places.

What may come sooner is a concert in Malaysia, probably as a collaboration with fellow Taiwan-based Malaysian singer-songwriter Penny Tai, citing their similarity in music styles.

Acting, meanwhile, is something Yi would like to see more in his résumé.

The Sarawakian made his acting debut in Aniu’s Ice Kacang Puppy Love, which is set in a small town in Malaysia, earlier this year. In the movie featuring Aniu’s directorial debut and a host of Malaysian artistes from Taiwan, Yi plays a coffeeshop owner’s quiet son and Aniu’s elder brother. Since then, he has been bitten by the acting bug.

Nevertheless, he would much rather be a scriptwriter than an actor, he says.

“But in order to write good scripts, I need to first learn the ropes of acting and playing different roles.

“A dark, sombre character would be interesting to portray, like that of a psychotic person. I hope Lee Sinje reads this, so hopefully her husband (Hong Kong director Oxide Pang) would consider casting me!” he grins.