Songyong Wang discovers the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll in downtown St. John’s

Originally from China, the 22-year-old says she would love to bring the music here back home.

Songyong Wang, 22, moved from China to St. John’s in 2017. She’s fallen in love with the local music scene and documents as much of it as she can. Andrew Waterman/Kicker

Songyong Wang remembers arguing with her father for an entire year when she was in Grade 3. She wanted to pursue music when she was older, but he insisted she pursue something like engineering.

He won the argument.

Wang was surprised to find out this conversation was a common one for musicians in Newfoundland as well.

“Is it the same here?” she said. “I didn’t know that. I thought my dad was very stubborn.”

Wang, originally from China, moved to St. John’s in September of 2017.

“I just chose a place I didn’t know,” she said.

It was simple. Wang wanted to study abroad to see more of the world. Her father, citing gun ownership as his reason, said he would not feel comfortable with her moving to America.

“You can live anywhere but there,” Wang remembers him saying.

They decided on Newfoundland because they were told it was quiet, which was good for studying. It was also safe, which would ease her father’s nerves.

She began studying environmental engineering at Memorial University. But she knew something was missing. She knew she wanted more.

“I (saw) Mick Davis. That was the first time I fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll.”

While walking in downtown St. John’s, Wang and three of her friends stopped to listen to a street performer playing a drum and singing, ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. Krishna Krishna, Hare, Hare,’ repeatedly. The group started singing along.

While singing, it hit her what she was missing – music.

“That happens with me – there are a lot of moments,” she said. “Certain moments just happen and you think, yeah, I want to do something more.”

She travelled to Toronto and Montreal to go to some music festivals. What the bands names were, Wang didn’t remember, other than one.

“I only know one was Shawn Mendes,” she said. “All of the girls were screaming his name by my ears … I was texting my friend and asked who is this guy? I don’t want to hear his name anymore.”

Wang says she enjoyed the music, but notes there are differences in the way people view music across the two countries.

“We don’t have the band culture,” she said. “Chinese music is very different from the music here … the instruments are (just) background.”

She began frequenting the Black Sheep in downtown St. John’s, which was holding an anniversary celebration at the time. She would sit there from beginning to end and take it all in, recording video and taking pictures to share with her friends along the way.

“I was like the paparazzi,” she said.

In September of this year, Darrell Power, former bass player for Great Big Sea, noticed her taking video of him at one of his shows at the Black Sheep. He approached her and asked if she wanted to be a reporter.

“The night I met Darrell is one of the best nights,” Wang said.

Power works with Radio RIAC, a radio program the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council put together in conjunction with Memorial University’s radio station CHMR.

Hans Rollman, who works at CHMR, says the program is “absolutely amazing.” It brings together people from the local immigrant community to share stories and advice. He says one of the benefits of the program is the connection the people involved make with other cultures, but also the connection they make with Newfoundland culture.

“Their interest is in both showcasing the talents of new residents and immigrants but also … they bring in lots of long running local bands,” Rollman said. “(Wang) does a lot of the reporting for that part of the Radio RIAC program.”

Through the program she continued exploring her love affair with the local music scene, taking in what the city has on display. One night in particular stands out.

“I (saw) Mick Davis,” she said. “That was the first time I fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll.”

“Everything comes to me as a surprise. I really enjoy all kinds of surprise.”

In China, Wang says all they hear is recordings of rock ‘n’ roll and people don’t understand the live show is where the spirit and the soul are.

“(In China) we don’t know too much about the original rock ‘n’ roll,” she said. “They are learning rock ‘n’ roll but it’s not something original. I see the differences and I really want to let them know what the real one (is) … I want to do that but I’m not sure if I can do it. I’ll try, I’ll try.”

Newfoundlanders are familiar with the scene, Wang says. But for her, everything is different.

“Everything comes to me as a surprise. I really enjoy all kinds of surprise.”

When asked to describe the music scene, Wang begins laughing.

“Oh, vocabulary things,” she says. “I’m a foreigner.”

At Atlantic place, a few notes on a piano reverberate through the first floor food court. Wang’s head turns mid-conversation toward the noise, interrupting her thought process.

“That’s good,” she says. “I’m curious. Sorry, I’m really curious.”

If she becomes successful at promotion she wants to bring live rock ‘n’ roll to China, with stops throughout Canada along the way.

“I want to build a bridge between China and here,” she said. “I want to promote those local musicians first and if I got a chance to export something back, I may do that.”

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