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Singular Sensation

Jane Lui is a One-Woman Show

Audrey Magazine, News Feature, David Yi Posted: Dec 17, 2008

Taking a moment at the piano, Jane Lui calmly takes a breath before playing her first note. Its August 2, 2008, and shes playing at the Ford Amphitheater as a contestant in Kollaboration Acoustic, an offshoot of Kollaboration, an Asian American talent showcase, now held in four major U.S. cities and Canada, since 2000. Shes competing against established groups like Ken Oak Band and YouTube sensation Jennifer Chung, both of whom have fans from all over the country.

Lui, on the other hand, doesnt have many, if any, people who recognize her or even know who she is. Outside of San Diego, Calif., where shes from, shes an unknown; a fresh-faced struggling artist who needs to prove herself to a tough new crowd who want to know why she is worthy of both their time and a $45 ticket.

Ten minutes before curtain, Jane is trembling with fear. Im a shaking mess, she thinks to herself. I cant do it. Nerves take over, giving way to a steady stream of doubt. But too much is at stake. Not just a $1,000 prize that would go a long way toward paying her rent, but some well-needed recognition. Lui settles comfortably into the piano bench, resting her fingers lightly on the keys, and with one last exhale, she lets the music flow through her fingers. No turning back now.


The 29-year-old Hong Kong native has always been a one-woman show. In an industry where a team of handlers work to create and promote everything from an artists image to their record sales and bookings, its surprising to find that Lui does it all by herself.

From a young age, Lui performed Hong Kong pop songs in her room by herself. When she decided to take her bedside singing pro, she began booking her own shows in front of large crowds. From there, shes gone on to write and record her own songs, self-release albums and promote herself through her self-managed website (www.Janelui.com). Shes done it all, without the help of any hot shot manager, team of handlers or even a record label. Its an eight- to 10-hour constant job and investment, she says. I dont get anything back, but you get to learn so much about glory and dirty stuff in this business. I want to learn every single thing on my own.

Luis love of music and her determination began at a young age. While others begged their parents to let them quit the piano, Lui was fascinated with it, spending more time playing the instrument than with other children. I was always a shy kid, so I didnt have many friends, she remembers. Its the piano that really became my friend.

The piano become her refuge again in college at the University of California San Diego where she was studying communications, a subject she quickly came to dislike. I abhorred [communications] Im not a good reader and I read so slow and cant write, she says. It kicked my ass. I needed to change to music.

So during her college years, she took her passion for music more seriously and began playing at open mic nights throughout San Diego. But toying with the idea of making a career out of music became extremely intimidating. I was a little scared, she admits. I think every pining artist goes through a stage of should I really do this or screw it, get something real or whatever. I was really sad for six to eight months. Personally, I got sick of taking pity with myself and was like fk it, lets do it. I would regret not trying.

So with a new determination, Lui set out to make a name for herself and make a living doing what she knew best: play her heart out on the piano.

Soon enough, she was opening for other startup acts like Jim Bianco, Kate Earl and Jay Nash. She also became close with Jason Mraz before he peaked, and even began writing songs with him. Hed hang out, wed write together and mutually admired each other, she says fondly of Mraz. He had a huge following and is so charming.

After a few years, Lui released her first album in 2005 titled Teargirl, where one of her songs, Freddie Goodtime, was nominated for various awards including the San Diego H.A.T. Awards, an annual awards show honoring local acoustic talent. Her latest self-released album, Barkentine, was an even bigger hit. Influenced by a mixture of Brazilian jazz and folk, with a smidgen of pop, the album was nominated this year for Best Local Recording by the San Diego Music Awards.

The entire idea of Barkentine, a boat with three or more masts, stems from the idea of traveling, Lui says. The album name came from a dream that I had. One night I saw a big ship in my mind. I saw these spirits and ghosts and people, they were all freaky and awesome. The image just stuck with me.

They [Brazilians] have this sensitivity to music thats lush but gives a lot of space, Lui continues. The music creates a lush picture, but gives enough silence in between.

The album has been well received by the San Diego community. The music and words are gorgeous, writes one reviewer from the San Diego Troubadour Review. Her voice is flawless, naked and real, which makes this a good time to switch to the production value of this work.

One track off the album, Firefly, was even picked up by Sony and featured on its mylo Internet device, a pocket-size PC that connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi. Her song Freddie Goodtime was also featured.

After living in San Diego for several years, Lui decided that it was time to expand both musically and personally. In August, she moved to San Francisco. It was a gamble for her since she had no steady income (just $2,000 to her name), a new place in an expensive city and no guarantee that shed even make it. But, she says it feels like its finally her time. Im like a bullet, she says. I feel polished, I feel ready.


Like a veteran, this one-woman act takes the stage at Kollaboration and begins to play Pigeon Woman. Onstage, Luis true strength comes through. With a rich, deep voice, a melodic yet haunting chorus, and fingers like hammers on the piano, its evident that this is where she belongs.

Her sound is not only so unique, but her presence and demeanor exude a really genuine kind of musicality, says Joyce Chen, a senior at the University of Southern California, an attendee. She commands respect and attention on stage and I hope she can reach a larger audience with her sound.

At the end of the night, all 12 contestants hit the stage to hear the results. Lui stands quietly in the background in a black tank top and jeans, her hair separated by two braids, one with a blond streak. After a few moments, the third place winner is announced. Not Jane Lui. Then second still not Lui. The crowd gets boisterous as people shout out who they feel should win. Lui looks down and shrugs, thinking she didnt win anything.

The $1,000 check and a chance to play at the House of Blues and the Shrine Auditorium goes to, begins Kollaboration founder and emcee Paul PK Kim. Jane Lui!

Luis face turns white, then tears run down her face. As PK hands her the check, he asks how she feels. She simply stutters, Thank you

And as she accepts that one check in that one special moment before an audience of new fans, her musical one-woman journey doesnt seem so lonely after all.

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