Cantopop star Jill Vidal launches jewellery range to support victims of sex trafficking
After finding faith and overcoming addiction, Cantopop star explains why she has decided to help victims of sex trafficking
Cantopop singer Jill Vidal, otherwise known as Wei Si, released her first album ‘Hit Me’ in 2006, propelling her into the spotlight on the Hong Kong music scene. She then starred in the musical film A Melody Looking, directed by Cantopop sensation Leon Lai, with her twin singer Janice, also a Cantopop star. But soon after, Jill became addicted to heroin and was arrested in Japan with her then boyfriend, fellow Cantopop singer Kelvin Kwan, for possessing the drug. The scandal left her career in tatters. Now a reborn Christian, the 34-year-old has launched her own jewellery label, ‘Vidal’, in collaboration with charity organisation and international jewellery label Eden Ministry, which employs former sex workers. She is also working on new material with her sister for their band Dear John. She spoke to City Weekend about empowering former sex workers, finding her faith and getting back to her number one passion; music.
You designed your new jewellery collection to help raise money for women who are victims of sex trafficking and prostitution. Why do you feel it is so important to support these women?
It has been in my heart to help these ladies who have either been tricked or forced into the sex industry. I have heard a lot of stories about their deep mental scars. It really does affect a person when you surrender your whole body to, I don’t know how many men. I think about how I would feel in that situation, or how I would feel if my loved one went through this. Of course I wouldn’t want them to be in this situation. That is when I came across Eden Ministry. My heart just wanted to help these ladies. I decided let’s partner with them; let’s help these women. They have been rescued out of it and they now have a safe haven where they can make jewellery. One of the girls I met was from a very poor village and wanted to find work in the city; a guy promised her that but he turned out to be a pimp. She wound up in an environment that she couldn’t get out of; she was threatened and tortured.
How do you think we can help to empower women in society, particularly the underprivileged?
I think education is really important. We need to look at the cause of why it’s happening and the damage it causes the victims. Also look at how can we raise awareness and prevent this issue from coming up. These women should have counsellors. They should be able to have people who can rehabilitate them, like at Eden Ministry, where they can be safe and regain their own self-worth. So they can build up that confidence so they don’t have to do that work anymore.
The name of your first jewellery collection, ‘46’ has a spiritual significance, as it represents the number of books in the Old Testament. Why did you choose that name?
This number is very close to me; I kept seeing that number during the time I was making bracelets. I call it a ‘chance glance’, like you don’t know why that number keeps popping up. I felt like God was speaking to me. So I would search the scriptures, and I found verses and scriptures that really spoke to me on a very deep level. So that’s why I decided to call it that.
You underwent a religious conversion after recovering from a heroin addiction in 2008. How has Christianity changed your life? I think I went through a really dark period of my life. I just naturally called out for something bigger in my life; and I called out for God. It changed me dramatically. Before, I wouldn’t have thought of doing something so meaningful as this jewellery range. It’s also about becoming more mature. When you go through experiences in your life you learn from it, for sure. I don’t really like the word ‘religion’ though, I prefer to replace it with ‘faith’. It plays a really big role in my life now, it has helped me to change my perspective on things. There are certain things I can’t control in my own life, so when I surrender what I can’t control to God, then that is a release for me.
You were born in Hong Kong but you have Korean and Filipino heritage; how has this influenced who you are?
It has played a huge part. I have been able to travel a lot from Seoul to the Philippines. It was two different cultures; it was really interesting growing up in that. My father and his family in the Philippines, they would play music a lot, cook up a feast and jam with their instruments. It was so joyful being on an island with all my relatives; there were so many of them too! It was like a party. But in Korea, my family are more traditional. They are not as ‘out there’. They don’t let loose as much. And then here I am in Hong Kong, and I have to sing in Cantonese, and I am not even Chinese. I still get really nervous when I have to do interviews in Cantonese. Because I want to be able to express myself eloquently, but when you are limited in a certain language it is really hard to be able to speak freely.
Which part of you do you consider to be most ‘Hongkongese’?
Probably the fact that I sing in Cantonese and that I love Chinese food! I enjoy their traditional snacks; like gai daan jai (‘egg waffles’). The fact that Hong Kong is such a cosmopolitan fusion of East and West, when I go around the world, I can blend in. I found growing up here really easy, I adapted very well.
Who are your greatest musical influences and why?
It started with my dad; his music collection has really influenced me — like Motown, Woodstock days with Sly and the Family Stone, Janice Joplin, Earth Wind and Fire. All this soulful music that my dad brought me up on has influenced me. It’s also every era of music that I’ve lived through, like the grunge era, bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Even early ‘80s music; Madonna and Prince. Those were a huge influence on me. It’s tough because in Hong Kong, we do Cantopop, so it is quite limited. When you sing in Cantonese you can’t vocally sing freely. Here, people like listening to ballads. The record company wants us to reach people in that way at the moment, but I would like to branch out from that too. I just signed to Warner Music Hong Kong last year and I’ve released two songs so hopefully I’ll be able to build up my professional relationships to be able to do that. I’m listening to Malaysian singer Yuna, Korean singer Dean and the Canadian singer The Weeknd. I really like all of their vocals and the musical arrangement of their songs.
Your twin sister Janice is also a pop star; how do you balance sibling rivalry with Friendship?
I have been compared to my sister since we were growing up. I’ve always been so used to that. It’s expected. It doesn’t bother me. Our relationship is really tight. We don’t let negative comments break us apart. Thank God we are able to work through that. We live together and work together. We don’t fight as much as we used to. One day I will have to face the day when I’ll have to move out; I’m kind of dreading that day, because I’m so close to her. I can’t imagine the pain I’ll feel when I’m away from her. I think we were quite telepathic when we were younger. I would just sense when my sister wasn’t well. And there was a time when we were 17 years old when I had a dream and she had a dream, and mine was like a continuation of her dream. It was like one story; it was crazy. I thought that was really amazing. And often we could say the same things at the same time. Like when we named our bulldog; we both said ‘Butch’ spontaneously.
Your two-year struggle with heroin is well-documented. How do you reflect on your drug use now? It’s a lot of mixed emotions. It really damaged me; I felt like I hurt a lot of people by being on it. Heroin is the most hardcore drug you can ever do and it turns you into a monster. I was so out of it and I was not focussed in my life. I was going down a black hole. I shake my head and think ‘why was I so deep into that?’ But it happened and it’s a learning experience for me. I saw the difference of when I was on it and when I was off it. Drugs break your spirit. I’m really glad that I’m off it and that’s why I really have a heart for people going through that; so hopefully I can be a light for them. Music alone or doing what you love can replace that high. I have been completely clean since 2008.
What are you working on musically at the moment and can you tell us about your future projects more generally?
I have a girl band with my sister called Dear John and I play bass. It’s EDM, pop rock; we don’t stick with one type of music. We are recording our third song; we just formed the band a couple of months ago. I am also recording my own solo song which will be out in December and I’ll be touring a lot in China with my sister, as well as gigs around Hong Kong. I want to develop my jewellery making too; I want to incorporate precious stones. I would like to support more charity based initiatives in the future too.
You’re a prolific Instagram user; how do you think it benefits your life and how do you think it hinders it?
Sometimes I feel like being on social media causes a person to envy or to want something they don’t have. I think it can really affect your creativity. You’ll see some girls who are super fit and it’s not a healthy thought to be comparing your life with them, unless you are strong enough mentally to dismiss those feelings. But the good side is you get to connect to people and get inside information on things you don’t know about. My record company encourages me to post twice a day, so I have to try to do that, even if it’s just a picture of my cat!
What do you think about celebrities and public figures getting more involved in political and social movements?
I like how someone like Emma Watson has been supporting women’s issues through the United Nations. Honestly for me, I don’t want to get involved in political things. But I respect celebrities that stand up for what they believe in and be a voice for the voiceless. But they need to fully be involved in it and really know how to help.
We can all agree that nurturing creative talent is key to HK’s future; but do you think the city can still breed creativity or at least retain or attract creativity?
I want to believe that it can be possible that we can nurture creativity here. There are a lot of creative people here; like in the underground music scene here. We have music festivals like Clockenflap which brings together art and music; not just for locals but also those who are English speaking. It’s happening in art too; graffiti artist Frank Shepard Fairey came here recently too and that got people talking. It’s difficult because I think Hong Kong is a very financially focussed city. I know a lot of Chinese families who wouldn’t encourage their kid to do something creative. They would rather they were a doctor or lawyer. But what if your kid is good at the arts; wouldn’t you want them to excel? We need to give kids the freedom to find their path and their talent.
Browse the collection at www.phatrice.com/vidal