Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Twin pop singers from Atlanta find a welcome in China

After their trysts with gospel music, R&B, hip-hop and some Motown in parts of the world, two Americans are now happy to entertain China. Belle Taylor talks to the Jackson Twinz.
Preach and Danger Jackson are identical twins, but that's not the only reason it's tricky to tell them apart.

Aside from being the spitting image of each other, they often dress alike, and the brothers are no shrinking violets when it comes to sartorial style. They appear more like screaming carnations, with red trousers, red shirts and matching short red ties. They top off the ensemble with black shoes, and wear dark aviator sunglasses even at night.

"Our father always told us, it doesn't matter if you are flat broke, you always dress like you have a million dollars in your pocket," Preach, whose real name is Scharodrick, says.

His brother Danger (real name Scharod) interjects, "2 million!"

The snappily dressed duo are best known by their stage name The Jackson Twinz, and are recognized by many people in Beijing. They have appeared in nightclubs and bars and have been the musical entertainment at countless balls, music festivals, fashion shows and corporate events ever since they touched down in the Chinese capital four years ago.

"We didn't plan to be here," Danger says. Preach nods in agreement: "But China had a surprise for us. It's green, it's open, it's new."

The brothers were performing in Singapore when they first were presented with an offer to travel to China. Initially reluctant, they decided to take a risk and found themselves happily surprised. A residency at Beijing's Lan club led to further opportunities and they have since made the city their base.

"We played at the wedding of a celebrity, we didn't know who the celebrity is, and then it just led to other things," Preach says. "We are quite business orientated, so we spoke to the owners (of Lan) and we said, 'if you want to be successful here, if you want to pack this place out with high-end customers we need to go outside at least once a month,' ... so every month we went out and did some big TV show and that brought in clients."

The brothers are from Atlanta and started singing gospel in the church with their sisters, also twins, when they were children. "But they were a little bit tone deaf," Preach says of his sisters, waving his hand in a mockingly dismissive gesture.

He says, the brothers though had the perfect pitch when they were aged 8 or 9, and easily got their way. "In our family we have 17 sets of twins and we were the only boys."

Gospel led to singing R&B, and in 1991 they ventured overseas for the first time - to Japan where they found themselves playing at a venue that specialized in Motown music. The genre - soul music infused with pop, and inspired by the American motor town of Detroit - was unfamiliar to the brothers, but they quickly adapted, and credit the experience for broadening their repertoire.

"You gotta know the crowd," Preach says. "We can change our style. When we were (at) Gary's Motown in Japan we knew nothing about Motown. It's the 1930s, sometimes 1920s music."

Danger says their gospel background made the music easy enough to pick up, but the other aspects of Motown were a learning curve. "It's all dancing and singing, lights camera, action, for six months straight! Then we were also doing hip-hop and R&B, we went up to Tokyo for that."

The influence of those years can be seen in their stage act today. The brothers not only sing, but they know how to work a crowd into a frenzy. Their dance moves help, as does their propensity to pull members of the audience onstage to be part of the show.

They have recorded several albums, mainly in their genre of choice - R&B, but usually manage to squeeze a gospel track into each one, but their main game is performing, which they have done the world over. Spain, Germany, Malaysia and the Philippines are among the countries where they've played.

But for now, they are happy to take the opportunities that are coming their way in China, including landing minor acting roles in movies.

They say hard work and professionalism have held them in good stead in China, and while they see an increasing number of musicians making their way to the country, eager to take advantage of the opportunities available, they say not everyone is successful.

"We say to people, it don't happen overnight," Danger says.

He has some sound advice for those who want to pursue their own China dream. "Whatever path you take, just work hard."

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