The 52nd HK Arts Festival

Wende's Visions of Womanhood

Text / Adam Wright

Platinum-selling Dutch singer/songwriter Wende is in a great mood when she answers our Zoom call at her home in Amsterdam. Pride celebrations are in full swing outside and the "whole city is full of colour, life and excitement" as the LBGTQ community's annual festival takes place across the city.

But even in the famously liberal Dutch capital, with a once-marginalised community celebrating increasing acceptance outside Wende's window, one group that makes up half of the population is still waiting for true equality: women. And this issue is hardly limited to Amsterdam.

"I'm living in a part of the world where a lot is already great, but even here, when I talk to women in very senior positions in corporate companies and I ask them how it is, they tell me all these horror stories [about sexism in the office]," she says.

For her latest project, The Promise, Wende collaborated with five new-generation female playwrights from the Royal Court Theatre in London whose only direction was to contribute words that "can only be sung". And although Wende initiated the project without any concepts in mind, one theme emerged organically during the creative process: what it means to be a woman in the modern world.

Making women heard

 "I worked with an eclectic group of UK-based women writers who come from different places and have their own stories. The starting point was personal and emotional, but what we discovered was very much a story of this time, of what is happening right now. And as long as we have this inequality, everything I say or even think as a woman is aimed at trying to make things better or more equal, because that's what I'm longing for."

Since starting out as a singer of modern chanson, the French pop music of the 1950s exemplified by the likes of Édith Piaf, the artist born Wende Snijders has forged a unique musical identity by travelling throughout the European songbook and exploring various genres such as jazz, classical and electronica in boundary-breaking projects where language, technology and genre converge into powerful performances.

After chanson, Wende embarked on a musical journey that saw her explore everything from electronic music in Berlin to the avant-garde opera of Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht in musical theatre. But she eventually came full circle when she returned to a modernised, contemporary form of chanson on The Promise.

The Promise consists of 16 pop- and electronic-infused songs that explore themes of motherhood, loss and love, and acceptance. And these songs truly come to life in the live performance, a chanson-influenced band performance which will be coming to the Arts Festival after touring to cities in Europe, the USA, the UK and Australia.

The title track of The Promise holds particular meaning for Wende, as it sprung from her thoughts about motherhood. "When you grow older, you think about the things you want to pass on. And for me, the question was: 'If I don't want to be a mother, what form will my motherhood take?'  I wanted there to be a song that would ritualise this decision not to have kids.

"We use rituals to be a part of society and to celebrate choices we make. We have birthdays and funerals and marriages, but there's no ritual for women who decide not to have children.

"It's one of the core songs of The Promise because it represents this promise that I'm making, becoming this person and identifying my role in society. And it's also why the title is The Promise, because you just promise to be the person you need to be, to give the best you can give."

Wende—The Promise

Date:14 Mar 2024

Venue:Concert Hall, Hong Kong City Hall