When this poised, intelligent, and humorous artist shares her gift with me, my heart melts. Every. Single. Time. Today for the second feature of Hmong Women in Music, it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to one of the finest Hmong female voices of our time.
Growing up in Northern California in beautiful Yuba City, Kristine Xiong Yang began her music career over ten years ago. At a young age, she discovered singing in church, but did not greet it with open arms right away as many of us would imagine. (You'll find out why below.) At just 16 years young, Kristine released her first album Ib Leeg Ntxhais in 2006, and within a six-year span, she gave us the gifts of two more albums, Yexus Ib Leeg Xwb (2010), and Fij Rau Koj (2012).
A big smile spreads itself upon my face as I think about the memories that Kristine and I have shared on and off stage. She is as pure as her music, as bold as her message, and as sweet as her voice. You will know exactly what I mean as you read Kristine Xiong Yang's exclusive interview today.
WARNING: Have a tissue handy.
Hi Kristine! Let’s start off with getting to know you a bit. How would you describe yourself to someone who’s never met you before?
Kristine: I would describe myself as a person who’s easy to get along with. I love joking around and making people laugh. I am definitely a family-oriented girl and love being around people who have a fun-loving vibe. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to the things I am very passionate about, such as music. I’ve discovered that I am an extrovert, but a true introvert at heart. I’m a self-motivated individual and always strive to be the best I can be. My favorite thing to do is lounge around in my pj’s with my husband and our dog and just watch movies.
Your voice is golden, but that’s not the only reason why you’re remarkable. I had the pleasure to spend one full day with you during HMF 2012, and learned how young at heart, how funny, and how sweet you are. Who &/or what inspires you to be who you are today?
Kristine: In my journey as being a Hmong Christian artist, I’ve faced many obstacles that have shaped me and have inspired me to be who I am today. In our Hmong community, we have people who love and support artists and we have those who just criticize from the sidelines. Singing songs based on my faith has brought many positive and negative effects into my life. I’ve dealt with many negative comments stating how my voice is just being put to waste because I’m singing Christian songs. I’ve had people personally confront me asking why I don’t sing normal secular music; they’d tell me that I was dumb because I’d get so much more money singing that genre. I remembered being so bothered by those words and feeling so hurt. But during those cloudy moments I learned to grow thick skin and stand up for what I knew I was called to do. I grew wiser from it and was reminded of why I do what I do...despite the little amounts of negativity, there was so much beauty reaping from all the people who supported my music. I’ve received comments, personal messages, and emails from so many who have been touched in one way or another by my music. I’m always brought to tears when I receive messages about someone’s life relating to my songs; how they’re not even Christian but they feel God’s love when they listen to my songs, how they’ve been lost in faith for decades and have been brought back to Christ through one song, how they don’t like Hmong music but they enjoy mine, how they don’t like going to church but are somehow wanting to experience the love described in my music. This is what inspires me to be who I am today. My supporters are the ones who motivate me to never give in to the norm and to always stand firm in my faith.
When and how did your music journey begin?
I began my music journey at a very young age. I remember I was always given the microphone at church when singing with all the other kids. I never really understood why; it always made me nervous and embarrassed. I would sing in the shower as a child (that’s my usual singing sanctuary) and my parents would always nag at me for taking FOREVER in the bathroom. My mom used to make me sing special songs at church with her and that’s where I grew my courage to be on stage. She definitely prepared me at a young age to have a brave heart! After many years of singing at church and small community events, my parents wanted to support me in recording my first album at the age of 16. I remembered feeling extremely overwhelmed and thought it was just going to be a one shot wonder...but little did I know what was in store for me.
You have millions of views on your YouTube channel, and your original song, Lub Sijhawm has four million views alone. In other words, your music impacts people to the core. How did Lub Sijhawm come to be? Did you expect its incredible success? And is there one special thing you’d like fans to know about or take away from this song?
Kristine: Lub Sijhawm is a special song that was written by my parents. Those who know my mom and dad know that they are a very loving couple. They always hold hands everywhere they go and they are not afraid to show their affection towards each other. One night before bed, my mom was sound asleep already and as my dad was getting ready to crawl into bed, he couldn’t help but stare at my mom sleeping peacefully. My dad said that he was just so happy to be hers and to share life with her. He didn’t want to close his eyes because he didn’t want to miss a moment with her. Since that night, they’ve teamed up together to write Lub Sijhawm. It’s truly a song based on their love and life together. After they wrote the lyrics, I messed around with the melody and came up with the rest of the song. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that song to touch so many lives. I’m still blown away that even after 5 years since the song has been released, people are still karaoking to it and are still enjoying it on Youtube. The song would be nothing without all the amazing people who support it! I want every person that listens to Lub Sijhawm to be encouraged to love their spouses/significant others wholeheartedly and to spend every minute treasuring them. An advice my mom had always told me before I got married was: When you are in a relationship where you are both racing each other to see who can show the most love, it becomes a game where you will never get tired of each other’s acts of love and affection and you will fall in love with each other over and over again! My wish is that Lub Sijhawm reflects that type of love and teaches others to love and be loved the same.
As an artist myself, I love learning about other artists’ creative process. When you’re writing songs, what are you doing to write a song that’ll hit millions of hearts? (‘Cause it’s happening, sister!)
Kristine: When I write music, it usually doesn’t come to me when I’m purposely sitting down thinking about it. Lyrics and melodies come to me at the most random times: in the shower, when I’m driving, when I’m cooking, and when I’m at work. Because of that, I always keep my phone handy so I can quickly record it. Every time I write a song, I always try to base it on stories I’ve heard or situations that I’ve personally experienced. It’s just simply a pen, paper, and my piano.
I've learned to create music not based on my faith alone, but based on what comes from the heart.
-Kristine Xiong Yang
As a Hmong Christian female artist, you have the gift to create music for fans from both secular and non-secular communities. Are there challenges when it comes to creating music or performing at certain venues for your fans of various faiths?
Kristine: As a Hmong Christian female artist I do face many challenges when it comes to creating music and performing at events. From the very beginning I’ve told myself that sharing my music with the world was truly a blessing and I promised to use it as my way to minister out and share God through my songs. At first, I didn’t think that my music could reach the secular community; it actually wasn’t a goal of mine. But I’ve had the opportunity to share my songs with that community and have found so much support in it and have received so much blessings from it. I’ve had the humbling experience to be able to open doors for people to find Christ. It took my music purpose to a whole new level! Sometimes I get anxious performing at secular events; I feel like I don’t belong there. But as soon as I get on stage, I’m reminded that it’s a given opportunity for me to share love with everyone of all faiths. Creating music has made me realize that I can’t please everyone. Not everyone will agree with my choice of lyrics, not everyone will feel encouraged by my songs, and not all will want to listen, but it’s ok...it’s really ok. I've learned to create music not based on my faith alone, but based on what comes from the heart.
What’s one tough lesson that being in the spotlight as a female artist has taught you? Were there surprises along the way?
Kristine: Being in the spotlight has taught me to always be prepared to have people point and stare. I joke around all the time saying that I need to carry gum with me everywhere I go because I just don’t know who I’m going to meet on the daily. I think the scariest thing about being in the spotlight is knowing how many people are watching your every move; waiting to see if you succeed or fail. Many are there to encourage and cheer you on and some are simply there just to bring you down. I had to learn that lesson the hard way through many countless tears. It’s taught me to build a brave heart and to keep my head up above the water so that I won’t drown. There have been many surprises along the way of being in the spotlight...I never imagined that I’d be recognized while walking around in Mall of America. I never dreamed that I’d ever turn around to find a sweet little unfamiliar face asking me to sing my song to her and her mom while waiting in line at Walmart. It’s definitely hard being in the spotlight, but with it comes so much power to touch souls, share love, and inspire those around you. I always remind myself that the spotlight is not a place of power to use and abuse for my own benefit; instead I must remember to stay humble and see it as a place to shine light and love.
Aside from music, what other talents do you have that most may not know of?
Kristine: Aside from music, I love photography and spend a lot of my time devoted to that hobby. I specialize in weddings and portrait style shoots and can sit on my laptop and slave away for days on end. I’m also talented in making funny voices and cracking jokes...apparently my friends and family think it’s funny and get a kick out of it. I love to make people laugh and feel happy, so I do it for them. I love to cook and experiment with different types of food when I have time. I can also make a very tasty, yet healthy smoothie!
What is one of the proudest moments you’ve ever had as a female artist?
Kristine: One of the proudest moments I’ve ever had as female artist was when I was performing a concert at a church event a few years ago. I stopped singing in the middle of my song because I got emotionally choked up hearing the voices of my audience singing along with me. Their voices overpowered mine and made me feel so incredibly humbled to be witnessing some many people singing my song. Some audience members weren’t even Christian and they knew the words to the song. I’m not going to lie...it was the coolest experience ever. It was the most humbling, proudest moment of my life.
What are you currently working on? What do you want to accomplish with the next phase of your life/artistic career?
Kristine: Ever since I got married, music has definitely been put on the back burner because my family comes first. But I’m thankful to be blessed with such a supportive husband who pushes me every day to continue with my passion for singing. The next phase of my life is to become a mom, to continue on furthering my education in the medical field, and to take my time by slowly getting back into writing songs and creating music. I just want to be an ordinary woman, but be one with the ability to make people feel loved when they hear my songs.
In The Spotlight
I always remind myself that the spotlight is not a place of power to use and abuse for my own benefit; instead I must remember to stay humble and see it as a place to shine light and love.
- Kristine Xiong Yang
Finally, in your own words, finish these sentences.
If I could invite three music artists to dinner tonight, I would invite…Celine Dion, Kari Jobe, and Carrie Underwood.
A young Hmong girl or woman who wants to be someone or do something with her life should know…to always follow the beat of her own heart, to stand firm in what she believes in and don’t sway to one side just for fame and glory because those things won’t last forever, to understand that she won’t be loved by every single person she crosses paths with, to humble herself and learn from others, to not look at herself in the mirror and pick herself apart because of what social media portrays beauty to be, to use her voice and speak with grace, dignity, and truth.
I am…Kristine Xiong.
I just blew you a kiss, Kristine. thank you!
Did you cry? I warned you. More importantly, I hope you were inspired by the stories, advice, & lessons shared by Kristine Xiong Yang. She is a true inspiration and I feel so blessed to celebrate her during the Hmong Women in Music celebration.
YOUR TURN! Do you have any special words or a warm memory to share about Kristine and/or her music? Join the celebration by leaving a comment below!