Review: Laughing Buddha by Chong Ali

Laughing Buddha is a new single by Vietnamese Australian emcee Chong Ali, who hails from Brisbane. It premiered on Australian music portal Tone Deaf on July 23 2019. I love this. Chong Ali is a poet. With a big heart and a fighting spirit, he is an inspirational voice for his community. More about him to come.

‘Laughing Buddha’ is a sterling work of contradictions. Slick but raw. Dark but triumphant. The track opens with an eerie distortion of a Vietnamese folk song, painting a dystopian landscape heavy with foreboding. 

But ‘Laughing Buddha’ isn’t about the world ending. On the contrary, Ali calls out to his brothers and sisters to hold tight to their dreams and harness the pain of their ancestors:

Soak their blood in my Adidas/
walk a country mile to freedom.

Ali’s lyrics are lines of succinctly-crafted poetry, laden with meaning. Popping synth sounds drop all over a slow, swelling bass effect.  

Ali uses the solfège music system (do, re, mi) in an obligatory show of emcee boasting. He describes the levels to his abilities as ‘do re’  (ie., moving up a scale) and that his competition is “so far from me” which can also be interpreted as so fa from mi. 

That line doubles as an expression of the complex way a bi-lingual speaker or thinker operates, on a daily basis.

Chong Ali

Ali uses the basketball term ‘full court pressing’ to describe the team on the back foot coming together and surging forward to block the offence and ‘Shut ‘em down.’ That’s a line in the chorus, which also has great Transformers imagery: 

Gotta feelin' you gone knock to this
We transformin’ like we Optimus
Turnin’ up with my accomplices  

Born in Ipswich to Vietnamese parents who escaped the Vietnam war, Chong Ali (stage name) grew up in the south west suburbs of Brisbane, in a community of many migrant groups and indigenous Australians. ‘Laughing Buddha’ is a powerful and inspirational call-to-action for people who have been marginalised. Ali is a superb wordsmith with a gritty message that resonates for many.

Chong Ali

The single was produced by Ariel Blum, and ARIA-nominated vocalist Emily Wurramara is singing backing vocals. Following the premiere, the song will be backed by a live video performance August 1 2019.

Find Chong Ali on Spotify and Instagram.

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