3 mar 2021

Greentea Peng, the unmistakable face of the English music scene

With a blasé view of her interlocutors, Greentea Peng stands out from the artificial divas fabricated by the star system. Her face dotted with tattoos, hiding behind an eccentric British look, the singer is crafting her own sound caught between an uninhibited soul, an ultra-modern R’n’B and an unexpected Jamaican ska… A portrait.

Photo credit – Stefy Pocket/Creative Direction – William Spooner

“One thing’s for sure, this girl isn’t getting the recognition she deserves…” The Greentea Peng fanclub is as active on social networks and hyperbole as anyone. And rightly so: everyone emerged dazed after watching Nah It Ain’t The Same, the London singer’s latest music video released at the end of February. Hidden behind an extravagant look – that only the English know how to compose – she directs her jaded gaze towards the camera, takes a silver teapot and pours a trickle of steaming water. No time to work out what she’s thinking, as we plunge into the embers of the joint she slips between her lips, before jumping into the black and white landscape of a postcard, a bowl of scarlet pomegranates, a deserted street. The climax of this music portfolio is the jazz club where the young woman finishes us off, transforming her uninhibited soul into unexpected Jamaican ska. Her mantra hits us where it hurts: “It’s so hard to be human.” 



Aria Wells doesn’t even know how many tattoos cover her body. About fifty? A hundred? At the other end of the line, the young woman sometimes repeats our questions, as if to give herself time to think, punctuating her answers with a serious laugh or a completely rhetorical “You know what I mean? We learn that she was born in Bermondsey, south London, where she grew up. That she quickly adopted a nomadic lifestyle, moving between regions and schools, sometimes leaving the UK capital for Hastings or Mexico City. This range of places, settings and people forged her character. Little by little, the slightly zany teenage party girl cooled down as if the groove she now handles to perfection completed her quest for tranquillity. As if the Mayan greetings she embeds in the track Hu Man (2020), satisfied her vital need to explore. Life as much as music, Aria Wells runs away from anguish and anger. She behaves like a nightclub face checker with everyone she meets. Between bursts of laughter on the phone, her credo turns into advice: “Master the energies you bring into your life,” she says.


Today, Aria Wells is 25 years old,  and it’s under the alias of Greentea Peng – meaning “delicious green tea” – that she expresses herself best. It was her father, an actor, who passed on his taste for music, from the Fugees to the fabulous musicals in London theatres. But these days, the young woman no longer wanders from town to town, and instead travels without leaving England along the paths of R’n’B, ska, reggae, dub, neo soul, jazz and bossa nova. “I don’t think my music is unique,” she quips, “but I refuse to be locked in a box. And to escape my comfort zone, I try to be brave… and improvise.”



In 2018, on her first EP entitled Sensi, she settled for ragamuffin phrasing. In her contemporary soul productions, Greentea Peng tries to avoid the overly obvious harmonies and classical patterns that monopolise the music industry. Indeed, the young woman can safely rely on her own talent, her own looks and surely the coolest face on the R’n’B scene…. It’s hard to miss this laid-back personality who seems to succeed in everything she does with an insolent ease and nonchalance. And while her vocals evaporate into the pads and synths – those polyphonic and imprecise background ambiences – she still appears blasé, a thousand rings on her fingertips, in slick videos, reminding us that she masters both her image and her music. For her first album, composed in a year and set for release this summer, she has again collaborated with Earbuds, her favourite producer and close collaborator of the rapper Slowthai. Greentea Peng has taken risks. She describes the project as “experimental”, like the track Nah It Ain’t The Samewhere she mixes a double bass riff with old school minimalist drums.



Although most of her compositions emit a distinctly summer warmth, she’s also drawn to the appeal of melancholia in her lyrics: “Of course it is easier to talk about sadness,” she says. The vibrations of grief occur when you’re at the bottom of the hole, it’s terrible for some people but a godsend for artists“. On the track Hu Man, Aria Wells confides that she hides so much behind her clothes that no one knows what she is made of. And indeed she does remain a charismatic and elusive character, already compared to the great soul divas Amy Winehouse and Erykah Badu. The media love hyperbole like no one else. Greentea Peng, on the other hand, freely continues her journey.



Greentea Peng’s debut album will be available this summer.