In spite of her moniker, Greentea Peng hasn’t been drinking any green tea lately. “It’s so jokes. I drink more chamomile and Earl Grey,” she tells me over the phone. “And I like to make ginger and turmeric tea too, poached on the stove, which is really nice.” Despite the fact that we’re not in the same room, the conversation we share is so soul-centered it feels as though she’s just prepared a pot of homemade brew and we’re slowly sipping it at a table in her kitchen.
It’s hard to decide whether speaking to her or listening to her music is more soothing; the way in which she puts words together, whether in a sentence or in a chorus, is sublime in its simplicity and its connection to something bigger than herself, something more expansive than the human being known as Aria. Whether it’s the blissed-out, dubby “Living 432” (with its refrains of “We grateful for the blessings and we grateful for the highs”), her honesty about feeling out of sorts on “Downers,” or getting her unrehearsed thoughts on the year 2020, Greentea Peng is compelling because she’s so completely herself.
We spend most of our chat riffing on spirituality. When I make the assumption that she considers herself a spiritual person, she tells me, “We should all consider ourselves spiritual people, because we're spirits in our human uniform.” Like many spirits on Planet Earth, hers has had quite the journey of highs, lows, and everything in between. Feeling particularly turbulent, hypersensitive, and self-conscious in her teen years, her mother bought her a copy of John C. Parkin’s F**k It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way, which relieved some of the pressure of taking herself too seriously and helped her realize how futile it is to attempt to exert too much control over things. “Actually, nothing really matters, because it's either already happened and you can't change it, or it's going to happen and you can't change it,” she says matter-of-factly.
Despite all the wisdom she’s accumulated, she wouldn’t necessarily say she was more prepared than anyone else for 2020. She’s only human, after all. “I say a lot of things and I try and live by a lot of things, but at the same time, I'm human. And it's all a process,” she explains. “It's been painful, but also, people show their resilience in times like this.”
Resilience is one of the many themes weaving through her latest single “Revolution.” For one thing, it was recorded “just after the first kind of intense lock down. It was when all the riots were kicking off. It was that kind of time.”
The bouncy, reggae beat by Tadafi was actually made for her years ago, and while she was immediately captivated by it, she wasn’t inspired to add her magic to it at the time. As fate would have it, their paths crossed this summer, and after Tadafi played the track again, Greentea Peng was instantly lit up. She recounts her excitement, describing their late night/early morning studio session. “I've got something for this right now. Get the mic out. Like, let's record this, right now. And it was funny, because I had been feeling so pent up and I was so angry, confused and kind of helpless. And I had been doing mad research, and I thought I was mad. I was down the rabbit hole, boy like, I'm always down the rabbit hole. I live down there, isn't it? But this time I was entering depths. Like it was mud. I wrote it and I was like 'Oh, fuck me!' like I needed to get that out. I was feeling so tense.”
Over the release of tension on the track, a healthy sense of scepticism wafts in from the get-go. “Feels like a revolution / but whose revolution?” Greentea Peng asks. Down the rabbit hole she went, looking beyond headlines and social media posts, arriving at the aphorism “Fact check the fact checkers,” which can currently be found in her Instagram bio.
“Since this whole thing has kicked off,” she explains, “it's been very much ups and downs and me having to realize that actually, you are really attached to this material realm, aren't you? Because if we weren't, then this wouldn't bother you. I'm a highly conflicted individual, I'll say that. I've learnt that nothing is as it seems. And that you should fact check the fact checkers. That would be the main thing I've drawn from this year. Nothing is as it seems.”
Nevertheless, “You always got to try and bring it back to love,” she says.
Sharing universal messages of love and hope seems to be particularly effective when coupled with the fact that Aria’s never been one to cling to labels of identity. “If I'm honest, I've never had a strong affiliation or a calling to a certain tribe or, I've always been very out and about,” she explains. Her father, Arabic from the Middle East, was adopted, and her African mother is estranged from her family, so she’s never been able to contextualize her existence in a traditional family tree type of way. “I know I was born in England. I don't necessarily feel like I'm meant to be in England, because from as young as I can remember, all I've joked about is moving to the jungle. So I guess, I could say like I'm a jungle person, I do like jungle music too!” she playfully recounts.
Her jungle heritage, free of the constraints of over-identifying with a certain time, place, or people might allow her to see things without many attachments clouding her vision. When asked what we, as a species, could stand to let go of, Greentea Peng hesitated, not wanting to speak for others. But in pondering her own personal growth over the past few years, she settled on ego. “We're all reflections of each other,” she explains. “The chances are we're feeling it on an individual level and the whole fucking collective is feeling it somehow, in some way.”
We both acknowledge the concept of ego has many onion layers to it. “There's so many bits and it's never ending,” she continues. “It's not one of those things that's just like, ‘Oh yeah, I've conquered my ego. I've dissolved me ego.’ Like no, bro. Really, no. That's not how it works. This shit is life-long.” While our collective journey dealing with our individual egos might last an entire lifetime, at least we’ll have the music and vision of Greentea Peng to soften the trip ahead.
Watch the video for Greentea Peng's new single "Spells" below.