27 Languages, 29 Years, and 6 Months with China Forbes

Written by Bruce Poinsette; Photographed by Jessica Smith

27 Languages

As the lead vocalist of Pink Martini, China Forbes is on the road six months of the year. Over twenty-nine years, she has built a reputation for her captivating stage presence and ability to perform in twenty-seven different languages. As of 2024, that list includes English, French, Italian, Neapolitan, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Croatian, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Greek, Turkish, Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Laddino, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Romanian, Russian, Uzbek, Xhosa, and Latin.

“When I sing French, or any language, I find that if I pretend as if I’ve had two glasses of champagne, and I feel sort of uninhibited and a little slurry, it sounds much more authentic,” says Forbes. “Most people tend to over-enunciate and emphasize each word and it sounds awkward and foreign.”

A trained actor, Forbes uses her theater background to embody the characters in her songs. This, along with language, allows her to not just communicate songs to a multitude of audiences, but to genuinely connect with them.

“We learned a Korean song when [Pink Martini] went to Seoul, and we were thrilled that the young fans were squealing,” Forbes says. “That reaction is exactly the connection we hope to make with our fans.” And she has opinions about venues. “It always helps if we’re in a club where people can stand and dance, and they’re right at the foot of the stage looking up at you with bright faces, singing along—those are the best shows.”

Sometimes it doesn’t go smoothly. Forbes recalls a concert in Damascus, Syria, where she not only stumbled but completely blanked on her Arabic lyrics. However, instead of turning on her, the crowd appreciated that she had tried. After that show, she says she no longer fears making mistakes.

In France, fans unexpectedly encouraged her not to improve her accent. “Don’t get better. We like your accent. It’s so cute,” she recalls. “That was so fun to figure out because it just freed me up. It turns out people won’t begrudge me a mistake or a mispronunciation when I’m making an effort to sing in their language.”

Closer to home, in September 2022, the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts hosted a series of shows featuring Pink Martini. Though the Reser opened in March of that year, Executive Director Chris Ayzoukian considers that autumn evening the Center’s true debut.

“Your venue is not considered open until Pink Martini plays it,” says Ayzoukian. 

That same year, Forbes received the Ella Fitzgerald Award from the Montreal International Jazz Festival. “It was so startling,” says Forbes. “How am I getting this? This is crazy.” But her followers were not surprised. 

“It’s no wonder Pink Martini has a huge fan base not just in Oregon and the Northwest, but all over the world,” says Ayzoukian. “China in particular I think is one of the greatest vocalists and songstresses of our time.” 

29 Years

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