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Greentea Peng: An ode to the city she loves

  • Music
  • Feature
  • 8 minute read

Greentea Peng is the alias of Aria Wells, South London singer, songwriter and sonic healer. Since releasing a string of lo-fi visuals alongside her debut-dreamy-dub heavy EP ‘Sensi’ in 2018, Greentea has cultivated an enamoured fanbase and reputation as one to watch, with hypnotic live performances backed by The Seng Seng Family, whom she describes as  “a whole support system, adding another dynamic to the music.”

July 2019 saw the release of ‘Downers’, alongside her rapturous Colors debut, which has notched up over 4.1 million views to date. Her sophomore EP ‘Rising’ followed in Autumn, with lead single ‘Mr Sun (miss da sun)’ and a Felix Brady directed short, juxtaposing the monotony of the metropolis with lush landscapes; as we pass through sumptuous lavender fields, multi story car parks, green gardens and tube carriages. The clip, styled by close friend Rhiannon Barry and Jake Hunte sees Greentea take her storytelling to higher ground, feeling “very lucky to be in a position that I have mates that do everything, it means I can just keep it family.”

Produced by longtime collaborator Earbuds, and with the assistance of Maverick Sabre, new single ‘Ghost Town’ echoes the sentiments of longing and loneliness in London she ruminates on in ‘Downers’. Here, the personal transforms into political with her lament to the crumbling communities of London, and the displacement and degeneration we’ve been desensitised to.

‘Ghost Town’ takes insight from the The Specials single of 1981, mirroring the resistance against social cleansing and urban decay urged on by rampant capitalism. Although using her hometown as her first point of reference, this issue is both local and global – “even though I’m singing about London and the city, I’m singing about a wider subject more – it’s more of a microcosm of lots of stuff that’s happening all over the world – money and business being prioritised over the people.”

“You can’t take my city from me”

In the chorus she defiantly states “You can’t take my city from me” calling out the intent of those in power, with their “rules and regulations, between all of lines and all of your lies” and where “the belt just getting a bit tighter, the struggle just getting a bit more real, theres always some sort of battle in the cities and I’m sure it’s not just here.”

The video, directed by Melody Maker, was shot on the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth – once home to over 7500 people in 2700 homes, and once dubbed “the largest housing estate in Europe”. The estate is just one example of a deeper, more complex issue. “It was Melody’s idea to set it on the Aylesbury and pick that aspect of what I’m talking about but it’s a broad subject – even gentrification as a whole, there’s so much that goes into it.”

But she explains “there was a fat aspect of that, housing. You know lots of these people get compensation for their flats by the council, and the council know full well the money they’ve been given is not enough, and they’re getting moved to these outposts, it’s social cleansing man, they have visions for these areas and we don’t fit into these visions.” These visions are often sterile, whitewashed multi-corporate packaged ideas of culture, appropriated and regurgitated to the masses. “These blocks of flats are being built it seems overnight..even though there’s more houses being built I’m seeing more young people on the streets.” 

‘Ghost Town’ is “an observation that London’s actually crumbling. The rise in knife crime, the gap is widening – all of these things are by products of the struggle and the gap between the rich and the poor, the prioritisation of economic growth, making all of these places into economic capitals but forgetting not everyone is built for business.” Housing and safe spaces are under constant threat – these “rules and regulations” extend to night life and livelihoods too – “if its by changing the late licences in East London or shutting down music venues across North and South London and making it harder for market people – you know Ridley Road people are struggling they’re tryna make it difficult for their stories, it’s just peak, they’re making the poor man even poorer.” 

I ask what the effect of widespread venue closures across the capital have had for the singer and what this has meant to her in terms of performing and catching a vibe.

“I’ve seen areas change like Dalston. Dalston used to be a fuckin’ vibe now it’s not at all”

“For me, when it comes to music I haven’t really seen that change, I’ve only been singing and performing in London for the last 2 years really. Before that I was working in clubs and bars. I’ve seen areas change like Dalston. Dalston used to be a fuckin’ vibe now it’s not at all, there was a time where you could go and pull up in Dalston and not need a motive you could be out all night and it would be fun – even if it was just on road – and now that place is completely dry and I’m sure it’s the same in Brixton. Brixton’s changed bare, just the people, the vibe just changes.”

Though we can get caught up in despair and hopelessness, Greentea sees it a natural by product to how we move as people – “it’s ultimately inevitable and it’s what humans do, we flock to something that is fuckin’ fun and cool, we flock to the light, and when there’s too much light, we dim the light we put it out. It’s inevitable.  It’s cycles. It’s hard. Part of me tries to not get too upset about this is all happening – they were singing about that in Ghost Town by The Specials, and I’m kinda singing about the same thing.” 

I make parallels between the social consciousness of the 1980s, brought about by a fruition of cultures, physically, spiritually and sonically. In particular we talk about the South East London jazz scene, and contemporaries  blending dub, jungle, punk, jazz and new wave. However there’s a marked difference in how our culture is created and consumed. Pointing to her phone, Greentea comments ” They didn’t have these. The energy was different. people now are tired, people don’t have energy on the weekend to go out, people are tryna save p’s. People are drained from being on their phone all week..even when you do go out to raves the energy’s not the same, people are preeing each other, times are changing innit.”

Not preeing what’s going on in the industry, and keeping her focus on her own path, Greentea finds more inspiration from timeless artists. “I’m not gonna lie I listen to a lot of old music, but I rate a lot of people about, everyone’s doing bits. I try and isolate myself from a lot of new stuff. There’s always comparisons, there’s always people comparing you to sounds. It’s like i just wanna listen to my old tunes!” She’d love to perform with Jimi Hendrix, and her experience supporting the inimitable Neneh Cherry she triumphs proudly – “yeah I’ve actually done bits.”

The notion of home is important to Greentea, and I ask if she feels the same kinship to anywhere other than London. “Mexico is like my second home for sure, that’s where I started singing again and had my first band and stuff. Mexico, and obviously Hastings too, so yeah I have a few places for sure. I even have a few places I can escape in London.” She witholds her secret escapes in the city for good reason, holding close the places she can truly unwind, but affirms “my yard is my sanctuary.” Mexico is where she did a lot of “personal growth there, mentally, spiritually and also musically and physically too.” 

A culmination of experiences and understandings has led Greentea to her current success and state of mind.“There’s things I hang on to, things I take from different religions and beliefs but I work it in to my life. I take bits from everywhere. I believe in the divine mother and mother earth..Maa. I guess I’m just tryna be as conscious and as mindful as I can.” Movement is crucial – “I try and bang yoga a lot obviously. I’m not really good with routine but obviously there’s certain things that I know can help – yoga’s a big one for me. Yoga, writing, eating well I guess, dancing too.”

Moving back to the city, I ask Greentea if she were in charge of London for the day – what law or rule would you pass? “I guess i would look to ban any manufacturing of new plastic. Try to implement a system where all the plastic that’s washed up everywhere would be recycled and reused. Also fix the transport fares and would lower all transport prices..I’d nationalise the railways, TFL and all of that and make it cheap to travel cos prices are fucking ridiculous to travel!”

We finish by talking of performing and goals for the future. “One day I’d love to learn to play bass or drums, drum and bass are my favourite instruments. Hahaha love drum n bass! I do say before I die I would love to learn another instrument and a language.” 

Still steadily rising in her career, she’s not bored of performing any songs…yet. She confidently states,“I haven’t made my best song yet..that will come for sure..when it’s does you’ll know.”