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Page last updated at 13:25 GMT, Friday, 10 September 2010 14:25 UK
Ayi Jihu: The 'Chinese Madonna' of Cambridge
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Ayi Jihu presents her gold disc to her parents in Cambridge

The pop star known as "China's Madonna" has returned to her Cambridge roots with a gold disc in her hands.

Ayi Jihu spent her teenage years in the city before returning to China to pursue her music career.

She was awarded a gold disc after her Chinese fans downloaded a staggering 100 million copies of her records.

Having presented the disc to her parents, who will display it in their city centre restaurant, Ayi now plans to promote her music in Europe.

The diminutive Jihu became a star in her homeland when she launched her risque RnB songs on an unsuspecting public.

Ayi Jihu with her gold disc
Ayi presents her gold disc to stepfather Samuel and mother Cindy

'Really strange'

The 25-year-old only began singing professionally three years ago.

Spotted performing in a video for a rapper in London, she was snapped up by a UK record company and taken over to China's equivalent of Las Vegas - Macao - to sing and dance in casinos.

Before long, Ayi had acquired a loyal fanbase.

"It was really strange," she told BBC Cambridgeshire.

"Some of them would turn up every day for all four of my performances. It was crazy, and they would write to me, send me gifts and give me flowers, too. I thought 'gosh - this could really be something'."

Ayi took the bull by the horns and began touring the country, promoting her music, and appearing on Chinese television.

Ugly Duckling

But it wasn't always like this for Ayi.

She grew up in a small village in Sichuan province. When she was 11 years old her mother sent Ayi to live with her aunt in Cambridge.

She wanted her daughter to have a better life than she felt she could give her in China.

ayi jihu

After two years, Ayi's mother, Cindy, left China and joined her in the city.

She remarried and she and husband Samuel bought a Chinese restaurant, The Ugly Duckling, in the historic centre of Cambridge.

"I was washing the dishes and waitressing for pocket money," said Ayi.

"I learned a lot about discipline and what it takes to get things done. It was very good training for me, I reckon.

"I've always had a love for music and sometimes I would sing and dance for the customers in the restaurant," she laughed. "My parents always knew that performing was what I wanted to do with my life."

The Ugly Duckling now proudly boasts a shiny gold disc on its wall, celebrating 100 million mobile phone downloads of Ayi's music.

'Ayi does RnB'

While she is in the United Kingdom, Ayi will be promoting her new single Sad Sweet Dreamer, and is going to be staying with her family in Cambridge.

"I just love it here. I lived in London for a little while, but I just love to come back here. This is my home.

"This is my work and I'll be here for as long as I'm needed. It's really important to me, but I'm so glad that I can do it from a base here at home."

She hopes she can replicate her popularity in China, and prove what she can do to the British public.

Stevie Eagle E, from Shlepp Records, said her popularity in Asia was down to her being so different.

"Everybody knows that the Chinese can do pop. They make great opera singers and have some wonderful classical musicians.

"But they don't do RnB.

Ayi Jihu (right) as a child
Ayi aged 7 with grandmother and little brother, in Xichang

"Ayi does RnB and her fans know that she does it brilliantly. She's proof that the Chinese can do that too."

'Chinese Madonna'

Frequently voted one of China's most beautiful women, Ayi has been dubbed the "Chinese Madonna".

What does she think of that accolade?

"I'm very honoured. Madonna's a very strong, independent woman. She knows what she wants to do, and she's not afraid to do it.

"That sort of personality is very striking. I want to be like that. If I'm half the person she is, then I'm very happy!"

'So lucky'

But Ayi is not just a pretty face. In China, she is considered a minority, a status which has been seized upon by a number of organisations dealing with the rights of minority peoples around the globe.

She is an ambassador for the Canadian-based Federal Association for the Advancement of Visible Minorities (FAAVM).

As such, she travels around the world fulfilling the role of spokesperson for minorities.

"They've never really had a Chinese person representing them before," she said.

She is also a fundraiser for Macao-based Global Flying Hospitals, an organisation whose medical staff respond to disasters worldwide.

The Friends of the United Nations recently made Ayi their ambassador, and she also works for a NATO initiative, the Partnership for Peace.

"I'm just so lucky," she beamed.

Bollywood beckons

With her social duties and record promoting, it's hard to imagine that she has time for anything new, but Ayi's next project will see her as a siren of the silver screen.

She has been asked to appear in the Hindi version of the Bollywood movie Udyan Express.

"It's very exciting," she said. "I'll be filming in Mumbai and working with the artists on a song for the soundtrack as well."

Work may be hard, but Ayi told the BBC she felt inspired to keep going and to achieve more.

"I get so much support from family and friends in China. It's because I'm from China and they want someone from there to do well.

"But I have fans from all over the world. I get letters from people in Poland, Germany, India - all over the place, and I still wonder how they know about me and my music.

"That is so inspiring and it makes me want to do more, and be better."

Love life

Ayi laughed when asked about her love life.

"Do you think I have the time for a boyfriend? Not right now. But, hopefully some day...

"But just like everything else, you have to put in the time and effort if you want a relationship to work. It's the same if you want your career to work.

"You can't have two masters.

"Of course I want a boyfriend eventually, but the right time will come, and I'm not really worrying about that at the moment."

ayi

Ayi Jihu's new single, Sad Sweet Dreamer, is released in the UK on 27 September 2010.

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