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Monday, May 1, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Shanghai surprise: Philly duo a big hit

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — What's a nice, young man from Philadelphia doing in Shanghai?

Michael Maley's parents must have asked themselves that when their son announced after high school that he was relocating to China. By himself. He was 20 years old.

"I remember telling my parents I wanted to move to China," he said. "They practically fainted."

Martial arts is to blame. Maley became a sinophile after studying kung fu. He loved Bruce Lee.

His brother, Patrick, puts his brother's passion thusly: "He liked everything Chinese."

So perhaps it should be no surprise that when Maley returned home after four years in China in the 1990s, he and his brother formed a band that writes and performs songs in Chinese and English. They're nobodies back home in Philadelphia, but they've achieved a modicum of fame in the Chinese-speaking world.

The band is called Siris, which comes from the Chinese words "sai" and "ri," meaning surpass the sun. Maley is the lead singer while his brother, who knows some Chinese, sings backup and plays drums.

Their pop rock songs have appeared on Chinese TV and radio and popped up in print in the U.S., Taiwan and China.

This summer, Siris expects to release its first all-Chinese album. With a sound like a jazzed up John Mayer, the brothers have a repertoire of more than 100 songs.

Siris' first Chinese EP was called "Till My Last Breath," released in 1997. Their latest endeavor, a four-song sampler, is titled "Xing Fu," meaning happiness.

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As if to confirm what listeners probably already suspect, Maley composed a Chinese song called "I was Chinese in a Previous Life."

"Why do I speak Chinese?" the song says. "Why do I like to eat Chinese bitter melon? My friends say I'm like an egg — white on the outside and yellow in the middle. ... I have a Chinese spirit trapped in an old foreigner's body."

At 6-foot-5 with Italian looks, Maley flummoxes his Chinese interviewers the minute he speaks Mandarin. The accent is nearly flawless. He even writes in Chinese with fairly good penmanship.

His Chinese name is pronounced "Mai Ka." It sounds like his English name and means microphone.

Maybe his wife calls him that. Maley got married when he was 22 to a woman he met in China. She is a professional martial artist. "I saw her doing flips and kicks," Maley said. "Wow, it's a girl after my own heart."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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