Beijing Beat blog with Mark Godfrey

Beijing Beat

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Listening to Asian music, in Asia
By mark_godfrey on 8/15/2009 9:17 PM
One of my favourite Beijing-based musicians, Jess Meider is great listening, just guitar and a great soulful voice that dips in and out on smartly penned numbers she’s put together in hang-outs down Beijing’s old hutong alleyways. She was down there the other night, at Yuggong Yishan to play some of her new songs. Take a listen to my favourite, So Simple, a simple acoustic job like the title suggests, on her Myspace page.


I often wonder why Beijing, for all its traffic grid-lock and ugly high rises, is such a magnet for creative westerners, who find form here. From small-town America, Meider teaches yoga in the daytime and plays gigs at night, and on Sunday afternoon jazz...
By mark_godfrey on 8/14/2009 12:50 AM
There’s opportunities for a “black man” on China’s live music scene, according to several ads appearing in recent editions of The Beijinger. The ads, which were placed by TaipingYang Eight, an agency that arranges gigs for ‘world’ music performers across China, promises RMB500 (less than EUR50) per gig and travel outside Beijing and China.

African band in China

                                                     Good work if you can get it: a car show in China

Now EUR50 a gig isn’t a fortune but if there’s a visa and housing involved – as is often offered by Chinese employers – it might be okay work for a travelling musician. Aside from the ‘positive discrimination’ overtones of the ad – Chinese people have referred to Europeans, not maliciously, as ‘big noses’ and Russians as ‘old hairies’ – but rather the...
By mark_godfrey on 8/11/2009 7:19 PM
 I spent a great few hours in London lately at the School of Oriental & African Studies on Russell Square. I’d seen a note about the onsite Brunei Gallery’s show on Kazakh carpet making – or rather, felt carpet making by ethnic Kazakhs in Mongolia. Small in scale and excellently explained and curated, complete with yurt, the exhibition also opened my eyes to the work being done at SOAS on Central Asian music. Leaflets at the Brunei alerted me to a new double CD of Kazakh music produced by the School. It’s a collection of masters of Central Asian instruments like the dombra. But they’ve also found performers of the pobyz, “the two-stringed fiddle with shamanic roots” and the sybyzghy, an open-ended flute “amplified by a vocal drone.”

The 44-track collection is intended as a musical journey across vast, sparsely populated Kazakhstan. Hence...
By mark_godfrey on 8/11/2009 4:18 AM

If you have US$20 to spend on some chinoserie, you could do worse than a t-shirt by Plastered, a UK-owned design house in Beijing that's thrived as a cottage industry-sized producer of t-shirts bearing images of local iconic brands (like local cheap spirits maker ErGouTou) and old signage.

The firm, whose shop in the old-city neighbourhood of Nanluoguxiang, was inundated with Olympics tourists this time last year, will likely do well with its t-shirt boasting the name and doodles of PK14, one of the most enduing of Sino-Swedish joint ventures and long-term staple of the local punk scene.



PK14 on a Plastered T-Shirt

By mark_godfrey on 8/8/2009 2:53 AM
Here's one I saw recently on Radio Free Europe's Iran news site: Iranian singer Mohsen Namjoo has been found guilty of "disrespecting religious sanctities" for his use of Koranic verses in a song and sentenced in absentia to five years in prison. Although Namjoo, 32, apologized for the song a few months ago, some say his open support for the "green" movement around presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi and his appearance at opposition rallies abroad led to his being sentenced to prison. Namjoo was classically trained in Tehran music academies and excelled at the setar before teaching himself guitar. Along the way he encountered the blues, and that’s where the Dylan comparisons began. "I regret my self-censorship and condescension for all these years, like many others who do the same," Namjoo, who lives in Vienna, told the BBC. The Western press's championing of him as the voice of dissent won't have helped his cause. I’m tired of seeing musicians of any...
By mark_godfrey on 7/22/2009 3:02 PM
If you get a chance take a look and a listen: Eurasianet, a portal studying Central Asian political and social issues, has posted a great piece of reportage on the state-sanctioned revivial of folk music in Xinjiang province, the majority Turkic-muslim province in the news lately after riots between ethnic Uyghur natives and Han Chinese residents.

Reporter Anne Laure Py did a good job crossing the region to track the revival of the dombra-driven folk songs among local Kazakh and Kyrgyz communities. Ethnically close to the Uyghurs these communities crossed in and out of China and their ethnic homelands to avoid the various raths of Stalin and Mao, neither of whom had much time for cultural diversity or preservation.

It's very interesting to listen to Zhouji, a Han Chinese ethnomusicologist with genuine respect and affection for the songs of these original nomads. A presence right through the multimedia project, he looks the part, with the Gerry Garica-grey...
By mark_godfrey on 7/8/2009 11:09 AM
Funny that this week, when local and international press if full of the riots in Xinjiang, I read an article by Tian Wei, a presenter on China Central TV’s English channel, about China getting a raw deal from the western press – which, she claims, is incapable of being impartial in reports on China. Tian suggests China’s media, flush with government money lately, needs to sharpen up how it presents its story. Nothing though about what it says. I wonder if better writing or video editing can make any difference when you’re running a government press release pretty much verbatim – as internationally-focused Chinese media like China Daily regularly do when the issue is a sensitive one for the Politburo. Some of the screeds pointed towards the Dalai Lama are neither well written, balanced, or news. But then sometimes...
By mark_godfrey on 7/8/2009 11:01 AM
There’s someone happy in China today. Book shops around Beijing yesterday prominently displayed a Chinese-language biography of Michael Jackson written just in time for his funeral. Seeing Yuan signs, a local publishing house contracted a book out of two local music journalists who wrote for two days and nights to complete a biography of Michael Jackson. See the full story in the China Daily. The deceased singer was a star in China – though not as big as Kenny G or John Denver – and may have toured in the country had he lived: word had it Jackson was signed for a gig at the ‘bird’s nest’ National Stadium (but then that rumour has gone out about everyone from U2 to Madonna. There’s been criticism of the effort but given the quality of all but China’s select quality press, I fear that like much local writing it will be long winded, flowery rubbish...
By mark_godfrey on 7/3/2009 5:06 AM
In Iran in 2006 I made the acquaintence of band leader Raam E - I never worked out his full name and wouldn't write it here in any case. Raam was fanatically into Brit bands like the Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand - the latter's work he perfected and played with his own group around town.

I've not been able to track him down lately - last I heard he got a tour in west-coast USA in 2008 via friends met on CouchSurfing, that brilliant website bringing travel-minded friends together worldwide. But I've been thinking of him while reading an article in the South China Morning Post about two musicians featured in an underground film - aren't all interesting Iranian films - shown at Cannes this year. The film is No One Knows About Persian Cats, the filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi (yes, boyfriend of recently released US journalist Roxana Saberi, who co-scripted the film), and the musicians Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad. The duo, girl and guy respectively, fled Iran for London, using fake passports.

By mark_godfrey on 7/2/2009 3:54 AM
I'm looking forward to tomorrow night at D-22: a release party for the latest by Xiao He, one of the most enduring names in Chinese folk and art rock. Less ostentatious and written-up than their indie and punk counterparts, China's folk musicians fall between those who consciously ape westerners like Bob Dylan in their work, and those who mine for influences the native folk singing traditions of rural China, a style that was particularly popular in the early years of the Communist regime which took power in 1949: tales of peasant struggles, these are the stuff of Woody Guthrie but without guitar accompaniment. 

Busker/recording artist Yang Yi, a friend of Xiao He, has turned out tunes that draw much on the local traditions but he also borrows heavily, one of his songs instrumentally a near carbon copy of Dylan's The Times They Are A Changing. His guitar work with Beijing's veteran art rockers Glamorous Pharmacy - which also released an album this year - travels in Europe have made Xiao He far more an avant-gardist - songs like Macerata posted on MySpace sample sheep bleats and horns. Which ought to make tomorrow night's get together at D22 very interesting.