Beijing Beat blog with Mark Godfrey

Beijing Beat

"Jukebox" Musicians in Beijing bars

Feb 1

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2/1/2008 4:40 AM  RssIcon

The Filipinos who lay down the tunes in Beijing’s hotel bars

Yesterday I got an invitation from a local internationally run hotel for a residency by a visiting British musician - media are invited to sit after-show with the musician, a travelling former session player for Mike Olfield. Board and a few weeks of gigs at the Intercontinental in pre-Olympics Beijing sounds like a good life. 

In another hotel on the otherside of town, for the past seven years at 5pm the resident Filipino crew plug in and play the first of three sets. It’s a tough beat: six nights a week, one day off. Musical and marriage partners Ramir and Kate cover everything from Johnny Cash to Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters. There’s some Green Day too: Time Of Your Life – for the younger crowd.

Ramir and wife Kate play at the Lido Holiday Inn, a Beijing institution in the days before China became a preoccupation of world watchers. Today a recently renovated Lido still serves the airline crews and the international salesmen who like it for the convenience to the airport. There’s also a fair spattering of art dealers, doing deals with artists from the nearby Dashanzi factory-cum art colony. Suede stayed in the hotel on their 2003 visit to China.  

Imagine playing four hours a night at a Texan steak house restaurant. Bars across town are replacing their foreign musicians with local talent. A classically trained Bulgarian pianist friend of mine was replaced with a local Chinese musician churning out soft local favourites with none of the soul of a professional with a track record playing concert halls around the old Soviet block.

American occupation of the Philippines meant that local musicians developed an ear and an ability to master American pop standards. Filipinos had a headstart on other Asian musicians and were ready to staff the bars of Tokyo during the post-War economic revival of Japan. And thus it has continued, only now Beijing is the boom town everyone wants to play.

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