posted on September 11, 2007 05:38
Visiting the Sugar Jar CD shop over in the ever-more-gentrified 798 art district in Dashanzi district lately I picked up a couple of CDs of recordings made by travelling French musicologist Laurent Jeanneau. At RMB30 and in unillustrated pink paper packaging the CDs don't immediately catch the eye but then little of what they sell in the tiny Sugar Jar is mainstream.
"Background music, ambient music man!" were the explanations of a couple of local music fans hanging out in the shop. On first listen I've got lots of patriotic chants and background music you hear at morning assembly/exercise time in the yards of Chinese secondary schools. There's also chants and tunes from the Yi and the Miao, minorities in southern China. Jeanneau fears the country's minority music will be lost as the tribes' youth fall in line with the karaoke bars and syrupy Mandarin variations on western pop. It's a tale that's also been told about Tibet and Xinjiang, regions of Buddhist and Muslim peoples where Han culture and mass tourism are having a diluting effect on local traditions and music.
When I called the number on his CD the amiable Jeanneau answered. He doesn't have a mobile and lives, in a cottage outside the city, off the RMB15 he gets from each CD sold at the Sugarjar (he gave up on negotiating a deal with a mainstream Chinese record label). More after we meet on his next journey into town.