Mul­ti­cul­tural pop star Sa read­ies for na­tional tour

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By CHEN­NAN

SaDingdingisa­mongthe fewChi­ne­se­pop­star­swho­have grabbed the at­ten­tion ofWestern au­di­ences.

Her 2007 al­bum, Alive, on which Sa per­forms in Man­darin, Ti­betan, San­skrit and a self-cre­ated lan­guage, won her the BBC Ra­dio 3 Awards for World Mu­sic for the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, a first for a Chi­nese pop singer-song­writer. The same year, she per­formed at the Royal Al­bertHall in Lon­don.

And her next two albums— Har­mony and The Com­ing Ones— con­tin­ued to win her global recog­ni­tion, boosted by per­for­mances at mu­sic fes­ti­vals like WO­MAD Fes­ti­val and Har­ro­gate In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­vals in the United King­dom.

For the au­di­ences in her home­land, how­ever, she is still amys­tery.

The singer’s lat­est al­bum, ti­tled The But­ter­fly Dream, aims to change that by rein­tro­duc­ing her to Chi­nese au­di­ences.

Based on a fa­mous anec­dote by the an­cient Chi­nese philoso­pher Zhuang Zi, the founder of Tao­ism, the al­bum was re­leased on Nov 20 and fea­tures 10 songs that ex­press Sa’s views about the thin line be­tween dreams and re­al­ity.

Zhuang Zi dreamed about be­ing a but­ter­fly, and upon wak­ing, he won­dered if he was a man dream­ing he was a but­ter­fly or if he was a but­ter­fly dream­ing that he was a man.

Sa says she lives on and off the stage, as if be­tween il­lu­sion and re­al­ity.

“I enjoy the glam­our on­stage, but with­out the lime­light, I am just an or­di­nary woman,” says the 32-yearold, who will start a na­tional tour early next year. “I am aware of the fame I got abroad and I also know thatmy mu­sic is not main­stream in the do­mes­tic mar­ket. But I be­lieve au­di­ences will have a dif­fer­ent feel­ing about this al­bum.”

Con­tin­u­ing her style of blend­ing cul­tural el­e­ments, she in­vited Karsh Kale, an In­dian-Amer­i­can mu­si­cian who has writ­ten songs for Sting and No­rah Jones, to be the pro­ducer.

Speak­ing of his two-year col­lab­o­ra­tion with Sa, his first with a Chi­nese mu­si­cian, Kale tells Rolling Stone In­dia: “At first I was hes­i­tant when I heard Chi­nese pop, but when I found out who Sa Dingding was and checked out what she had done, I be­came ex­cited.

“Af­ter re­al­iz­ing that she, too, is part tra­di­tion­al­ist and part fu­tur­ist, the pos­si­bil­i­ties be­came very in­trigu­ing for me as a pro­ducer.”

Dur­ing an Oc­to­ber per­for­mance at Lon­don’s Lan­caster House with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, in the au­di­ence, Sa shared the stage with the Na­tional Youth Choirs of Great Bri­tain and a choir from Xiaoshui­jing vil­lage, Yun­nan prov­ince, which com­prises eth­nic Miao peo­ple and eth­nic Yi dancers. She mixed two of her hits, Joy Fes­ti­val and As the Shadow Fol­lows, with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

Sa says: “We pre­pared about six months for the four-minute per­for­mance. It was such a mag­nif­i­cent view when dif­fer­ent cul­tures merged on one stage.”

Sa was born to a Han fa­ther and an eth­ni­cally Mon­go­lian mother. She grad­u­ated from the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Acad­emy of Art in Beijing and rose to fame af­ter win­ning sec­ond place in the pop mu­sic per­for­mance cat­e­gory of CCTV’s Na­tional Young Singers Com­pe­ti­tion in 2000.

At 18, she was con­sid­ered one of the coun­try’s best dance-mu­sic singers af­ter re­leas­ing her de­but al­bum, Dong Ba La, in which she per­formed elec­tronic dance mu­sic.

How­ever, she boldly de­cided to with­drawfrom the mu­sic scene and em­barked on a roots-search­ing jour­ney, trav­el­ing to Xil­in­hot of North China’s In­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion, where she grew up with her grand­mother un­til mov­ing to Ji­nan, Shan­dong prov­ince, at age 6. She had missed the no­madic life­style, in which she en­joyed singing freely.

“Com­pared with dance mu­sic, I found those sounds much more com­fort­ing and heal­ing. From then on, I want to make mu­sic that con­nects with peo­ple spir­i­tu­ally,” she says.

Nowl­iv­ing in Beijing, Sa says that her life is sim­ple, “hav­ing three meals a day, tak­ing care ofmy fam­ily and trav­el­ing”.

As for her mu­si­cal am­bi­tions, she says: “I want to be the kind of singer-song­writer who can pass on en­ergy.”

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