DYNAMIC DUO After years of paying the dues at cafes, Mr. Miss finally gets to celebrate success. Chen Nan reports.
Du Kai and Liu Lian are doing interviews in a Beijing coffeehouse before an upcoming party to celebrate their winning the best vocal collaboration award at the 28th Golden Melody Awards in June.
They are the first performers from the Chinese mainland to win the award, and the Beijing-based jazz and pop duo’s debut album, Mr. Miss, after the name of their act, also set a record among singers from the mainland by being nominated in two other categories — best album producer and best newcomer.
“When our name was announced that was a big ‘wow’ moment for us,” says Du, the 33-year-old male singersongwriter of the band.
“The three nominations were beyond our expectations, let alone winning an award,” says the female singer-songwriter Liu, 27, who also works for a public relations company in Beijing.
Even getting to the awards, held in Taipei on June 18, was full of drama for the duo.
The day before they flew to Taipei to attend the awards ceremony, they performed a show in Nanchang, Jiangxi province. Due to heavy rain, their flight was canceled and they had to drive about 10 hours to Shenzhen, Guangdong province, to catch another plane.
Fortunately they made it to the ceremony at the last minute. Although they missed the chance to walk on the red carpet, they still managed to hug and scream in joy and give an impromptu speech.
It was a far cry from four years ago, when the Beijingbased duo were still struggling to pursue their music dream playing at a coffeehouse in the capital and getting 300 yuan ($44) for each live performance.
That changed when they met Ge Fei, their current manager, in 2011, when they were part of a project aimed at supporting young original Chinese singers.
Ge, 44, who graduated from Sichuan Conservatory of Music and majored in percussion performance, has played in his own rock band and worked as music producer at a mainstream entertainment company. In 2009, he co-founded the indie music label, Cao Sheng Music, with Taiwan veteran songwriter and producer Chou Chih-ping.
“We founded our own label with the hope of supporting independent original Chinese musicians. The award given to Mr. Miss boosts our confidence we can do that,” says Ge.
He says what appealed to him was the duo’s songs, despite being jazzy, were accessible to audiences.
“I was impressed by their music. Jazz is not a mainstream genre in China but their interpretation of jazz made their songs easy to listen to and understand,” says Ge, who also produced the duo’s first album.
“The only thing we were concerned about in the beginning was they didn’t have enough original material. But they worked very hard to write their own music instead of adapting some classic pop songs into jazz. Though it took them seven years to finally release their debut album, it’s been worth it,” says Ge
heir first original song was called The Story of Mr. Miss, which Liu wrote in about a week. It is included in their debut album, along with 10 other original songs.
Thanks to Du’s research into vaudeville, a form of theatrical musical play, which was popular in the United States from the 1880s to 1930s, Mr. Miss stands out among their peers for their original jazz-pop rhythms and storytelling lyrics.
“When you look at the history of Broadway musicals, you find many jazz standards. Looking further back, we discovered vaudeville,” says Du. “Our lyrics portray images, which are suitable for telling stories to the listeners. With our interaction onstage, it’s easy and fun to bring listeners into a particular scene.”
They also used The Great American Songbook, also known as “American standards”, for inspiration and polished their performing techniques via streaming shows.
Later this year, the duo will undertake a national tour of major cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, as well as performing at outdoor music festivals, such as Zhangbei Music Festival, which will be held from July 28 to 30 in Zhangbei county, Hebei province.
Our lyrics portray images, which are suitable for telling stories to the listeners.” Du Kai, singer-songwriter
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The band Mr. Miss wins the best vocal collaboration award at Taiwan’s Golden Melody Awards in June.
Du Kai (left) and Liu Lian stand out among their peers for their original jazz-pop rhythms and storytelling lyrics.