Ma Di makes waves as US fans lap up his mu­sic

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By CHEN­NAN

The night be­fore Ma Di per­formed at the Mod­ern Sky Fes­ti­val — an out­door mu­sic event launched by Bei­jing­based in­die la­bel Mod­ern Sky — on Sept 17 at Gover­nors Is­land, New York, the Chi­nese folk singer-song­writer headed to Ho­tel Chelsea.

The 125-year-old ho­tel, a land­mark of New York, is known for hav­ing hosted cel­e­brated guests like Mark Twain, Bob Dy­lan and Andy Warhol.

But for Ma, this was a trip into his past.

Ma has a song called Is There A Room 8301 at Ho­tel Chelsea, which is in his de­but al­bum, The Lonely Is­land, which was re­leased in 2014.

The song is full of melan­choly and nos­tal­gia and is about a girl and the pas­sage of time.

Re­count­ing his visit to the ho­tel, he says: “It was very dark and it (Ho­tel Chelsea) is closed for ren­o­va­tion.” And, he does not know if the ho­tel had a room 8301.

But de­spite this “set­back”, Ma is gung ho as he con­tin­ues to tour the United States un­til Sept 30. He ex­pected to visit Chicago, Seat­tle, San Fran­cisco and Los Angeles, among other US ci­ties.

“This is my first Amer­ica tour. I am more ex­cited than ner­vous,” says Ma.

“Most of the au­di­ences, I guess, will be Chi­nese or Chi­nese-Amer­i­can, who lis­ten to my mu­sic on the in­ter­net. But I am also look­ing for­ward to feed­back from those who have never heard my songs be­fore.”

The Bei­jing-born singer­song­writer who comes from the in­die mu­sic scene in China is one of his gen­er­a­tion’s most pop­u­lar stars.

Since found­ing the in­diefolk la­bel Se­same Leaves in 2011, Ma has gained mil­lions of fol­low­ers thanks to the in­ter­net.

His com­po­si­tion, Nan Shan Nan (South of the South Moun­tain) won rave re­views.

Its smooth melody and lyrics res­onated with mu­sic lovers af­ter it was per­formed by Zhang Lei, the win­ner of the pop­u­lar TV tal­ent show The Voice of China.

Ma launched his de­but tour in China in 2015 and his lat­est sin­gle, Jie Fei (Ev­ery­thing Is Noth­ing) was re­leased in June.

Speak­ing about Nan Shan Nan, he says: “For me, it’s just one song, which is known by so many peo­ple.

“It does not have a big im­pact on me, and the only thing about it is that it has helped me to build a large fol­low­ing who lis­tens tomy other songs.

“I write songs for fun andf or my­self. I do not plan any­thing. It (the fame) just hap­pened.”

Ma has more than 800,000 fol­low­ers on his Sina Weibo ac­count. Be­fore he be­came pop­u­lar, Ma’s dream was to re­lease an al­bum and per­form on­stage in Bei­jing.

Re­call­ing his early days, he says it was his love of mu­sic that sus­tained him.

“I was a quiet child and un­like my class­mates, who lis­tened to pop mu­sic, I felt con­nected only when I lis­tened to folk songs.

“Though the lyrics of those folk songs were dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand, I found that I could re­late to them.”

His par­ents were against him be­com­ing a singer-song­writer, so Ma once worked at a gov­ern­ment of­fice earn­ing 1,200 yuan ($180) per month.

How­ever, he quit the job af­ter sign­ing con­tract with Mod­ern Sky in 2013 and be­came a full-time singer­song­writer.

One per­son who is im­por­tant to Ma’s mu­sic is folk singer-song­writer Song Dongye, who Ma en­coun­tered on, the coun­try’s largest re­view site.

The two founded the in­diefolk la­bel Se­same Leaves, which they re­gard as a place to en­joy mu­sic.

Ma sees Song as part of his fam­ily and in­vited him to star in the mu­sic video of Nan Shan Nan.

“We back each other up. If one day we are not happy about writ­ing songs, we will stop and be­come taxi driv­ers,” says Ma.


Folk singer-song­writer Ma Di is on his US tour.

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