Ma Di makes waves as US fans lap up his music
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 Douban.com, 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.