Djang San: Elec­tric Zhon­gruan

China Pictorial (English) - - Peo­ple - Text and pho­to­graphs by Lau­rent Hou

Djang San is a French mu­si­cian who has been liv­ing in Bei­jing for years. This tire­less artist has al­ready com­posed 38 al­bums and sings in French, English and Chi­nese. Djang San’s mu­si­cal jour­ney led him to elec­trify the zhon­gruan (a four-stringed Chi­nese in­stru­ment) and try out the tra­di­tional Chi­nese in­stru­ment on a va­ri­ety of mu­si­cal gen­res such as rock, jazz, blues and elec­tronic mu­sic. He is com­mit­ted to bridg­ing cul­tures through his mu­sic and con­stantly strives to in­no­vate.

China Pic­to­rial (CP): Why did you choose to play the zhon­gruan over an­other Chi­nese in­stru­ment?

Djang San: The sound and over­all feel­ing of the in­stru­ment is the big­gest rea­son. Many tra­di­tional Chi­nese in­stru­ments made their ways to other East Asian coun­tries such as Ja­pan and Viet­nam, where they were mod­i­fied, but the zhon­gruan can only be found in China. I was in­ter­ested in Chi­nese cul­ture, which made it even more special. The zhon­gruan has a pow­er­ful sound, but can be car­ried eas­ily when trav­el­ing. Such qual­i­ties make it a con­ve­nient in­stru­ment. I have a very special re­la­tion­ship with the in­stru­ment. By be­com­ing the first per­son to elec­trify it and play it at rock mu­sic fes­ti­vals, I felt like I was bring­ing it into the 21st Cen­tury. Now, more and more mu­si­cians are in­ter­ested in the in­stru­ment and have taken in­spi­ra­tion from my work on both the zhon­gruan and the pipa (an other four-stringed Chi­nese in­stru­ment), which I have also elec­tri­fied.

CP: You are one of the few for­eign­ers who can write songs in Chi­nese and per­form them. How did you learn Chi­nese?

Djang: I started learn­ing Chi­nese in France at the age of 15 by tak­ing a class in school. I first came to China five years later for more classes, and be­ing here al­lowed me to im­prove much faster. Be­fore learn­ing Chi­nese, I learned English through mu­sic, es­pe­cially singing. I think mu­sic is a great way to com­bine mem­o­riza­tion with emo­tions. So, I tried to do the same with Chi­nese. I looked for things I liked in Chi­nese pop mu­sic, and in the 2000s, Wang Fei (Faye Wong) was the most in­ter­est­ing pop singer, so I used her songs to study Chi­nese.

CP: How have Chi­nese mu­sic and cul­ture in­flu­enced your work?

Djang: Chi­nese folk mu­sic was a source of in­spi­ra­tion for me. I have used the pen­ta­tonic scale some­times since both pipa and zhon­gruan are in­stru­ments based on it. You can hear the way I use the pen­ta­tonic scale on songs like “Where’s Hap­pi­ness,” “Mad Horses,” “The Other Side” and a few oth­ers. I also took in­spi­ra­tion from Chi­nese po­ets like Ma Zhiyuan and Liu Yuxi. Along with the zhon­gruan, I also play other Chi­nese in­stru­ments. You can see me play­ing some of them at my live shows. Oth­ers, I mostly use when record­ing al­bums. I play the pipa, guzheng (Chi­nese zither), hu­lusi (cu­cur­bit flute), xiao (a Chi­nese ver­ti­cal flute) and xun (a tra­di­tional egg-shaped, holed wind in­stru­ment). I want to bridge cul­tures. I have been con­stantly mix­ing Chi­nese mu­sic with rock, blues and elec- tronic mu­sic. Jazz is also an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant in­flu­ence in my work. I al­ready used in­stru­ments from Brazil and Peru, the coun­try where I spent part of my child­hood. I plan to keep on broad­en­ing my mu­si­cal hori­zons and use in­stru­ments from other cul­tures too. In the fu­ture, I might use Ja­panese and Korean in­stru­ments, and even old Euro­pean in­stru­ments from the Mid­dle Ages.

Djang San sings while play­ing the elec­tric zhon­gruan at Bei­jing Mu­sic Day at MAO Live House in 2014.

Djang San and the crowd at 77 The­atre (Bei­jing).

Djang San and Pek­ing Opera star Zheng Ziru per­form to­gether at the French Em­bassy in Bei­jing. Djang San plays the hu­lusi.

Djang San plays the elec­tric pipa.

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