An A to Z of Chinese music
is for Anita Mui, “the Chinese Madonna” for her song Bad Girl a decade ago, spawning a generation of similar soubriquets.
is for boybands. The Chinese love ’em – and no wonder. Nobody can pout like a Chinese boyband can; check out the online video from C-pop foursome Fire.
is for control. The Chinese have been aware of music’s potential as an instrument of social “organisation” ever since Confucius, who put forward the idea of orthodox ritual music as a kind of mass soporific – without ever having heard of boybands.
is for the daddy of Chinese rock. When Cui Jian first performed the Chinese rock song Yi Wu Suo You (I Have Nothing) in the 1980s, it was the first time an electric guitar was used in China.
is for easy listening, which Chinese music usually isn’t. Especially when it’s karaoke.
is for Fahrenheit, the Chinese boy band du jour – whose publicity wheeze is to market each of its four members as a season. Calvin is spring, Jiro is summer, Wu is autumn and Arron is winter. They ought to record What’s Another Year?
is for gongs. You can’t really do Chinese music without them.
is for hip-hop. The Chinese haven’t really got the hang of this genre yet, if the lyric from Dragon Sun Squad is anything to go by: “I love hip-hop” it runs, “just like I love my mum and dad.”
is for intervals. If you can play a minor third and a major sixth – preferably on a gong – you can play Chinese.
is for J-pop: the Japanese version of C-pop. K is for Kung Foo Fighting. The original Carl Douglas kind from his immortal 1974 disco classic, that is: not the many pale imitations which range from a Fatboy Slim remix to the watered-down travesty at the end of the movie Kung Fu Panda. L is for Lollipop. Not only do they look and sound like a boy band, they also live together in an apartment paid for by their record company. M is for mandopop. That’s music sung in Mandarin, as opposed to music sung in Cantonese (cantopop). Canto artists tend to go mando, but not vice versa because it’s harder for a native Mandarin speaker to learn Cantonese than the other way round. N is for names. Chinese names are incredibly complicated and often, to Western eyes and ears, unintentionally hilarious. Take the divette known as Fish Leong. Leong Chui Peng chose the moniker, she explains, because the last syllable in her name sounds like “fish”. O is for Chinese opera, a mind-numbing onslaught on the senses in which inexplicably entangled plots are allied to unbearably repetitive noise and the whole thing goes on for ever. Of course, many would say the same about Verdi. P is for piracy, which is even bigger in China than bubble gum. Pirated CDs are sold in “legitimate” record shops, and the trade is said to represent a whopping 95 per cent of sales. Q is for queasy, which is any sane person would feel, faced with the realities of the Chinese commercial music scene. (See under: P) R is for . . . dammit, there aren’t any ‘R’s in Chinese. S is for Sober, aka the Chinese Oasis. T is for Tuvan throat singers, who can sing two lines of music at once. But then, after a few scoops, can’t we all? X is for Xun, a kind of globular flute, a 7,000-year-old example of which was unearthed in China recently. No, it’s not a typo. Seven thousand years. That’s how old Chinese culture is. Y is for Yungchen Llamo, the feisty Tibetan a cappella singer who also performs at the forthcoming Festival of World Cultures. Unlike Sa Dingding, however, Yungchen isn’t a fan of Chinese policy on Tibet. Z is for zheng, the Chinese 25-stringed zither. If – like Sa Dingding – you can play one of those, does that make you a zheng-ius? OK, enough already. U is for the unexpected, which is what we should expect from Chinese musicians over the next few years. V is for vastness. When Chinese musicians finally do make it on to Western cultural radar, be prepared for a major takeover. W is for wit. Which, despite pious pronouncements, is something the Chinese do pretty well. As in the delightful YouTube clip of the two students lip-synching to Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way.
Yungchen Llamo and, below, boyband Fahrenheit