Tuesday, September 06, 2005

On being "an analytical machine"

So, despite being out of school for a couple months, I still find it hard to shake off the feeling of academic analytical thinking and given the detachment of being a foreigner in another country, it's hard to avoid seeing everything as a cultural text. Curse you, Peter Steinberger.

Anyway, I've been listening to some Chinese pop, and although I'm by no means well versed in it at this point, I did come across a new CD by 王力宏 called 心中的日月. In English on the CD cover is a blurb of which I'll quote parts of it.

"1. Though Chinese presence grows in the global community, the world's understanding of Chinese people, pop culture and music still lags behind. As much as we hate to admit it, we are still faced with age-old stereotypes and unjust prejudices that need addressing.

2. Chinese pop music does not have a strong enough sonic identity. Instead of being purely karaoke driven, instead of covering or imitating other countries' popular songs, we can focus on developing our own sound, drawing from the rich resources that abound in Chinese culture.

Then, I coined the term "chinked-out". Derived from the historically derogatory racial slur "chink", used to put-down Chinese people, "chinked-out" repossesses the word, turns its negative connotations upside-down , and uses them as material to fuel the new sound if this music. The term describes an effort to create a sound that is international, and at the same time, Chinese. In this album, I decided to implement some of China's most precious and untapped resources, the musics of its "shao shu min zu" (少數民族) , or ethnic minorities, concentrating on the regions of Yunan, Shangri-la, Tibet, Xinjiang and Mongolia. This is NOT one those "world music" CD's. It's an R&B/hip-hop album that creates a new vibe the whole world can identify as being Chinese."

When I first read this I was pretty excited. The whole concept seems unexpectedly complex for a pop music CD. Also there's a lot I can get behind in the concept, and at least he seems to acknowledge racism towards Chinese people that people here seem to be largely unaware of. Although perhaps it's just the people I've met. However, this concept of repossessing and redefining Chinese pop music as uniquely Chinese seems problematic given that 王力宏 takes trips to the periphery of what is considered "China" and "Chinese" to find this uniquely Chinese sound.

Also after listening to the CD, 王力宏 himself uses sounds that are clearly based in Western music and hip hop. Much of his music sounds at least to my ear almost indistinguishable at times from American R&B which isn't such a bad thing per se but on an album that claims to be an attempt to reinvent Chinese pop music it does seem a bit odd.

Anyway, like I said, I'm hardly an expert, these are just some initial impressions of mine. I'm more interested in what other, more knowledgeable people think of this. Or hell, just other people in general.


Anonymous said...

my two cents

i dont really agree that Chinese pop is completely white-washed or simply copying pop music from everywehere else. it is true that a lot of it tries to imitate distinctly american styles, particlarly r&b or rap, but i think taiwanese pop is still infused with local musical influence. if you ever listen to taiwanese music (that is, music sung in the language of taiwanese, not mandarin) it has a very unique and distinct flavor. to me, a lot of chinese pop has this same kind of flavor to it. and you dont need to look at A-mei's success to see that Chinese popular culture fell in love with the loud, clear and moving singing voices of the indiginous cultures of the island.
I think taiwanese pop is distinct. why would i listen to it if it wasnt? its a big business, targeted to a specific group of people.


lovelesscynic said...

I would probably agree that 王力宏's statement about Chinese pop lacking individuality is sort of weird. But it is something that people say.

I had an e-mail conversation with Nien about this but listening to the people that I have which isn't many mind, I think that 周傑倫和林俊傑 also incorporate Chinese sounds and instruments into their music. At the same time, I also thought he made a good point that 王力宏's music is also significantly influenced by traditional Chinese music. After listening to it more, I can hear it more clearly now. At the same time, he does definitely borrow a beat from somewhere in his first song, and I don't think 周傑倫 has ever done that.