Chinese Music that Rocks

MC Hotdog to warm you up to the subject

Discussion of Chinese rock music

This is a personal review of Chinese music derived from recommendations from friends and music CDs I have combed through. If you can find a bricks and mortar book store with its doors still open, you might find some Chinese music in the World Music section. That Chinese music tends to be traditional, melodic and culturally edifying, but it is not the music that I listen to. I grew up on rock, and music has to have a strong beat for me to want to listen to it. So, I screen Chinese music with a rock music sensibility.

My knowledge of Chinese music is certainly less than that of the average Chinese youth, but probably a great deal more than the average white guy. I hope that my perspective adds some value as that of a somewhat knowledgeable outsider.

Most of my Chinese friends and acquaintances say they don't like rock. After admitting that, they will often point me to Jay Chou. Jay Chou has a reputation for combining traditional Chinese elements and a rap style. He is very popular and I am told his appearance in The Green Hornet is one of the main attractions of that movie. However, none of Jay Chou's songs have done much for me.

If Chinese music, of the kind I like, were just a pale imitation of Western music, it wouldn't be worth delving into. However, just as in the West, music is adapted to local tastes and ideas. It evolves and changes, and then perhaps influences music elsewhere. Below are a few pointers for you to explore on your own, if you wish.

It seems to me that the US music market is strongly segmented into different genres, and you won't get a hip-hop artist putting a country style song on an album, for example. The Chinese music market doesn't seem to be segmented into the same genres, and it is more common for Chinese performers to vary their style. A number of popular music stars will occasionally belt out a song that I like, and then go back to more culturally edifying, but, to me, boring songs. Jolin often produces up tempo tunes that I like. One example would be "36 Strategies of Love" . Even 王菲 (Wang Fei) has done a few songs that match my taste, even if most of her work deserves placement in the world music bins. The "Super Girl" competition of 2006? in the mainland produced a number of pop stars who will occasionally rock out, but most of their songs sound like disco to me.

There is some variation between music originating from Taiwan, Hong Kong and the mainland. Taiwan and Hong Kong are more influenced by western styles and attitudes. The mainland has more of its own standard. Songs from the mainland often tend to be about wholesome topics and lacking the youthful angst that sometimes makes rock so poignant. For example, 周笔畅 (Zhou BiChang) has a rap about the need to be a good person and that she would like to educate you in this regard. It is called 呃 (eh). I couldn't find a legitimate link to it on-line, though. On the other hand, mainland performers operate in a different business environment. So, it is often easier to find more of their work freely available on line, even if the distribution sites aren't legitimate by our standards.

I also think that Chinese is particularly well suited to the kind of music that I like. Syllables are always distinctly pronounced, and the singer can match the beat of the music without straining the language at all. One song that uses this particularly effectively is a silly and unkind satire, but very fun to listen to. The singer gained a small amount of fame with this song ridiculing a young woman who went viral on the Internet. The internet phenomena goes by 芙蓉姐姐 (fu rong jie jie) The song is called, 芙蓉姐夫 (fu rong jie fu) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M_Y02EWVWw

莫文蔚 (Mo WenWei) has a clever song about getting dumped, 如果你是李白 (If you were <famous poet's name> [you could write a poem about breaking up with me that later generations admire, but you are not that cute, and I'm not that hurt].) It is a very good song despite the cheesecakey looking video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snr_zOIVcPw.

崔健 (Cui Jian) is a pioneer of rock music from the mainland. He tends to throw lots of weird and experimental sounds into his music, and his career is a bit long in the tooth. Otherwise, his music is pretty much straight up rock and roll. The lyrics tend to be particular to Chinese situations, but could be interpreted more universally.

I think some of the most innovative music, of the kind that I like comes from Taiwan. I have heard Wu Bai called the father of Taiwanese rock. I like some of his songs very much.
Sometimes, he sings Taiwanese (闽南话)rather than Mandarin, which I don't like as much, because I don't understand Taiwanese, but the music is good.

My favorite goes by the English name of, MC Hotdog。Although some Chinese friends know him by his Chinese name 姚种仁 (Yao ZhongRen) One of my favorite of his songs by him is called 黑白配 (black and white match), it is not his most ruckus, but mixes in some interesting Chinese musical elements. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a free link to this song on-line. You might be able to find something interesting of his to listen to on baidu, http://music.baidu.com/artist/2397?pst=sug

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