Music

Various Artists: Rough Guide to the Music of China

Barbara Flaska

Various Artists

Rough Guide to the Music of China

Label: World Music Network
US Release Date: 2003-08-26
UK Release Date: 2003-08-25
Amazon
iTunes

One of the nicest things about Rough Guide compilations is that for at least one hour the listener can be transported musically through time and across the world, in this instance to far away China. While this presentation's broad scope may have been daunting for the compilers, their labor translates only into aural fascination for the listener. Ultra-current pop is represented by the big-selling contemporary Chinese artists like Cui Jian, described as a "one-man rock 'n' roll revolution". His grandiose, more than a little self-indulgent, and very long rock song "Nothing to My Name" opens the album and even though it's not my bag, with this tune any stereotyped thoughts about Chinese music seemed to go straight out the window. And nothing is more ultra-current than Hang on the Box, China's only all-girl punk band shrieking out their oi oi oi's over distorted bass guitar on "Yellow Banana". Hang on the Box are awfully cute just to hear, yet it's the folk-pop of Ai Jing's "My 1997" that is the most genuinely charming, even without knowing this song contains dread "political content" relating to freedom and the return of Hong Kong to China.

I just lied. They're all genuinely charming, every single one of the 17 tracks. From music from '30s movies starring the saucy Bai Hong and her captivating voice over clip-clop percussion and swinging big band sound on "Wo Yao Hui Jia" ("I Want to Go Home") to the '20s "decadent" Shanghai pop of Gong Chio Xia with cowboy-style guitar and fiddle that all sounds unbelievably bright and happy. Then there's the springy, echoey gongs sounding the start of the Chinese opera where Zheng Jun Mian & Li Hong emote their ancient drama-drenched verses over fiddles and flutes.

The oldest and most traditional sounding tunes to these ears are the instrumentals, such as "Jiu Kuang" ("The Drinking Song"). Yao Gongbai weaves his way around up and down the 2,000-year old song on all 7-strings of the qin (pronounced "chin"), which sounds like a gut-stringed zither. There are a large range of moods just in the instrumentals, from the quiet meditation of "Stone Forest Nocturne" (featuring the virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen on her pipa, a lute-like instrument) to the lush new age sound of "Noctural Light" by Kin Taii featuring synthesizer and erhu, the Chinese fiddle.

A unique sophisticated blend of Chinese classical music with modern musical forms is created by ensemble Wu Xing. Singer Gong Linna carries her angelic voice over the Bavarian zither of Robert Zollitsch, who also composed the music for the most ethereal "Bo".

There's the strange wildness expressed by the music from the remote Sinkiang region, where mosques replace temples and the music is distinct to the province. This is a Turkish or Arabic sounding music played on the dutar, a two-stringed lute and sung by a soulful throaty voice in full flow and sounding awfully Arabic on "Tirik Bostan". This unique piece, difficult to imagine as emanating from anywhere in China, is credited to the Sinkiang Uighur Autonomous Region Song & Dance Ensemble.

A woman of mystery, Li Xiang Lan lends her sweet high voice to "Lan Guei Ji Ji". Famous in Shanghai until the Communist Party took over in 1949, Li Xiang Lin was a top singer during the shidaiqu era when Mandarin songs were popular. She sings over fiddle, lute, flute, and percussion. Born Yoshiko Yamaguchi in Manchuria, after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria she adopted the Chinese name, Li Xiang Lan. She went on to change her name a number of times during her adventurous life in entertainment. She appeared in propaganda films and other movies produced by the Japanese and after the end of World War II she avoided execution by revealing her Japanese name and identity. Then she left to make a career in Hollywood as Shirley Yamaguchi during the '50s and also made films in Hong Kong. Ever the entertainer, she moved back to Japan and became a television reporter, before marrying a Japanese diplomat and becoming Yoshiko Otaka. "Lan Guei Ji Ji" is still a popular song in both China and Japan and Li Xiang Lan remains a well-known figure in both countries. And you thought the music of the Sinkiang region was wild �

But there can be no overlooking the spectacular instrumental closer that just burns down the house. Liu Fang on pipa& Farhan Sabbagh on mazhar, an open framed drum, take off on a supercharged dance blast called "Night of the Bonfire" that will burn the soles straight off your shoes. Dare I recommend this collection to the adventurous or curious? That's an astounding loud yes! You can disappear into this delightful music for so long your friends will think you've gone off to China. This introduction to the music of China easily counts as one of the ten best offerings released by Rough Guide in 2003, and like their equally exquisite Rough Guide to the Music of Thailand was compiled by the magic hands of Paul Fisher.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.

Music

Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.

Music

That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.

Books

Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.

Reviews

Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.

Music

Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.

Film

'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.

Music

Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Music

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.

Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.