Maybe the biggest surprise during Loreli's Chengdu trip happened on our first night. We attended the very popular open mic night at Machu Picchu Bar and were delighted when the first musician we heard was an amazing throat singer from Xinjiang. Jan 彊wowed us and the crowd with his proficiency in playing an electrified Kazakhstani string instrument, the dombra. Check out some of his set and an interview with him by Loreli's Amy Daml and Angela Li. Bilingual transcript is below. You can read more about Jan's 彊 music on this blog and read more interviews with him here.
Posted September 23, 2016
Bilingual Interview Transcript (translation and transcription by Angela Li):
A: Can you introduce yourself?
H: I’m Jan from Xinjiang.
A: What do you do in Chengdu?
H: Living here.
A: What’s this instrument you play?
H: Dombra. It’s a Kazakhstani string instrument.
A: It looks a bit similar to the Erhu.
H: It’s very different.
A: Did you modify it to be electro-acoustic yourself?
H: There are people in Kazakhstan who make amplifiers for this instrument.
A: What about the singing? How did you learn it?
H: Self-taught. Altaic language is part of the lifestyle in the south of Xinjiang, so I guess I’ve had a certain sentiment inside me since I was little; I didn’t need to treat it as something that needed to be learned. Most of it is you. It’s like if you see someone from Lanzhou making ramen… you wouldn’t think it’s strange. This isn’t completely true either. A lot of the young people there don’t know anything about this kind of music, because our environment only brings us mainstream stuff. A lot of kids don’t know anything about this indigenous stuff despite being there.
A: The music in Xinjiang is influenced by countries like Pakistan and Kazakhstan. When I was there in October, the music that was playing on the radio sounded Pakistani or Indian influenced. Does that come out in your music as well?
H: It’s that way for historical reasons. Some ethnic groups have been influenced by Middle Eastern culture, so they can’t really make music that’s very traditionally Xinjiang. I think Altaic and living in grasslands are more authentically Xinjiang. The Dombra, for example, is very different from Middle Eastern string instruments; it has its own system. Throat singing comes from the shepherd culture in northern Asia. It’s not from the outside. It’s very indigenous. Xinjiang has a lot of different ethnic groups with varying styles and cultures. I think the most authentic, what I’m most drawn to is music that preserves the grassland culture.
A: Why do you want to bring this music to Chengdu?
H: It’s 1+1=2, like if you go to Inner Mongolia you have to eat barbecued lamb. We’re receiving a lot of mainstream stuff nowadays. Xinjiang was not as mainstream before. Chengdu has an international feel; it’s not shy. A lot of things can coexist here. I didn’t come here with the intent of bringing my music. My life comes first. I don’t think Xinjiang suits what I’m doing and my life now. There are historical elements behind this that made the art scene there now quite barren. I’m saying I don’t think it’s an ethnic thing, it’s very personal, something that rests in the heart. My life comes first, along with the music. I don’t want it to become too mainstream, but at least in Chengdu, even the most esoteric thing is guaranteed to be known by someone. As long as the conversation can go on, that’s enough.
H: 我一开始觉得像是1+1=2，就像你到内蒙的话一定要吃烤全羊。 我们现在接收到很多大众化的东西。新疆最早也是很小众的地方。成都具备着一个国际化的感觉。他并不蔽塞，所以在这里很多东西可以共存。我没有刻意把音乐带过来，首先是生活。因为我觉新疆不太适合我现在在做的事情和我的生活。有一些元素是历史性的元素，导致现在的文艺状态比较匮乏。所以说我认为他不是一个民族性的东西，是更个人的，装在心里的东西。我首先还是考虑到生活，就顺便在做着音乐。我也不希望它变成一个很大众的东西，但至少在成都，再罕见的东西都会有人知道。大家都有一个交流，就够了。
A: What’s the response from people in Chengdu?
H: (Chengdu is) very accepting and multifaceted, and filled with different groups of people. Three years ago I played at Machu Picchu for the first time to a full house. No one knew me then. They were very quiet throughout the whole performance. You can see that this group of people, or anyone who enjoys music has a certain quality about them. They’re open to all sorts of things. There are groups of music lovers in some places, but their enjoyment of music might be limited to certain genres or forms. That gig left a really good impression on me. It made me think I could communicate with the audience freely. Music is just notes and rhythm. There are no barriers when we converse in music. Everyone’s accepting and open. Anything’s possible. This is my first impression of the audience in Chengdu.
H: 包容，多元，各种群体他都有。三年前在Machu Picchu的老店表演，坐的非常满。当时没有人认识我。整个演出，从头到尾安安静静的。由此可见这个群体，
Loreli's Chengdu coverage continues this week with one of the highlights of the trip - an interview with much buzzed about Chengdu rapper, Kafe Hu. Kafe has been on tour this summer with his new debut LP, 27: Code of Lucifer. Kafe was so lovely as to invite Loreli's Amy Daml and Angela Li to his house for an interview. You can also check out his kinda creepy cool music video for the album's single, "21st Century Schizoid Man," produced by Soulspeak. More on Kafe Hu is available on Douban and Weibo.
Posted September 9, 2016
Bilingual Transcript of interview (transcribed and translated by Angela Li)
AD: Wanna start by introducing yourself and telling us what you do?
K: I’m Kafe Hu. I’ m a rapper and a producer. I also do graphic design.
K: 我是 Kafe Hu。我是一个rapper和制作人。我也做平面设计。
AD: How did you get started with rapping?
K: I started (when) I was 16. I lived in a small town, much smaller than Chengdu. It wasn’t far from Chengdu; nowadays it’d take around one and a half hours to get there. The town was small. Back then, a few of my friends started dancing to hip hop, breaks. I saw them dancing, but I wasn’t much of a dancer and couldn’t join them. Afterwards I wanted to do something cool as well. So what should I do? I started listening to their music. Then, they were playing Slim Shady, an Eminem album. When I heard it, I thought I could try my hands at that kind of music. So I bought a cheap, 20 kuai computer mic. At that time some people in China were starting to do rap and knew where to download beats that were, frankly, stolen from America. They also taught me to use a very simple recording software. So it was then that I made my first rap song.
K:我16岁的时候（开始的）。我生活在一个小城市，比成都小多了。它离成都不远，现在坐车大概一个半小时。地方很小。当时有一些我的朋友开始跳hip hop, breaks。我看他们在跳，但是我没有那个天赋，不能给他们跳。后来我也想做一些酷的事情，那怎么办呢？我就听他们的音乐。他们当时在放一个Eminem的专辑, Slim Shady。我听到那个专辑然后我想我可以试一下这样的音乐。我就买了一个20块，便宜的电脑的麦克风。当时中国有一些人已经开始做rap，知道有一些网站可以下载一些beats，其实是从美国那边偷过来的。他们也叫我用一个很简单的录音软件。那个时候我做了我的第一个说唱。
AD: What did your parents think? Did they know you were doing this the whole time?
K: They were like, ‘what are you doing? Go to school. Don’t waste your time.’ Just like that.
AD: Did you miss out any school stuff so you could do hip hop?
K: Of course. I’m the quintessential bad kid. I dropped out of school in the 7th grade cus I was starting fights. Besides that, I basically hated being in class. Honestly, I don’t really like Chinese schools. Even though I’ve never been out of China, I hate having to wear the same clothes as everyone else and putting on the red scarf just to step inside the school gate. And then there’s the homework and being beaten by teachers. It wasn’t liberating at all. So basically I didn’t like going to school. In middle school, I was hanging out with some bigger kids and getting into fights. Back then I hadn’t found out about hip hop yet. If I didn’t get into hip hop, I would’ve become a gangster.
K：当然。我是一个典型的不好好读书的孩子。我初一的时候就辍学了，因为我在学校里面打架。然后基本上就不想听老师上课。其实我不怎么喜欢中国学校。虽然我也没去过外国，但是实际上我就是讨厌穿一样的衣服，戴着个红领巾，不然都不能进学校门。还有就是做作业，老师打我什么的，我都觉得很不自由。所以我基本上不怎么爱上学。初中时有一些更大的孩子跟我在一块儿玩，我跟他们打架什么的。那时候我还不知道hip hop是什么。如果我不做hip hop的话，我肯定就变成一个流氓了。
AD: Are you able to make a living from the design work and hip hop? Enough that it was worth it for you to leave school?
K: Of course. Over these past years of my life, being bad at math (even during school ) and business are the only things that have hindered me in places. Apart from that, school didn’t really contribute anything in terms art, design, and music. I’m pretty much self-taught. I’m not saying that knowledge isn’t important: it is, massively. But I think school wasn’t all that important to me (as a vessel for gaining knowledge).
AD: I wanna talk about beats. You said that you guys were taking beats from the US. Has hip hop culture grown enough in China that you can find original beats here?
K: Of course. The beats for my last album, ‘The Guy’, were done by a Chengdu producer, Eddie. Now I’m doing my own beats. The beats for my new album were all done by myself. Right now, the independent music scene in China is developing really fast. I think one of the best things about China is that development happens rapidly. For example, ten years ago we didn’t even know what hip hop was. Now China has its own style of hip hop, and it’s only gonna get better from here.
K：当然。我上一个专辑 ‘The Guy’ 里帮我做beats的是一个成都的制作人，Eddie。现在我自己也在做beats。我新的专辑的beats全部都是我自己做的。现在中国的独立音乐已经发展的很快。我觉得中国最好的一点就是发展会特别快。比如说我们从十年前完全不知道hip hop是什么，到现在中国有自己风格的hip hop，包括以后肯定会更厉害。
AD: Are there a lot of other rappers here? Who do you play shows with? Do you mix hip hop with other genres of music when you play?
K: Yeah. I recently joined a crew called JingQiShen. It’s made up of rappers from cities like Chengdu, Beijing, Kunming, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. A lot of communication and collaboration happen within the crew (rapper and rapper or producer and rapper). Beijing’s Xiaolaohu is in this crew as well. They’re all very good musicians in their own cities.
AD: 这里有很多其他的rapper吗？你都会跟谁一起演出？你会把hip hop和其他音乐种类结合吗？
AD: Is there a difference between, for example, the Guangzhou scene and the Chengdu scene in terms of hip hop?
K: There’s definitely a difference. For example, language differences. People from Guangzhou speak Cantonese, so their rhymes and inflections are naturally different from ours. This is interesting. However, we’re in the same hood so we’re into the same music. Trap is really popular right now, but I guess because of our age (I’m 29), we’re not that into trap. The younger kids really like it though. The difference between our music styles and language tendencies or dialects are huge. This includes Beijing too. The way Putonghua is spoken there is very different from the way it’s spoken in Chengdu. A local Chengdu rapper using Sichuan dialect to rap definitely gives off a different feel. If you’re Chinese you could spot the differences right away.
AD: Hip hop 氛围在成都，北京，广州都有什么区别？
AD: What would you say to younger rappers who want to get involved?
K: Don’t waste your fucking time. Just listen to roots music.
AL: You’re coming out with a new album, right?
K: Yeah, it’s coming out in the beginning of August. My tour starts on 8/5 in Chengdu. I’ll be touring with my band City Zen. I really like jazz; I like hip hop music that feature jazz heavily, not just in the form of samples. So I like to find jazz musicians to collaborate with.
K: 对，我的新专辑八月初就会出。我的tour在8/5开始，从成都开始会去几个城市。这个tour是我和我的乐队，City Zen。我很喜欢jazz。我喜欢hip hop里偏jazz很严重的。不是简单的jazz sample。我会找一些jazz乐手来合作。
AL: So you’re touring with a jazz band?
K: Yeah. It’s more of a project than a band. The roster changes quite a lot. Sometimes there are a lot of jazz musicians, sometimes it’s just programmed music, sometimes we’ll only have a DJ. For this tour we’ll have a drummer, some programmed music, vocals and a bass.
AD: Is there anything else you want to tell us?
K: Music wise, I think China’s growing a lot. However, the growth might not be headed in the right direction. From the very beginning, hip hop in China has been about emulating others. For example, if people see a 50 Cent music video, they’ll start imitating 50 Cent. When Lil’ Wayne was popular they were trying to emulate him. The same goes for trap music at the moment. A large bulk of people who are into hip hop have no idea about hip hop and its origins. If you have time, go listen to some roots music, like blues, soul, funk, jazz, or reggae. If you don’t, then spend some more time listening to 90s hip hop – hip hop from the golden age. Hip hop started in the 70s and hit a really high point in the 90s, but from the 2000s on it started to feel like child’s play, hitting the lowest of lows. This is where my disappointment rests when it comes to Chinese hip hop. A lot of Chinese musicians have been inspired by hip hop and gone on to make some fucking awesome music. People like Soulspeak, who makes electronic jazz fusion, plays around with a lot of different styles and genres. I think this kind of stuff is better for the Chinese music scene than imitating black American rappers’ style and ways of life. In China, not a lot of people have guns, and you can’t just buy drugs around the corner. This way of doing hip hop is like sniffing a meal instead of actually eating it: you gain satisfaction for yourself in the end. This is my only disapproval of the scene here. Other than this I’m optimistic and happy. There are so many amazing rappers, producers, and musicians making music that could rock the world.
K: 关于音乐，我觉得虽然现在中国发展越来越好，这个发展有一点畸形。从一开始中国的hip hop就是在学别人。比如在一个MV里看到50 Cent, 大家就开始学50 Cent。Lil’ Wayne 流行的时候他们就在学 Lil’ Wayne，现在trap开始流行了他们就开始学trap。有很一大部分的人没有真正的却了解hip hop是怎么回事。如果有时间的话应该去多听一下根源音乐，比如Blues, soul, funk, jazz, reggae。如果你不听的话你可以去多听一下90年代的hip hop，hip hop黄金年代的音乐。从70年代开始有rap，到90年代就开始长到技术非常高，但再从那之后到2000年就完全变成幼儿园的那种感觉，越掉越低。这是我对中国hip hop音乐不满意的现象就是这个。中国有很多音乐人从hip hop里得到了灵感做出了更牛逼的音乐。比如Soulspeak在做电子爵士乐，和很多新奇的风格在一起。我觉得这样对中国的音乐更有帮助，而不是学一个美国黑人rapper在穿什么，做什么。在中国，没有那么多人有枪，也不可能随便却买一个毒品。就好像你吃饭你只是闻了味道而不是真正在吃，并没有满足到你自己。这是我唯一对中国音乐不满意的现象。满意的是中国音乐真的发展的很好，有很多好的rapper，producer，和好的音乐家门做让世界都震惊的音乐。