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，