Articles review on the net, revue d'articles sur la toile

Inscription : feeds, flux :
(Atom) Gabriel Real World News

26 avril 2008

Sa Dingding, the Asian Bjork

Sa Dingding carries a torch for Chinese pop – and politics. Is the Asian Björk compromised by her views on the Tibet issue?

Wandering towards a window overlooking the congested road beneath the west London offices of her record company, China’s most in-demand musical property lets slip a quiet summation of her experiences to date: “I didn’t expect all this. I like the life I have now. But if I was back living with the sheep and cows in the grasslands, I would still be happy.” It has been a long journey from the steppes for Sa Dingding, who was raised in Inner Mongolia, and there can have been few weeks as odd as her second visit to Britain.

We had first met nine months earlier. She was an unknown who had recorded Alive, an album that mixes traditional Chinese melodies and Buddhist mantras with electronic instruments, and was trying to drum up enough interest in the West to convince her label to release it here. I was the only journalist sufficiently intrigued to want to talk to her. A lot has happened since then, perhaps the most pivotal thing being that she was nominated for a Radio 3 world-music award. Returning to London this month to appear at the awards ceremony, she found her five-day schedule filled with 40 interviews.

Unnervingly good-looking, with her long hair tied in a topknot, Dingding exudes the assured air of a pop star who refuses to be caught off duty, who views Kylie as a part-timer. If she is not quite as exquisitely dressed in person as she is in her portraits, her interview ensemble is an explosion in a new-age boutique: pompom earrings the size of tennis balls, chunky bracelets, a sheer top that leaves her left arm uncovered, kitten-heeled purple suede boots and a skirt that incorporates Tibetan prayer flags. And therein lie several reasons why she is the centre of a media whirlwind. The media love a photogenic woman, especially one who comes with the baggage of a topical hot potato.

Alongside her small entourage, she arrived in London the same weekend as the Olympic torch; she saw out her jet lag watching the news and struggling to comprehend what she was witnessing. In a quote that appeared in a British newspaper and was reprinted around the planet, the singer said: “I am Chinese, so I definitely support our government policy on this issue.” As she comes from a country that has claimed sovereignty over Tibet for centuries, it is fair to say Dingding’s perspective differs from that of the Dalai Lama. She is not alone: 10 days after our interview, I was caught up in a silent protest on Parliament Square, as Chinese students attacked the British media for distorting reports of Tibetan issues. On Monday afternoon, when she arrived for a record-signing session at the Piccadilly Circus HMV, a Newsnight team was close behind, perhaps hoping for a punch-up.

Had the fact people wanted to ask questions about Tibet surprised her? “No. People see me standing for Chinese culture, and it does not matter if this means Mongolian, Han, Tibetan or any other. They are all part of Chinese culture. So, if people are curious about one part I am glad to answer their questions and tell them what it is about.” She has no time for the view that what is happening in Tibet is an occupation, and does not see herself as appropriating Tibetan traditions when they are all part of Chinese culture. A successful 24-year-old singer is unlikely to want to end her career by denouncing her government, of course – even one who has just been informed that the Glastonbury festival is no longer interested in booking her because she is too controversial. One wonders whether Jay-Z was interrogated about his thoughts on Iraq before being handed that headlining slot.

“I think there is a lack of communication between people in the West and East,” Dingding continues. “I am a musician, and most of my time is spent making music, but what I want to do is help people to communicate. I’ve been to London twice and the people have been very friendly, very interested in me because I am Chinese. I grew up there and I love it. I love the culture of my country. My job is not to talk politics, but to introduce this culture to people from the West.”

Still storm clouds gathered about her. On the Tuesday, the discussion boards of the folk- and world-music magazine FRoots featured calls for a protest at the Radio 3 awards, while comments suggested that these came from the Free Tibet organisation. The pressure group, however, said it had never heard of her and had no desire to personalise the issue. The Olympic torch was a legitimate target, an individual musician was not. By Wednesday, Dingding at last felt free to sit down and talk about herself and her music.

Born in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia in 1983, the daughter of a Mongolian mother and Han father, she grew up a nomad, dividing her time between a small house on the grasslands, where her grand-parents kept sheep, and the town, where they would spend winter. “It wasn’t a hard life,” she says. “There was enough milk and I had plenty of time to play. It was like heaven there. It taught me a lot about music and freedom.” When she was six, she joined her parents, travelling around eastern China until they arrived in Beijing in 2001.

After coming second in a television talent show, she recorded a debut album she now dismisses as “childish”, as she had little say in the material or production. Taking control of her career, she began recording demo versions of mantras, Tibetan chants, Sanskrit poetry and what, at first, appear to be Chinese folk songs, but are actually sung in a self-created “language”.

For Oldster by Xilin River, I was thinking about the way my grandmother talked to me when I was a baby,” she explains. There is a way we speak that breaks how we are bound by language, sharing emotions without understanding words. I’ve travelled around China, to Japan and Europe, yet the self-created words mean the same everywhere. We all understand the emotion.” She also made up words for the song Lagu Lagu, but for a very different reason, and it goes some way to explaining her attitude towards the appropriation of other cultures. The Lagu are an ethnic minority in Yunnan province, whose Himalayan roots are betrayed in their Tibetan-Burmese speech.

“I thought it would be cheating if I sang in their language,” Dingding says. “Most people in China don’t know the Lagu exist, because there are so few of them, but I wanted to promote them and ask people to understand their way of life. I was moved by their spirit, but I couldn’t use their songs.”

It seems to have worked. Picked up by the Universal conglomerate after a scout overheard her demos in the studio, Alive (known in China as The Life of 10,000 Things) has sold 2m copies in her homeland. But is there a market for it in the West? If we can enjoy Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and indulge the musical eccentricities of Björk, shouldn’t there be a place on our shelves for a Chinese pioneer who becomes agitated only when asked about the state of pop music in China? For a second, Dingding’s distaste is written across her face.

“There are not enough good new stars growing up, certainly not making good music,” she says. “There is a generation gap, and the old stars are much better than the young. China is open right now. People can easily hear western music. So, we are looking to find our own way in music, and I hope the young musicians will be more brave. Perhaps this Radio 3 nomination will encourage them. I am just the start, and now more Chinese will get the chance to be heard.”

We meet again 24 hours later at the Radio 3 ceremony, when Dingding (now wearing a completely OTT red and gold creation) picks up the award in the Asia/Pacific category. She makes a speech in which she declares her pride in being Chinese and in being able to represent Chinese culture on the world stage. I later hear it described as “nationalistic” and “career suicide”. In the current climate, such interpretations could be all too accurate.

On Friday morning, the phones start ringing at her record-company office. Three times as many albums are requested by record shops than had been shipped in the previous nine months. She is confirmed for an Albert Hall Prom and the Womad festival, in July. Can she fit in concerts in Ireland, Hungary, Spain and Algeria, where a 50,000-strong Chinese population, Africa’s largest, would love to see her?

Dingding is not around to hear this, however. She has already left for promotional duties in Germany and France, before returning to China to plan her live shows, which will feature her band, dancers and kung-fu artists. Career suicide? The grasslands, it seems, must wait.

Listen to Sa Dingding at

Aucun commentaire: