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Pop diplomacy cheap at the price

Updated: 2012-06-29 10:16
(China Daily)

Comment | Mu Qian

TFF Rudolstadt, Germany's biggest folk, roots and world music festival, will feature China as the country in focus this year and present eight Chinese music acts from July 5-8.

Among them are not only traditional groups, such as Jiangsu Province Kunqu Opera Troupe and Xinjiang Makit Dolan Muqam Troupe, but also the rock band Second-Hand Roses and "free folk" singer Xiao He.

Three Chinese metal bands -Yaksa, Suffocated and The Falling - will perform at the Wacken Open Air in Germany, one of the biggest metal music festivals in the world, in August.

It seems that Chinese rock music is appearing more often on the international scene. But not many people know that one of the driving forces behind the phenomenon is the Ministry of Culture, which is sponsoring the international travel of the aforementioned Chinese musicians.

This is something new for the Chinese government, which has been sending out official art troupes to tour other countries for a long time but has only recently begun to work with independent musicians. It was hard to imagine in the past that the ministry would support a band with the name "Suffocated" to represent China at an international festival.

Traditionally, the typical Chinese shows seen overseas are acrobatics and kung fu. In recent years, with the craze for classical music, many Chinese symphony orchestras have also had international tours. These are all big groups whose tours cost a lot of money. In addition, they only represent a part of the Chinese performing arts scene.

For about three decades, pop and rock music has developed rapidly in China and played an important role in contemporary Chinese culture. These, too, should be presented internationally, if China wants to create a comprehensive and healthy image of itself in the world.

A few Chinese rock groups have financed themselves to perform at international festivals. The typical comment from foreign audiences is: "I didn't know that you had this kind of music in China."

When I browse through the 2011 handbook of WOMEX (the World Music Expo), I find no Chinese musician, agency or promoter in the list of participants. But there are names from our neighboring countries, such as South Korea, Japan and Pakistan.

That means Chinese music has not really been represented on the international level. It's true that music is a business. But not every good musician or group has enough commercial value to afford international tours, especially when Chinese music as a whole is not yet fully recognized by the world.

In this phase, government support can play a vital role in the promotion of Chinese music. Take a look at the international musicians who tour China, and we'll see that many of their concerts would be impossible without the sponsorship of organizations like the Goethe Institute, British Council or Alliance Francaise, who in turn get support from their governments.

A French promoter I know, who brings French rock and folk musicians to China and vice versa, once complained that when French artists tour China he has to apply for support from France, and when Chinese artists go to France he also has to find money from France.

Fortunately, the situation is changing. A few years ago, the Ministry of Culture started to pay for the international travel of some Chinese rock and folk bands.

For example, the ethnic Mongolian folk rock band Hanggai, Uygur rock group Askar and Grey Wolf, and reggae band Long Shen Dao have performed at Lantern Festival in New Zealand, with the ministry's help. Recently, Chinese jazz outfit Golden Buddha also toured Croatia with governmental sponsorship.

Hopefully, the support for independent Chinese pop and rock musicians will be regularized, so the world will have more opportunities to know about contemporary Chinese music.

Music is one of the best media for people to communicate. Contemporary music, which speaks to the living conditions of today's people, is especially so.

As a youth culture, pop music is an easy way of promoting Chinese culture among youth, who are usually more open-minded and will be the vital force for the world's future.

After all, it's much cheaper to send out a rock band than a symphony orchestra.

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