Riverboat Rec./World Music Shanren : Left Foot Dance of the Yi (CN,2013)***°
-and other Chinese folk-rock anthems-
It is difficult to find music from China that is not entirely folk or mainstream but that shows something more creative. First of all there’s a language barrier, there are even many more barriers to get something known abroad. Remember how the Chinese walls once were built not just to keep enemies out but to keep people in. But history evolves, and I still hope that more than Mao or Confucius (who in a ridiculous way was given a Latin name in the West to make him fit to the “European Renaissance/enlightenment” history invented and made into a historical and Christian context by the Jesuits) to come into our direction.
Shanren comes from the mountains of Yunnan province in south-western China, and(now based in Bejing) they bring indeed mountain-folk music mixed with light folk-rock rhythms (with additional drums and bass), while keeping folk songs like happy children folk songs amidst of other reworked material. Some tracks have light reggae touch of additional acoustic guitar, fitting perfectly with the folk music. To a degree some of the percussion and singing reminds me of American native Indian traditions, but lighter, happier, brighter and with Chinese sounding banjo’s and more folk dance rhythms. You can hear the atmosphere of the mountain folk music which has similarities in all mountain folk around a much wider area, has roots towards shamanism styles (Tuva also) and in that way bridges to the native Indians too. You can sense all these roots, while the results are city friendly and folk friendly. Even though there’s a making something more popular approach involved, at the same time you can sense it is an honest setting of an open mind. One of the last tracks, a New Year’s Meddley switches from almost hardrock grooviness to lighter folk shows a whole range of possibilities with their folk style.
Shanren also means ‘mountain men.’ And their folk songs refer to various minor groups and traditions. Some of the tracks for instance refer to the Wa ethnic group. The track ‘Laomudeng Village’ is referring to a different tradition and is an arrangement of an ancient song from the Nu tradition. The reverberating dabiya lute heard here is famous for its droning metallic sound and is customary to the Nu. One of the other instruments the band plays is the xianzi, a four-stringed Yi lute. Another song, ‘Lao Suo Mi’ refers to the Naxi people, which are represented by a Shanren-style arrangement of the traditional melody, just to give a few examples.