Rue Moyer is the founder of popular local music site Shenzhen Local Music. He contributes a column on the music scene in the Pearl River Delta to The Nanfang each week.
So, I was at La Casa‘s Open Mic Night about two or so months ago, one of my first nights back to that scene in years, and stumbled upon these guys: the Battle Wolf Band, from Xinjiang. Well, actually, no real stumblin’ on my part; they found their way to La Casa through their own initiative to give it a go on the intimate, limelight stage that is La Casa’s venue. Since then, I’ve set them up with a regular gig at Rapscallions and they played in the SZLM Blues and Folk Festival which wrapped up last weekend. (Video of the festival is below).
Anyone that’s performed music for an audience which doesn’t speak the language that the songs’ lyrics are in knows just how terrifyingly difficult it can be. It’s not unheard of for people to just stare or not pay attention, completely missing the emotionally-charged words or dynamic moments that defy translation. Yeah, it can be a lost cause at times. Which is why these guys, who humbly took the stage some months back, are all the more impressive.
And these guys have two major advantages when facing this situation: first, Latin flamenco-style music gets the body moving; second, the lyrics are in Spanish, so both laowai and Chinese listeners are not likely to understand, giving them some common ground to “fo’get about it” and let loose. This is exactly what happens at Rapscallions Café and Bar week in and week out when the Xinjiang guys bring that groove to the venue. And this is where breaking the mold comes into the picture.
Typically in Shenzhen, any group that does music outside of classic rock, Billboards, Western folk and DJ music stray away from the bar scene. Not to mention the bars don’t exactly draw or invite local Chinese bands to bring entertainment. It’s just been the way of the world in these parts. But, this is changing and the “Battle Wolf Band”, the guys from Xinjiang, are leading the trend. Mind you, they’re not on some kind of mission to break through, they’re just trying to make some bread – the foreigner bars pay far better than the regular Chinese spots with far less competition. Still, it’s making a difference in the variety of music foreign bars can offer and the exposure that non-mainstream bands are able to get.
Usually, local bands like “Battle Wolf” won’t make it outside of OCT Loft, Brown Sugar Jar and BaseBar circles. For years, Yerboli and his crew played his original Kazakastan influenced music, which also had a touch of Flamenco in it. But, if you didn’t go to Yidutang or weren’t in that circle, you had absolutely no chance of knowing about it. Again, it partly comes back to the language barrier issue, but it’s also because the venues and promoters involved in these shows don’t market outside of those circles. The question is, why?
I’m sure they have their reasons, but ultimately those same reasons are limiting the exposure the musicians get. Maybe this is a ‘cool’ image to have for the venue operators or perhaps some other political reason I’m not aware of. Either way, most people living in Shenzhen will never know about the music happening in these circles. As a musician myself, I loathe this type of protectionism and attitude and choose not to leave my exposure in the hands of venue owners. I suppose Battle Wolf do too, given that they asked me to push their show this weekend and keep the foreign community in the loop!
This piece is my way of showing the Xinjiang guys my appreciation for their years of studying and practice, their determination in finding a way to succeed and their bravado in bringing their flavor to the local foreign music scene. Come check them out at their first formal concert, tomorrow night at Idutang OCT Loft. Tickets are RMB50 at the door and the show starts at 9:30.
For more info on venue location, band biography, and more videos of the group check out this piece on my blog.