(Photo Source: fans.com.cn)
Hello and welcome to another edition of China Beat. I¡¯m your host Shen Ting. Today, I¡¯ll introduce you a talented singer-songwriter from the Chinese mainland. Her name is Cao Fang.
That very short tune is called In Summer, and it comes from Cao Fang¡¯s latest album, ¡°Encounter Me¡±.
Born in the late 80s, Cao Fang is seen as something special by this generation of musicians. She never received any regular education in composition, and this seems to have left her imagination free to work without constraint. She has been writing music since she was in high school, and all that practice has led to an admirable facility for creating pleasant melodies.
On her two solo albums, almost all the songs are sweet to the ears. And that is something that is really hard to achieve. Of course, as a young musician who is still very much a music fan, we can see the influence of certain other musicians on her music, especially when we listen to her first album ¡°Black Perfume¡±. On this album, we can find some pieces where she sings just like Faye Wong, and a couple of tunes that may remind you of that trip-hop force, Massive Attack, or a familiar guitar riff from Irish pop band the Cranberries. But all these echoes didn¡¯t stop the album being greeted as ¡°a real stunning surprise¡± by many critics on its release in 2003. So, let¡¯s get a taste of this album by listening to the song Juice. The song evokes the complicated mood she feels towards her current and former lovers, a feeling which, to quote Cao Fang is just as sour and sweet as juice.
That was Juice, from Cao Fang. If you think this song is not enough in itself to speak for her musical talent, keep listening! The next song we¡¯ll hear is one of the more distinctive works from her first album. The song is called Jinuo Hill. Growing up in Xi Shuan Gan Na(Î÷Ë«°æÄÉ) in southeastern China¡¯s Yunnan province, Cao Fang got to listen to much distinctive folk music. And she has blended this influence into her music. The song Jinuo Hill is a good example. Jinuo Hill is actually a well-known local mountain village where the Jinuo people have been leading an isolated life for centuries. Cao Fang visited the virgin forest as a child, and was so impressed by the Jinuo¡¯s life she has never since been able to get them out of her head. Trying to recapture the scene in her mind, she wrote this song, which is a distinctive blend of trip-hop and world music elements. Let¡¯s have a listen.
That was Jinuo Hill. Cao Fang¡¯s first album is quite a showcase of different music styles: folk, brit-pop, trip-hop, bossa nova, even a bit of punk rock, but yet the whole album has a very natural flow; you don¡¯t feel at all confused while listening to it. It¡¯s like reading a girl¡¯s personal journal. There are quiet moments and turbulent moments. Some like to compare her with the Taiwan ¡°indie-princess¡± Cheer Chan because their voices are quite similar and their music is both sensitive and very personal; what¡¯s more they both take an uncompromising stance towards the usual commercial rules. Actually, Cao Fang hasn¡¯t hidden her admiration towards Cheer. Talking with her fans on her online forum, she always refers to Cheer as one of her favorite singer songwriters. And recently, when Cheer Chan came to Beijing to promote her new album, the two had quite a friendly meeting. They chatted about their music, their dreams, and exchanged gifts at the end. This experience was rather encouraging for Cao Fang. When you are a hard-to-categorize new act, comparison with another known singer is always the easiest path for critics to take. But in Cao Fang¡¯s case, there is a lot of good-will being expressed that she will become something quite unique on the mainland music scene.
Ok, now let¡¯s take a deeper dive into Cao¡¯s music. This is Black Perfume, the title track of her debut album.
That was ¡°Spring Flowers in Autumn¡±, following on from Black Perfume. In Spring Flowers in Autumn, the singer compares herself to a spring flower that blossoms in autumn. This melody sounds very blue, which may give you the impression that the singer is mourning flowering at the wrong time. But when you listen to the lyrics, you find she¡¯s rather enjoying her leisurely pace. She sings, ¡°From spring till autumn, I¡¯m a solitary flower in love with my own fragrance. I don¡¯t care who¡¯s come and who¡¯s gone. ¡± Sorrow and pride weave together in the song, producing a strange feeling.
Cao Fang¡¯s first album is very impressive, but it totally flopped on the market. Badly promoted, many music store goers didn¡¯t even know there was a new album, let alone were they encouraged to listen to it and buy it. But thanks to the Internet, she found her audience bit by bit, being featured in the blogs of savvy music lovers. Many called her debut effort ¡°a missed excellent album of 2003¡±. But the turning point came at the end of last year with the release of her second album. Cooperating with a bigger record company, her label ¡°Tai You Wen Hua¡± which was founded by the famous singer/songwriter Xiao Ke , released her second album ¡°Encounter Me¡±. Before that, Cao Fang¡¯s was a name known only to a select few. Afterwards she finally found a large audience: as more and more people began to embrace her music. With this album, Cao Fang again proved her special musical talent by writing and composing all the eleven tracks. Here is the
Mysterious Gift--from Cao Fang¡¯s second album. When talking about Cao Fang, there is a person that we can¡¯t avoid mentioning. He is Xiao Ke. It was he that brought this talented girl to Beijing from Yunnan. Their first meeting is quite legendary. While studying English in college, Cao Fang played in a band and made a demo. Her demo came by some roundabout means to Xiao Ke, who was then collecting folk songs in Shangrila in Yunnan Province. Xiao Ke was very interested in the demo maker, but he just didn¡¯t know where to find her. Several months later, Cao Fang came to Beijing to take part in a national university students¡¯ original music contest. Coincidently, Xiao Ke was the judge and he realized that the song that Cao Fang was singing was the one he had heard on the demo. Cao Fang won both the best lyrics and best group awards at the contest. One year later, she came to Beijing to join the record label that Xiao Ke founded. At first she worked as an assistant, but then in 2002, she signed with the label and became a professional singer. After she released her first album, quite a lot female singers asked her to write for them. She has now written songs for singers like Jian Haixin, Qin Hailu, and the first Super girl Champion An Youqi. However, these songs carry so much of the spirit of Cao Fang herself, that it feels quite weird when other singers perform them. It seems to me that Cao Fang should follow Xu Wei¡¯s example and release an album covering all the songs that she has written for others. Let¡¯s hope it wouldn¡¯t cause too many troubles with the copyrights.