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The Folk Ballad Singer Song Dongye
   2013-11-07 13:04:05    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: He Fei

Song Dongye [photo: baike.baidu.com]

Hello and welcome to this edition of "In the Spotlight", a show featuring arts, culture and showbiz from right here in China. I'm your host, Li Ningjing.

Today, we've prepared a special edition for you, featuring the rising folk ballad singer, Song Dongye. This summer, he became one of the most popular names in the Chinese music scene. His song, "Ms. Dong," gained national fame overnight through TV talent shows.

Our reporter, He Fei, got a chance to sit down and talk with the singer. Let's follow her to learn more about Song Dongye.



This past summer, all kinds of talent shows took turns dominating TV ratings in China. However, the biggest winner may not be the victors of any of these shows, but Song Dongye, who became well-known for his folk ballad, "Ms. Dong." Zuo Li, a contestant from the television talent show, Super Boy, performed the song on air, making "Ms. Dong" and its original singer and songwriter, Song Dongye, famous virtually overnight.

"I really don't think this is a particularly good song, although, I can't deny that it does mean a lot to me. About 80 percent of what I have achieved today is attributed to this song. So, yeah, it is important to me."

The 26-year-old Beijing native doesn't portray the typical look of your run-of-the-mill pop star¡ªwhich only adds to his charm. Standing tall and strong, sporting a clean crew cut, black T-shirt and casual shorts, Song Dongye looks more like a passers-by than a celebrity.

"The first time I heard my song being sung by others was on the subway. He was a street singer, singing my song on the subway. It was really a pleasant surprise for me. I stared at him for a long time and wanted to talk to him, but he just rolled his eyes and left."

Song Dongye's voice and lyrics contain a unique warmth that touches people's hearts. This is most evident in "Ms. Dong."

Ms. Dong is a real person and friend to Song Dongye. He was inspired to pen the lyrics after having a long, deep heart-to-heart conversation with the woman who would become the centerpiece for his ballad.

Through the song, he uses his deep voice to tell the story between him and Ms. Dong. Painting a picturesque moment, the song brings listeners into the conversation as if they were the third person at the table. A man sits attentively, absorbing the conversation with a beautiful woman that has both a look as sadness and strength about her. She is a woman full of stories that touch upon every range of emotion. The listeners can tell that, while the two are talking, unspoken words remain between them.

"This song tells a story that may resonate with many people--it can be anyone's story. People put their own story and emotions in the song, like Zuo Li. When he did the cover, he sung with his story in it. I think that's the reason why people are so into this song."

The lyrics, "Fall in love with a wild horse, but I don't have a prairie at home," becomes a universal line to expressing the feelings of frustration and helplessness that can occur when someone is in love.

"Ms. Dong" turned out to be the muse of many who listened to the song.

Song Dongye [photo: culture.ifeng.com]

From being relatively unknown to a popular name on the lists of performers for music festivals, Song Dongye was pulled out of the rut by "Ms. Dong."

"Back then, I was at my lowest. I had no money, I could barely afford to feed myself. What's worse, my grandma passed away. In those days, I turned night into day. I got up regardless of the time and just played my guitar. I'd only have some steamed buns with pickles to eat; sometimes, I ate nothing at all. I wrote the song in May of last year and, in August, I got a call from the Modern Sky music company, which I couldn't believe. First, I thought that it might be a scam, but in the end, I signed with Modern Sky."

Things are getting brighter for Song. This August, Song Dongye released his first album, "Anheqiao Bridge North". It's named after the place he used to live when he was a child. The singer-songwriter re-recorded 10 songs that he made in the past two years for the album, bringing the rawness of his life before fame to listeners, but with a more professional sound and new arrangements.

The cover is an old photo of Song when he was still a baby. In the picture, he is being cradled in his grandmother's arms. With a deep red for the background color, the album cover gives a feeling of warmth and familiar comfort, just like Song's voice.

"This album is dedicated to the memory of my grandma, who passed away last year. The day after she left me, I quit my job and dedicated myself to music. To her, I dedicate this album. Her blessing brought me good luck."

Song spent most of his childhood with his grandmother, who he says gave him her whole heart. Furthermore, his grandmother was the first person to set Song on his path to being a musician.

"My grandma bought me my first guitar when I was in junior high. All my childhood was together with my grandma in Anheqiao, where we lived. Even when I grew up, whenever I had a quarrel with my parents, I would run away from home and go back to my grandma's. After her house was removed, I brought her to my place and took care of her until her last days."

"She was just an ordinary and lively old lady. She had a bad leg and her brain started to go--she had Alzheimer's disease. Sometimes in the morning, she knew me and would say that she liked what I cooked for her and say good bye when I would go out for work. But in the evening, when I came back, she would ask "Who are you, why are you at my home?" something like that. Well, I didn't feel sad about it, but sometimes I felt worn down, but just for a while."

Even now, Song Dongye can't write anything about his grandmother. Song says he couldn't bear the pain when he thinks about her and he can't find any lines to describe this beloved lady.

Luckily, we have the title track, "Anheqiao," in the album, in which we can find some traces of the singer's childhood life. Anheqiao is the place where Song spent his younger ages and had many sweet memories with his grandmother. This is also Song Dongye's favorite piece. To him, this song represents "home."

Song Dongye [photo: news.jxgdw.com]

"When I first learned to write a song, I wanted to write one about Anheqiao. I wanted it to be perfect; I wanted people to like it enough to listen to it again even years later. For five or six years, I couldn't start it, because I thought I wasn't good enough to write a song and I couldn't find the right words to describe my feelings about the place. In 2010, or maybe 2011, my friends and I drove passed Anheqiao. Back then, the place had been removed. A viaduct of the fifth ring road leapt over the village and the river running beside it is still there. The demolished houses and ruins just lied there. But to me, I could still see my home, my village."

"I sat on the car and grabbed a small piece of paper, a broken pencil and wrote down the lyrics: 'Let me see you one more time from south to north; like a pair of eyes being muffled up with the fifth ring road.' And when I got home, I finished the whole piece."

Listen to the song carefully and you can recognize the melody from the horse-headed fiddles, the signature Mongolian instrument. Song says, when he first thought about the song, he had the sound of the horse-headed fiddles lingering around in his mind.

"I know those summer times won't come back just like the youth; I know this world has too much regret every day, so hi and bye." Just like what was told in the lyrics, this is the way Song Dongye commemorates his demolished home, his childhood life.

The cover of Song Dongye's first album "Anheqiao Bridge North" [photo: men.sohu.com]

Since his middle school time, Song Dongye had dreamed to be a singer and songwriter. But it was not until college, when he happened to hear Chinese folk ballads, that he knew exactly what he wanted to be. Wan Xiaoli, one of the most iconic figures in the folk ballad circle, inspired Song to pursue his dream.

"When I just entered the college, I bought a CD at the Zhongguancun Book Building. At that time, I didn't know who the singer was. I sat in front of the building and listened to the disc. I kept repeating the first track of that album from 4 in the afternoon until 11 at night. I couldn't stop my tears and was thinking 'how come we have such great music in the world.' The song was called 'Spinning Top'."

Wan Xiaoli [photo: image.baidu.com]

Wan Xiaoli may have been the one to show Song Dongye what a folk ballad was, but Li Zhi is the person who Song credits as teaching him how to write good songs.

"Almost everyone who loves folk ballads is influenced by Li Zhi."

Li Zhi is a household name for folk ballads fans. He can play guitar, but you can't say that he is a guitar master. He can sing, but he doesn't have a sweet voice and sometimes will sing out of tune. But he is like the godfather of the genre because of the true expression and genuine emotion in his work.

And to some extent, it was because of Li Zhi, Song stepped into the folk ballad circle and started his endless music journey.

"One night, I was wandering around the bar street in the Houhai area. Most of the music they played was cheesy, but suddenly, I was attracted by a song and I sat down in that bar and listened to the singer. I had a really nice and long talk with the singer later that day; we actually talked all night. Then I learned that the song I heard was from Li Zhi. We both liked him a lot. The singer invited me to join his solo live show at a bar as a guest performer. After the show, the bar's owner also gave me a chance to have a special performance there. Then, on Aug. 7th, 2010, I had my first special performance."

Li Zhi [photo: dz.xdkb.net]

Thanks for Li Zhi's music, Song Dongye finally entered the music world. Likewise, it's from Li Zhi that Song learned to write songs from the heart that express his true feelings.

"Before, I used to have a lot of concerns when I wrote a song. I would think that it's not good to write honestly. Later, when I learned more about folk ballads, I recognized that all my concerns were not necessary. Music is truth and it should be true. Write whatever is in your mind. It is the way to record your life."

To record life is just what Song does now. This is his song, "Zebra, Zebra." On his Weibo account, Song wrote these few disconnected words about this song: "pyjama trousers with zebra-stripe; the icy snow is still there; however, flowers begin to bloom at Harbin". These fragments of thought became this tune, "Zebra Zebra".

"I don't want to convey something that is really pointed and sharp. I don't want my music to be negative and with acute emotions. I want my music to be memorable so that, even long after, when you listen to it, it will bring you back to the days before and remind you about something that you experienced during those days. It should be a fairly soothing and easy feeling."

From junior high school, Song Dongye started to write songs and imagine his music career. Step by step, he was getting closer to where he is now, being signed to a record company, having released a well-received album, and is in the midst of a 100-show tour across the country. But he has been through very tough times as well, like being out of work and only having two yuan for a day's expense. Still, his musical aspirations never died, but he doesn't consider getting to this point as a struggle through which he had to persevere.

Song Dongye [photo: kevin.lofter.com]

"My dream to do music was always there, but I don't think I persisted through so many obstacles to make it happen. Although I had some hard times, only having a few cheap steam buns to eat, when I think about those days, I feel they weren't so bad, either. Since I love music, it is the thing that can make me happy, therefore other things to me are nothing. As long as I love it, there is no struggle to do it, no matter what I have to go through. Everything comes very naturally and, day by day, I am here right now. I enjoyed the process as well. To me, persistence is somehow passive, but I am totally involved in pursuing my dream of making music."

If you have take the initiative, what you go through to get there won't seem as much like a struggle and you can get enjoyment out of the whole process. In that way, there is no hardship or persistence, but joyfulness in pursuing your dreams.

"My dream has already come true! I can live on making music. I can feed myself; pay my bus fees and that's enough. So now, I've had my dream come true. I'm really content with my life now."

That was He Fei bringing us a special edition of "In the Spotlight", with a deep inside-look at the rising folk ballad singer, Song Dongye. I'd like to end today's show with this song, "Pigeon," from the singer. He wrote on his Weibo that there will always be regrets as well as hope, referring to "Pigeon." I really like his comment; it rings true, yet still feels encouraging.

Hope you enjoyed the show as much as I did. If you have any comments or suggestions, you can email us at Spotlight@cri.com.cn. You can also visit our website www.newsplusradio.cn to listen again to this program or our previous shows. I'm Li Ningjing. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.


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