A “Folk” Fusion Sound and New Age Vocal Timbre


Of late, if you are addicted to Chinese language websites and second-tier arts journals which they pirate, you will have seen (too often?) a referencing of two descriptives relating to song and vocal art in general. They are, because commercial and media-disseminated, frustratingly vague, often having no meaning for genre at all, but at the same time they seem to correspond to distinct strands or “schools” of song performance, especially where the song-sound is relayed through electronic mediation.

The first of these (more of a advertizing handle than a genre, but not to be dismissed because of that) is: tianlai zhi yin or sheng 天籁动人之声(“soul-swaying ethereal echo, a voice of angelic softness”, or anything in between where winged loftiness is part of the equation) , hereafter abbreviated as simply ethereal/cosmic sound), as inscribed in a puff piece for the cross-Pacific multi-lingual self-trained eccentric who has taken the stage name “Dadawa” (something like “little Dada”). Whose extremely seminal 1995 venture into Tibetan + New Age song (Sister Drum) – broke open the door that had theretofore kept “pop” sounds away from anything like transcendental shaping or dreamy voicing. (I would compare Dadaws’s “sound” and even her poetry to the New Age pioneer, Enya, in her first blush, say Angeles in “Shepherd Moon”, the album (1991) that brought her to my personal attention 3 years after its release.

If one can somehow toss aside the fad-mongers’s rhetoric and the album-jacket prose (all singers these days are likely to share this epithet), there is nonetheless a core of meaning within the fatuous phraseology. First, angelismic sound comes with a a negative: any and all signalling of love (present tense) is out. It is no accident that Christmas music was one of the birthplaces of “the angel sound”, or that religious (sublme-ated) flow of feeling – upward not lateral empathy – remains: where? More negatives further clarify: no staginess, no operatic gesture of hip-wiggling; in acoustical terms, a nasal rather than throaty sound, mostly without vibrato, close to the timbre of childrens’ singing. Artfulness that sees utterly un-artful. And of course from the very start, a province populated by women, young or ever-young.

安以轩: The Regatherer from the Horizons… Miss New Age/World Music, Zhu Zheqin (Dadawa).

The anchorwoman of “World Music” or “Global Soundmix” over the last half-decade is an amazingly Nun-like soul (never tabloided with or for a love-interest) who has always been elusive (as befits an angel descendant) about her provenance and training. Her moments of rumination are framed in the conventions of MTV, but, happily, they are about unknown artists who will (with one rare exception) never be retailed via the medium.

Her followers will thus summarize her current project, her most important, a 100+ episode series shown in the “Traveler” program… and reshown.

“a number of ethnic music masters, gathered together by Dadawa, who’s both a Chinese pop star and an ambassador for the United Nations Development Program. She’s on a mission to help preserve minority music, and donating profits from her CD and tour to help 400 ethnic music masters take on students. Last year, Dadawa went on a road trip through six of China’s most far-flung provinces to find masters of vanishing musical traditions.

“Your ears will lead you to the right place,” Dadawa … “It’s like a trip … We just followed the sound. Any possibility to listen … we went there.” (PBR AthC, Oct 28 2010)

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