Don’t be put off: if the distinctions and details sound like dry-as-dust food for musicologists and or cultural history scholars only, they matter a good deal when we wish to imagine or judge the makings and future possibilities of “fusion” or “crossover” or (even) “World Music”. The path of escape, so to speak, that at the same time (one thinks of the Mongols’ warrior bands coming together…) opens bridges of musico-communication around the rims of the Chinese Electronic-TV Monolith that because they are always in flux cannot be trapped into boxes as they (once) were under Mao. Or confused with/i.e. resist the disco-pop reductions of quondam “folk-ethnic” sound that pass in the TV contests as Minzu (folk) entries. Or, worse still, package China’s “small” musics into costume and vocal-syrup extravaganzas tailored for export: viz. Sa Dingding, Ayadou, etc. (Self-advertized as in supposed escape from a scene otherwise dominated by “bubblegum bards from Taiwan and Hong Kong” as one sharp critic has observed in commenting on Askar Grey Wolf…, a Xinjiang singer, somehow surviving the charts though “from” the most controversial and politically tense part of the Western Crescent…)
Even to the non-Asian world, or into the coreland of Han Chinese “pop”. Spend but 5 seconds (they are not usually encouraging ones) and you will realize that the “Ethnic” crossover stars are too often able to get away with claims of “new” or “ethno-synthetic” (minzu yinyue ronghe) simply by tacking in or on a plain vanilla “rock” backsound: syncopated higher-pitch drums, cymbals, pulsing sticks, and often a bass guitar, all merely positing a disco-evocative one-TWO-one-TWO backbeat that makes any sort of balladsong sound sound “rock”-y. The “ethnic/crossover” in such cases being limited to the choice of scale (type), meaning escape from pentatonic.
Maybe it’s just too easy? Whatever the reason, it is not too outlandish, I hope, to posit that Sino-Asian rock/pop fusion (thus also Oriental” – Western co-fusion) has stalled for several decades in the shallows of rhythmicity – that is, inability to generate “pulsework”, beyond the mechanical pounding of the TV stage. To my knowledge, only one “group” – Dadawa+He Xuntian from. 1990 – has managed to win offshore art-level awards for their mixed-ethnic albums.
The group HAYA which I here introduce has I think broken the gridlock – perhaps alone in this – by using rhythm as a front-displayed (even solo) variable not a hammer: as a jazz-derived idiom, not one from the world of rock. (More on the “jazz” aspect below – it’s hard to define…)