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Echoes of China

Updated: 2013-09-26 00:32
By Chen Nan ( China Daily)

A band takes its commitment to folk music on a national tour for the first time.

It is easy to imagine Liang huamin as the lead vocalist of a metal band. Fronting his six-man Echo Band, the tall, thin, singer-guitarist appears onstage in a tight T-shirt and jeans, with his waist-length hair whipping through the air as he becomes intoxicated by the music.

But as he plucks the guitar strings, he doesn't sound like a rock star. Instead of fast picking and sharp tones, he produces smooth and relaxing melodies. Together with his band members, percussionists Liu Teng and Wu Hao, bassist Su Wei, guitarist Zhu Meng, and flute and xiao (Chinese end-blown bamboo flute) player Jin Peng, Liang calls their music China rhythm.

Echoes of China

Liang Huamin (center) with his band members bassist Su Wei (right) and flute player Jin Peng. The band is touring the country with their debut album, Picturesque Motherland.Zou Hong / China Daily

"We want to make a kind of music that refers to China the moment you hear it, just like jazz coming from the African-American people. We want it to be contemporary and represent China," says Liang, 44, a native of Weifang city, Shandong province.

The title song of their debut album, Picturesque Motherland, according to Liang, is dedicated to his lifelong idol, Hong Kong kung fu novelist Louis Cha.

As a teenager, Liang read all of Cha's novels over and over again, imagining himself as one of the kung fu masters being on the road with his sword.

The detailed plots from the novels are all still vivid in his mind, which inspired him to write the song.

The song is also the title of the band's ongoing national tour, which kicked off at Peking University in Beijing on Sept 11 and is now traveling to 23 other cities around the country until the end of October.

"Just like the kung fu masters, we hit the road and spread our music," says Liang. "I hope our music can echo in people's mind after we leave."

It will be the first national tour for Echo Band, six years after they formed in Beijing. The band is the brainchild of Liang, who fell in love with rock at 15.

However, he didn't become a rock star as he'd planned. For a time in 1995, when Liang came to Beijing and studied guitar, he was living in a basement without a window and worrying about his next meal. To make ends meet, he sold Western original and copied cassettes near the old Summer Palace, which accidentally introduced him to world music.

"I listened to various world music from different countries, like India, Spain and the US," he recalls. "I was totally fascinated. Then it made me think: Why not make a kind of music representing China?"

He notes that many pop musicians integrate Chinese music styles, like Taiwan pop singer-songwriter Jay Chou, who uses lots of poetic lyrics in his songs. However, Liang says, the form is still borrowed from Western pop music.

While recruiting his band members, Liang travels around the country to be exposed to music that he cann't find on TV or recordings.

Among all the Chinese music elements, he likes the music of yangko dance (popular rural folk dance in Northeast China) best. "The moment you hear it, you picture the dance in your head, the big colorful fan and the heavy makeup," Liang says.

He has put the yangko tunes into the song, As Bright As the Sun, the last song on their record, which he says has received warm feedback from audiences.

"Those sounds might be ignored because they are too commonly heard in China. But once you hear it in a different production by using the rhythms, you know it's there. It's natural," he says.

Jin Peng, 26, a traditional Chinese wind instrument player and a graduate of the Central Conservatory of Music, joined Liang a year ago when he was going to give up his major upon graduation.

"Chinese folk music is not popular so I couldn't make a living," says Jin, who started learning flute at 8. He fell in love with the instrument because of a popular TV program The Legend of White Snake, which has many flute-playing scenes.

When Liang shared his music idea, Jin says that he felt his passion rekindled.

"It's not only rock 'n' roll that makes people high. Folk music also rocks," Jin says.

Bassist Su Wei met Liang 10 years ago at the Sanlitun bar street of Beijing when they played in other bands. He too was eager to find a new music form that didn't imitate the West.

Liang wrote the 15 songs in their debut album, reflecting his observations about the places he traveled and people he met.

One of the songs, Prelude to the Dance of Yao Ethnic Group, was inspired by his trip to Yunnan province when he watched people singing and dancing. The band used flute, guitar and percussion to capture the spirit of their dances.

The instrumental song Rhythm of Life portrays Chinese farmers working in the field, a scene Liang saw when he was a child in his hometown.

"The process of making our music is like witnessing our musical rebirth. The more we research, the more we want to create," says Liang.

All of the members besides Liang have other jobs to make a living. But Liang is glad to see that they come together as a band and share the same musical idea.

"The night when we went into the crowd and played our music, everybody got caught up with our rhythms. They might not be familiar with the lyrics but they can wave with the rhythms, which have a natural resonance to them," he says.

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