Let's go back for a while to 1984, when the band "Qi He Ban / 七合板乐队 / Seven Plywood Band"
also known as "Seven-Player Band"
was established: among the seven members of this band there was Cui Jian (崔健)
, a former trumpet player in the Beijing Orchestra of korean origins, who later will quickly arise to immense fame.
This band (destined to a later growing fame due to the immense success of Cui Jian
) was heavily influenced by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Talking Heads. They performed their own works—mostly soft rock and love songs—in local hotels and bars and they recorded a tape album of rock song covers and chinese national songs at the end of 1985 but it remained unreleased at the time: "Liangzi Gui / 浪子归 / Vabagond's Return"
(or "Returning Wanderer"
in some later cd reissues). It was released in Taiwan and Hong Kong in 1989 only, on tape, Lp and CD after the success of Cui Jian and Ado's debut album in the same year.
Qi He Ban / 七合板乐队 / Seven Plywood Band: Liangzi Gui / 浪子归 / Vabagond's Return
(1984, released on Lp in 1989)
In 2009 the album was finally released on CD also in mainland China with other early recordings, indicating "The sound of Cui Jian in 1986"
on the cover. It is important to note that Cui Jian
never condidered this tape as a proper album, rather instead as a collection of demo songs as this was the way it was intended to be and that's why it was released only a few years later than it was recorded.
Nevertheless, despite the 1985 tape contained mellow, pop-oriented love songs, also showcased songs with progressive and folk rock influences, which were fresh and innovative in China at the time. In 1985, the band released their only official album, titled "七合板 / 7 Player Band"
but widely known as "Cui Jian with Seven-Player band"
. The album featured a combination of Western pop rock, as well as new originals. It also featured more prominent use of the electric guitar, which was seldom used in Chinese popular music. Soon after the release of the album Cui Jian decided to move towards a solo career and the band split immediately afterward.
Qi He Ban / 七合板乐队 / Seven Plywood Band: 七合板 / 7 Player Band
It is widely known that Cui Jian
left Qi He Ban / 七合板乐队 / Seven Plywood Band
at the end of 1985 to pursue a solo career and a personal lyrical and poetical/political research. But very few people know that between his first band and his most acclaimed, ground-breaking, famed and politically persecuted "Rock and Roll on the New Long March / 新长征路上的摇滚"
recorded in 1989 with the newly formed band ADO
, he also recorded a few solo project with different artists or supporting bands.
The first project recorded with other pop/soft artist in the like of Liu Yuan
and Huang Xiaomao
was the boring "Conversation in a Dream / 梦中的倾诉"
tape album in 1985, quite uninspiring and totally far from rock influences;
Cui Jian (崔健): Conversation in a Dream / 梦中的倾诉
then it was time for a similar new project still with Huang Xiaomao
under the album title "When Breaking Up / 分手的时候"
in 1986, a little bit (but just a little bit) more into soft rock which is nonetheless important as two songs off this album became quite successful and it's already emerging a very deep lyrical context in the songs "The Prodigal Son / 浪子归"
and in "Taking the wrong umbrella / 拿错的雨伞"
. This album was originally called "New Wave / 新潮"
in its original chinese tape edition but for the Hong Kong and Taiwan market it was given the most popular title of "When Breaking Up / 分手的时候"
Cui Jian (崔健): New Wave / 新潮 aka When Breaking Up / 分手的时候
The final output before the turn who marked the history of rock music in China was with Peng Chong Band
to release the "Contemporary European and American Popular Jazz Disco / 当代欧美流行爵士Disco"
tape album in 1986: this last album is still very similar to what he played with Plywood Band, so basically a tribute to western jazz music and rock and roll with quite polished images and lyrics
Cui Jian (崔健) and Peng Chong Band: Contemporary European and American Popular Jazz Disco / 当代欧美流行爵士Disco
the album is absolutely far as for image, lyrics and attitude to what he would have written a few months later with the groundbreaking song "Nothing to My Name" (一无所有 / Yì Wú Suǒ Yǒu)
So, after this unnoticed and quite useless (for our researches, at least) three solo projects, he started to work more deeply and seriously on a very personal music project trying to mix, merge and focus on a peculiar vision of rock music as a vehicle of social and political messages. In 1986 he established contacts with some chinese musicians as well as foreigner players who had just started a musical project called ADO
and Cui Jian
worked on rearranging and rewriting an old song written with his first band in 1984, "Nothing to My Name" (一无所有 / Yì Wú Suǒ Yǒu)"
which became an instant classic and marked a real turn point in the story of chinese rock music and the beginning of what it would be called the Northwest Wind music style
This new style was triggered mostly by Cui Jian
's song and Yun En-Feng (贠恩凤)
's "Xintianyou" (《信天游》)
drew heavily on the folk song traditions of northern Shaanxi. They combined this with a western-style fast tempo, strong beat and extremely aggressive bass lines. In contrast to the mellow cantopop style, Northwest Wind songs were sung loudly and forcefully. It represented the musical branch of the large-scale root-Seeking cultural movement that also manifested itself in literature and in film.
Originally written in 1984 for the Seven Plywood Band
, "Nothing to My Name" (一无所有 / Yì Wú Suǒ Yǒu)"
was played for the first time at the "100-Singer Concert of Year of International Peace"
at Beijing's Workers' Stadium where the whole audience got shocked and became immediately the symbol of not only the official beginning of a "chinese way of rock music" but also the hymn of the new generations tired of the political and social situation, sang during the Tian An Men riots
in 1989 and for years banned and censored by the authorities.
The new project was established by Cui Jian
when he came up with a group of chinese musicians and foreigner workers who started a musical project called ADO
and it included the Hungarian student and bassist Kassai Balazs
and Madagascan embassy employee and guitarist Eddie Randriamampionona
who was previously playing in the band Continent / 大陆乐队
ADO in 1989
Other band members were Liu Yuan (刘元) on sax and Zhang Yong (张勇) who previously released the successful solo album "Guitar World / 吉他世界" and the album "Rock Stage / 摇滚舞台" with his side project "Tumbler Band / 不倒翁乐队" both recorded in 1986 and both regarded as possibly the very first proper "hard" rock albums recorded in China. So, the early line up of ADO had already a quite experienced attitude towards making proper rock music with an international sight and knowledge. This original line up lasted until june 1989 when, after the riots of Tian An Men Square, the government forced the band to split and the foreign members had to forcedly leave the country. Luckily enough they were able to record and publish their debut tape before the authorities forced the band to cease activity. Eddie Randriamampionona would quickly come back after a few time and since then he became the most faithful guitarist for the following Cui Jian's solo albums
The resulting output is "Rock and Roll on the New Long March / 新长征路上的摇滚", which was released in 1989 on tape: it marked the official beginning of the chinese way of rock music, the Northwest Music Style or Northwest Wind almost immediately.
The tape was quickly reissued in the same year with a new cover artwork crediting Cui Jian only and omitting ADO both on the front cover and the spine, pushing all credits and photos of ADO band members in the back cover
Cui Jian (崔健) and ADO: Rock and Roll on the New Long March / 新长征路上的摇滚 (first press, 1989)
Cui Jian (崔健) and ADO: Rock and Roll on the New Long March / 新长征路上的摇滚 (second press, 1989)
The album was also released in Taiwan on Tape, Lp and CD under the alternative title "I have nothing / 一無所有" with a different cover artwork and omitting the song "Rock and Roll on the New Long March" due to censorship problems. Only in 1999 Jingwen Records in China released it with the original title and the full tracklist in CD format.
Cui Jian (崔健) and ADO: I have nothing / 一無所有 (Taiwan Press, 1989)
Cui Jian (崔健) and ADO: Rock and Roll on the New Long March / 新长征路上的摇滚 (Jingwen Records, China, 2009)
The album is a deeper research of contents both in lyrics and musical experiment rather than the more polished sounds of his previous bands and projects or other efforts in "rock" music played by other polished and neutral artists in the same years. Until that moment nothing so daring, experimental, controversial and fully charged of political and social meaning was heard in China. Even the cover artwork was a direct criticism toawrds the Mao’s Great March of 1934 – 1935. Influence from Western popular music styles, such as punk, dance and jazz; experimental music mix that cut across divisions between pop music genres. And the contents of lyrics were something very outbreaking for the chinese society of the time: Cui's songs drew on folk and traditional music types, such as the Northwest Wind (Xibeifeng) peasant songs of the Loess Plateau of Shaanxi. At times they knowingly parodied old Communist Party sayings and proverbs. In 1991, for example, he set the old revolutionary song "Nanniwan" to rock music. In 1988 he performed at a concert broadcast worldwide in conjunction with the Seoul Summer Olympic Games.
With tensions rising among the students of China and the government, Cui's work was very influential among the youth: many Northwest Wind songs were highly idealistic and heavily political, parodying or alluding to the revolutionary songs of the Communist state, such as "Nanniwan" and "The Internationale". It is, however, associated with the non-Communist national music side instead of the revolutionary side. The music reflected dissatisfaction among Chinese youth, as well as the influence of western ideas such as individuality and self-empowerment. Both music and lyrics articulated a sense of pride in the power of the northwest's peasantry. Songs such as Liu Xiao's "Sister Go Boldly Forward" (《妹妹你大胆的往前走》) came to represent an earthy, primordial masculine image of Mainland China, as opposed to the soft, sweet, polished urban gangtai style.
Cui Jian's song "Nothing to My Name" (or "I Have Nothing’’ / 一无所有 / yi wu suo you) then soon came to symbolise the frustration harboured by a disillusioned generation of young intellectuals who grew cynical about Communism and critical of China's traditional and contemporary culture. It also expressed, even for older Chinese, a dissatisfaction with unrealized promises of the Chinese regime: despite being apparentely a song about a failed love affair, it was widely read as a metaphor for the growing estrangement of Chinese youth from the political climate of China and it became, quite unintended, one of the anthems of the student demonstrations in Tian An Men in june 1989.
The events of Tian An Men in June 1989 forced the band to split up under government's persecution and both bassist Kassai Balazs (together with another hungarian student, Andrew Szabo, drummer of the freshly established Tang Dynasty) and Eddie Randriamampionona were forced to leave the country (eventually Eddie Randriamampionona could come back to China and since then he kept working with Cui Jian's following solo albums) while Cui Jian had to escape and hide himself in inner provinces for a few months, where he had enough time to further deeper his political and social view on China's contemporary society. The ban on him and the non-foreigner members of ADO were quickly lifted and in the early months of 1990 the band was allowed to organize his "New Long March Tour" in order to raise funds for the 1990 Asian Games. Midway through the tour, Cui Jian gained notoriety for appearing on stage wearing a red blindfold across his eyes before performing his well-known political anthem, "A Piece of Red Cloth" imprompting the government to terminate the performance and cancel the remainder of the tour. The tour was still able to raise 1 million yuan for the 1990 Asian Games.
In the same year 1990 the first rock concert was held in Beijing with 6 bands partecipating: Cui Jian with Ado, Baby Brothers Band / 宝贝兄弟乐队, Cobra / 眼镜蛇女子乐队, 1989 / 1989 乐队, The Breathing / 呼吸乐队 and Tang Dynasty / 唐朝乐队. The concert was the "90's Modern Music Concert / 90现代音乐会 / '90 Modern Concert", where nearly 18,000 spectators were attending the show. It is important in the history of chinese rock music for being the first big rock concert held in the country and because there are the very early known recordings of Tang Dynasty. A bootleg recording is ciruculating but until now no official edition nor original tapes at the time were even pressed.
"90's Modern Music Concert / 90现代音乐会 / '90 Modern Concert" (handmade bootleg CDr)
Beside the immense succes that Cui Jian got - we should not understimate nor forget the role of the other band players who really marked a turning point in the production and attitude of rock music in China since then.
After the departure of Cui Jian (who, in 1991 will release the "Solve / 解决" tape album, followed by new albums in the next years) ADO recorded a single song "I Just Can't Say It Casually ( 我不能随便说 / Wǒ Bùnéng Suíbiàn Shuō)" which was featured on the first "China Fire / 中国火" compilation, released in June 1992 and later reissued several times.
"China Fire / 中国火" (1992)
This is officially the first rock compilation ever made in China, with also early recordings of Tang Dynasty, Black Panther / Hei Bao and Anodize (from Hong Kong).
The band, who faced many line up changes finally released its only album, "I Just Can't Say It Casually / I Say What I Mean / 我不能随便説", in 1996, and subsequently disbanded.
On December 23, 2014, sadly Zhang Yongguang committed suicide
ADO: I Just Can't Say It Casually / I Say What I Mean / 我不能随便説 (1996)
The success of Cui Jian and ADO's "Rock and Roll on the New Long March / 新长征路上的摇滚" lead to other artists who recognized themselves in the Northwest Wind music style to record "rock" albums with political or highlt socially oriented lyrics. A fine example is Du Fu (杜昊) 's "You Said I Am A Wounder Person / 你说我是个受过伤的人" released on tape in 1993.
Du Fu (杜昊): You Said I Am A Wounder Person / 你说我是个受过伤的人 (1993)
But his career was destined to a sudden end when he was sentenced to 10 years in jail because of drugs detemption.
But in 1993 the proper heavy metal and more extreme examples of thrash and even death and black music were already flourishing all over (well, just in few towns) the country, so I won't go further into this kind of political rock music and most of the pure pop/lame rock solo singers tried to take advantage of the growing metal scene appearances and looking just dressing a black leather jacket, some chains and iron belts with a truce face in order to get the attention that they hardly could get otherwise, like, for example, John (昊翰), a quite conventional pop-vocalist popped out from nowhere who released the "Want to go home tonight / 今夜想回家" tape album in 1990 which really sucks (and the cover artowrk clearly reflects it) while in the second album, "The end of love / 爱的末日" released in 1992 his look becomes suddenly more aggressive and metal-oriented in the vein of Black Panther / Hei Bao or Tang Dynasty despite the music is still awful and boring pop.
John (昊翰): Want to go home tonight / 今夜想回家 (1990)
John (昊翰): The end of love / 爱的末日 (1992)
Let's finally have a mention for Tengger (腾格尔) a singer original from Inner Mongolia who, despite having released his debut tape "My hometown of love / 我热恋的故乡" in 1988 which is quite unoffensive vocal/pop, followed by a few more solo albums, he afterward recruited other band members (including the ex- The Breathing / 呼吸乐队 and Overload / 超载 drummer Zhao Muyang / 赵牧阳) to form in 1993 a new project called "Tengger and the Wolf Band / 腾格尔与苍狼乐队", possibly the first example of a music band from Inner Mongolia combining traditional mongolian folk music with throat singing and modern rock/glam/"hard" sound, thus paving the way to the new wave of mongolian folk rock in the late 90's and 2000's
Tengger (腾格尔): My hometown of love / 我热恋的故乡 (1988)
Tengger and the Wolf Band / 腾格尔与苍狼乐队: Self-titled album
As I said, the end of the 80's marked the coming of heavier bands such as Tang Dynasty, Hei Bao, The Breathing, Cobra, Again, Overload and more to follow: we will see all this new wave of harder bands in the third chapter.