Text by Zhou Jin
In January 2014, Chinese singer/songwriterZhu Zheqin, better known asDadawa, released the double-CD albumMoonrise in Beijing. When Zhuset out on a trip to collect musical samplesin 2009, she never expected it to take fiveyears to produce the album.
In the 1990s, Zhu released Sister Drumin 56 countries and regions, the first Chinesealbum to be released globally, whichmade her an international artist. The releaseof Moonrise marked Zhu’s emergenceas a producer.
Ushering Traditional to Modern
During the five years she spent producingthe album, Zhu and her team visitedethnic communities in Inner Mongolia,Yunnan, Guizhou, Xinjiang, and Tibet, andcollected more than 1,000 music samplesduring journeys spanning more than20,000 kilometers.
The target of Zhu and her team’s tripwas to “recognize and record traditionalmusic passed from mouth to mouth overthe past several hundred years in villages.”To fulfill this goal, they traveled deep intovillages to explore the beauties of folk art.
In Tingri County, located at the footof Mt. Everest (Qomolangma), Zhu metDondrup, an elderly Tibetan practitionerof “blo-gzhas,” a traditional Tibetan folkart combining musical instruments, singingand dancing. “It begins with only onesound, deng, deng, deng… The rhythm is slow, and features subtle changes,” Zhurecalls. Moved by the simple melody,Zhu recorded Dondrup’s snowy mountainworship song with cutting-edge audioequipment. A year later, she sampled thesong from Dondrup in “Mountaintop”and added elements such as an eagle flute,human voices, religion-related percussion,and modern beats. In early 2013, Zhuplanned to invite Dondrup to appear in the“Mountaintop” music video, but discoveredthe old man had already passed away. Dondrup’scontribution to Zhu’s song becamethe man’s last worldly performance.
At dusk, on farmland in GuizhouProvince, a group of Miao girls sang a songcalled “The Soul of Rice Flowers.” “Afterhearing the song only once, it remainedclearly in my mind,” she asserts. Zhu’s“July” was heavily inspired by “The Soulof Rice Flowers.”