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January 24, 2010

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Dadawa supports regional culture through music

ZHU Zheqin, better known by her stage name "Dadawa," is the first Chinese singer to achieve international success with an album release. Most famous for the 1995 album "Sister Drum," her music is distinguished by its contemporary ethnic Tibetan and Chinese style.

Also a songwriter and indie producer, she has traveled the world in recent years immersing herself in a variety of cultures and music.

In January 2009, Zhu was appointed a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador in China, with a focus on preserving ethnic music and handicrafts.

In this role, she recently attended a culture forum hosted by Jiefang Daily on the theme "Thirty years of UN in China." The event marked a milestone for the United Nations in China and called for protecting multiple ethnic cultures in the country.

Q: What was the inspiration for your album "Sister Drum"?

A: I only realized the original stimulus recently. I was born in a vast country with multiple cultural backgrounds but we understand very little of some people and cultures that are geographically very close. That's why I left my hometown in Guangdong Province at an early age to go to the Himalayas in search of different sounds, lyrics and music.

Q: What do you think of the role music plays in the promotion of a culture?

A: For example, bel canto originated on a small island in Italy, and now this folk singing technique is the vocal standard in music academies around the world. Rock and roll, which is the basis of pop music around the world, originated from the folk songs of black people. So in my opinion, folk music and other forms of folk art help communication between different tribes, ethnic groups and skin colors, giving us more chances to understand other countries and cultures.

Q: What is the concept of Chinese culture?

A: I think culture should include more meanings than what we think now. What we are frequently discussing is not Chinese culture, but only the culture of the Han people. Chinese culture should include cultures in Tibet and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions and its development needs to include tolerance for the variety of ethnic cultures. That is the unique spirit of Chinese culture.

Q: Have you changed as a result of becoming an ambassador for the UN?

A: Yes. Before I joined the UN, I produced music from my own point of view. Now I find that the UNDP is a platform connecting everyone, providing us a chance to pursue our dreams of protecting the variety of Chinese cultures. It's not only for individuals. I'm pleased at the chance to call for more support for the development of folk cultures in China.

Q: What have you done recently in cooperation with the UNDP?

A: We launched a program called "Show the World" that works in remote regions where minority groups live. Its aim is to activate regional cultural resources to develop a supportive environment for both cultural and economic development.

Q: What new musical plans do you have?

A: We have just finished a "musical tour" in five minority regions in China, recording thousands of original folk songs for two CDs. One will consist of original songs and the other will consist of performances by local artists for listeners to compare and contrast. I realized that the cultures of those regions are the sources of artistic creation, and also the pride and assets of Chinese culture.

Q: Are people fully aware of the importance of protecting regional folk cultures?

A: Though it appears that the protection of culture is not as urgent as protecting the natural environment, I have noticed a lot of cultures are diminishing and facing extinction. I hope more associations will work with us to protect regional cultures and push the development of folk music.


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