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June 11, 2011

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Bringing folk music to the people

AFTER the Strawberry and Midi music festivals wowed local rock fans in April and May, Shanghai folk music lovers are in for a treat next weekend with another outdoor music carnival.

"2011 Folk on the Way" features popular modern folk singers from Chinese mainland and Taiwan with free outdoor concerts at Jinqiao International Commercial Plaza on June 18 and 19. About 17 folk singers will appear on the stage, including big names Zhou Yunpeng, Chuanzi and Ma Tiao from the mainland, as well as Chou Chih Ping and Van Fan from Taiwan.

Initiated last year as the first urban folk music festival in China, "Folk on the Way" this year is expected to be a big display of Chinese folk music, according to Sun Mengjin, the organizer.

"Folk songs today are of much more diversity than before," says Sun. "They are no longer pure ethnic music directly linked to the Earth, or simple campus ballads for salad days.

"With more folk musicians realizing their social responsibility, quite a number of folk songs today focus on society, culture and humanity."

To present a full picture of Chinese folk music, "Folk on the Way" tries to invite as many remarkable musicians as possible and is always enlisting new blood. The diversified lineup this time includes Chou Chih Ping with his romantic love songs, Zhou Yunpeng with his ironic stories, Wan Xiaoli with his unique background music and Ma Tiao with his drunk-like stage performance.

"Folk music is not new. It has been natural in people's lives as a way to express themselves since thousands of years ago," says Zhou, a blind folk singer behind the popular ironic song "Chinese Children."

"The difference is that it used to be a gift for groups of people in the countryside, but is now more urbanized and individualized," he says.

However, compared with the folk music industry in the West, Chinese musicians still lag behind, especially in technique, says Zhou, who often laments that he can only package his thoughts into quite a rough "box" for audiences. However, to express real life is the common view of most Chinese folk musicians today, regardless of the limitations.

"If rock music is a spirit, then folk song is an attitude. It determines how you work on your music," says Ma Tiao, a folk musician famous for his tough northwest style. "For me, it is just to express myself directly with my voice and guitar, without any deliberate decoration."

Zhou also insists on being honest in every expression in music.

"I praise but don't present a false peace; I criticize but try hard to find faults," says Zhou.

Though he is said to have gradually become milder after originally appearing sharp, Zhou insists that he has always been true to his heart. As he matures in both music and life, he is exploring a wiser way to express criticism rather than the direct way he used to adopt.

"As you grow up, you find things more complicated than you thought, including criticism," says Zhou.

Apart from occasionally creating new songs, Zhou has recently been busy with the preparation of his "Golden Bulldozer" album. Similar to "Red Bulldozer" released in 2009, which collected children's folk rhymes from rural areas and raised money to help poor blind children realize their dreams, "Golden Bulldozer" is doing the same for blind children in Lhasa in Tibet.

Date: June 18-19, 2-8:45pm

Address: 3611 Zhangyang Rd, Pudong

Check for more information.


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