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Diva of folk art music

VOCALIST Gong Linna shot to stardom and so did her "new Chinese art music" with a sensational song of meaningless Chinese-ish words repeated again and again with exaggerated facial expressions.

The song video "Tan Te" ("Disturbed") spread like wildfire on the Internet last year and had everyone trying to figure out the "words" and what they meant. One line sounds sort of like "pick up a knife," but that's not what it means.

People memorized the sounds and facial expressions and the song became a hit at year-end dinner parties when everyone joked around and sang.

It's not "beautiful" but catchy and rhythmic. The sounds, expressions and Gong's glittering costume astonished everyone and got them laughing.

Gong, a trained singer and professional performer, is a promoter of innovative and original Chinese folk music. Now she's a name in world music. She will be a headliner at the 2011 World Music Shanghai from May 21 to 25. She recently visited the city to promote the event.

Q: How did the instant fame of "Tan Te" influence your career?

A: "Tan Te" helped open a door for me. I have always wanted to popularize Chinese folk music but I didn't have many opportunities until "Tan Te" got so popular. It helps me to realize my dream - making Chinese folk music popular at home and internationally. I didn't sing for fame but I am happy my fame can help promote Chinese folk music.

Q: Is it annoying to be asked to sing "Tan Te" in every show?

A: It bothered me at first but not much now. I also introduce other original songs. At my recent Taiwan concert I also sang "Jing Ye Si," based on the poem of Li Bai in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Many listeners had tears in their eyes.

Q: "Tan Te" is famous for meaningless words and exaggerated facial expressions. How do you see the song and its meaning?

A: "Tan Te" is about vitality. You can feel everything growing and moving in the song. It is not steady but developing. That's also the case with tan te as a mood. People are usually imaginative and creative when they are in fear and trembling. If somebody is numb, he feels nothing about the world and life. Vitality is the soul of my music. Only the living and real things can touch the soul of your audience. I will always carry vitality in my music.

Q: Your husband, German music-producer Robert Zollitsch, also known as Lao Luo, composed "Tan Te" and many people expect new works as amazing as "Tan Te." Is he stressed?

A: Not at all. Actually, we have created a lot of songs but you may not have heard them. Songs like "Free Bird," "Jing Ye Si" and "Where Are You?" are all very good. "Tan Te" is very special and characteristic; it may have just filled the needs of the audience at the time and so it got popular. As for the popularity of other works, I say "just let it be." We are always working on good songs.

Q: How do you define your music?

A: I call it Chinese new art music. First of all, what we are doing is Chinese music that is based on traditional Chinese vocal arts. Our creations are also new and original. As for artistic music, unlike pop and folk music, we attach great importance to artistry and techniques. Some people find "Tan Te" just entertaining, but actually, it is highly demanding and requires a lot of skill. And it also has its own artistic characteristics.

Q: What's your view of the many Chinese musicians trying to combine folk and international music?

A: I always say our work is based on the tradition of Chinese music. For me, that refers to the vocal skills of Chinese music.

I have studied various vocal skills in folk songs and local operas and I use them in my new works. The tradition for Lao Luo means composing in the pentatonic scale and presenting the unique yunwei (spirit) of Chinese folk music.

Other artists try other things, such as adapting traditional songs into jazz style, and adding Chinese elements or philosophy in Western music. Any change in Chinese folk music is welcome in this age.


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