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ChiRen (痴人乐队): A band with Chinese heart

Top left to right: Fang Boyu, Meng Qi, Zhao Peng, Liu Kun

Bottom left to right: Wang Yi, Zhang Yisong, Wu Zeqi

It was in a basement in southern Beijing where I first met ChiRen (痴人乐队), a Chinese band comprised of seven Beijing locals. It was also my first time to witness a live rehearsal of a band. And luckily, I was the only audience of that audiovisual feast.

Amazed by a newfangled and rhythmical prelude of electronic music orchestrated by Meng Qi (孟奇), the youngest member of the band, I was mesmerized by the three lead singers' Beijing-style voices, which were accompanied by sonorous drumbeats and stunning sounds of basses.

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As a die-hard follower of the late Michael Jackson, whose cynical and hoarse voice impressed me a lot, I was excited to be told by my colleague that the band primarily played rock and roll, but later I learned that their musical style was markedly different from what I had imagined previously, because of its unique musical trait embodying a host of Chinese traditional elements. Anyway, the music truly touched my heart.

Modern outwardly, but traditional inwardly

After more than a decade of covering Western songs in pubs of Beijing, Wang Yi (王燚), Zhang Yisong (张逸松) and Wu Zeqi (吴泽琦), who are the co-founders and now the lead singers of ChiRen, gathered together and completed the composition of their first song in 2005.

"Our first original song was named 'Chi Ren' (痴人), which was created in 2005 after our gathering. The inspiration of writing this song came in a flash, a causal result of years of our musical practices," Wang told me, adding "the song does not belong to the category of rock music, but I must say it is a euphonious song which tells something about human nature."

Having enjoyed the composition of songs, the trio began dreaming of having their own band. Coincidentally, the 2006 Yamaha Asian Beat Band Competition (雅马哈亚洲节拍乐队大赛), a big band contest held throughout many regions in Asia, brought them a great opportunity to perform as a group, which marked the formal founding of ChiRen. Now the members of the band include the three co-founders, bass player Fang Boyu (房博宇), drummer Zhao Peng (赵鹏), electronic music producer Meng Qi (孟奇) and guitar player Liu Kun (柳坤).

"After the performance in the competition, we continued to write our songs and released our first album in 2009…," Wang continued.

When I concentrated on the band's stories that Wang told me, I was gently interrupted by Wu Zeqi, a plump and conversable big brother, who again dragged me to the topic of creative inspiration. "The inspiration of creating a song is given by the God, and we do not know when we can get it," Wu said with a noticeable Beijing accent.

Wu, who also serves as the flute player in the band, is a humorous person. He often made me laugh during our conversation, in which I could strongly feel his passion for Chinese traditional music through his figurative comparison with Western heavy metal, a branch of rock music.

"Heavy metal can make us high, but listening to it for 24 hours will make us sick. Chinese traditional music is different. It poses no threat to the health of our body, and even helps recuperate our internal energy," said Wu, who praised Chinese traditional music as a profound system, from which ancient Japanese musicians learned a lot.

The band's style was formed on the strength of the musical background of its members, among whom Wu and Zhang grew up under the influence of Chinese traditional and folk music. Wu was born in an eminent musician family where his elders are proficient in playing Chinese musical instruments. Zhang, who is also the keyboard player in the band, is fond of singing Beijing Opera, which is the reason why the reformative singing style based on the traditional opera can be frequently found in the band’s songs.

"We accept all kinds of musical styles, but what we want to do is to showcase Chinese traditional music in a modern way. Foreign musicians may play guitar, bass and piano much better than us, but they cannot come up with a melody like ours, because there is no Chinese gene flowing in their blood," Wu said excitedly.

Echoing Wu, Wang said that Chinese musicians should assume the responsibility to display good music with Chinese characteristics to the world through their own understandings and that the band would not blindly copy things from outside China.

Despite being a less-known band and lacking an agent and publicity channels, ChiRen should be remembered, at least by the Chinese people, thanks to their Chinese heart.

A rehearsal of ChiRen Photo: Ding Yi/


A rehearsal of ChiRen Photo: Ding Yi/

A rehearsal of ChiRen Photo: Ding Yi/

A rehearsal of ChiRen Photo: Ding Yi/

A rehearsal of ChiRen Photo: Ding Yi/

A rehearsal of ChiRen Photo: Ding Yi/

A rehearsal of ChiRen Photo: Ding Yi/

A rehearsal of ChiRen Photo: Ding Yi/

A rehearsal of ChiRen Photo: Ding Yi/

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