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Cui Jian--Frozen Light (2015)

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Jonathan Campbell is over at LARB shaming Western music critics for ignoring the newest album by Cui Jian:



The silence of the international music community in response to the album is in marked contrast to CJ’s massive popularity across China and the diaspora. But in the 30 years since he introduced China to rock ’n’ roll, English-language news of his work was once again just that: news. CJ has been the regular subject of news profiles in the Western press, but of scant musical criticism. With Frozen Light another AP profile made the rounds, once again managing to say nothing about the actual music.

I’m trying to imagine another instance in which a new release from a major rock musician was covered only under “news.” Rock ’n’ roll is supposed to free us from the constraints of categories, and whether it’s a new record by CJ or David Bowie shouldn’t matter: the music press has a responsibility to both as important figures in the world of music (and, in both cases, beyond). As China fills news and business sections, CJ represents something more than just a neglected rock star from some foreign land. He represents a unique and powerful vessel for cross-cultural understanding. And that he happens to have made an excellent record is not just incidental to his story. As always, without the music, there is no story.


Before you’re settled into the folk-strummy opening of the titular and opening track, CJ’s gone to full-on muchness, with choral additions that invoke U2’s Rattle and Hum. What might seem like flirtation with the line between epic and cheesy is actually a confident march squarely on the side of the former, and it colors the whole album.

I'm listening now (it's on Spotify). My understanding of Chinese is pretty much at a 102 level, so I can recognize when he says "have not" and when he says "we" and "if," but very little else (this is standard for me; I've been listening to Mayday, a Taiwanese band, for a couple of years now without really understanding them). Based on the sound alone, I'm pretty taken with the album and have gone ahead and purchased it to add to my playlist. 

I know there's some folks on this board who have spent time in China, so I assume there are folks on this board who speak more Chinese than my "Where do you live? Where are we going" level, so I'd be interested to hear responses on that front (I'm also curious whether I'm the only person around here to listen to music in a language I don't fully, or even mostly, understand).

Link to our thread on world music.

Edited by NBooth

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I am not very good at Chinese, but I do find this interesting. Like most rock and roll loving Westerners who spend time in China, I got really interested in the music scene there, and discovered some music that I liked, but my understanding of Cui Jian isn't too different from that of almost anyone I know who has heard of him, which is, "he's important." To be honest though, I can't say I met anyone in China who went out of their way to talk about him or explain why he was important. Certainly very few young people are listening to him -- rock music was still not very mainstream in the years I was living there (2007-2009).

It's hard for me to learn more about anything other than bands that the Western media says are "important" in China, which are basically Tang Dynasty and Cui Jian from the 80s-now, and then with the upsurge of interest in China in the 2000s, Carsick Cars. Beyond those bands, there's hardly any English-language press, and I don't really read Chinese. The Rock in China wiki, which now appears to be down, is/was a good resource, but I still feel like I barely scratched the surface. 

A cool record I got into while I was there is City Weather Sailing by PK14

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