This is a guest post by XinYue, Editor of Kanjian Music, the Chinese music services company which is Music Ally’s partner for our Music Ally China arm. We asked XinYue to explore some of the music industry trends inside China that may not yet be as well known elsewhere. She kicks off this series with a look at how traditional Chinese operatic music is being given a new lease of life – and a new audience – by combining it with newer styles. Could this music, she wonders, reach a much bigger international audience?

China is a country with a diverse musical heritage. Many people think this is old-fashioned culture, but now, Chinese traditional music has become a fashion trend instead, through the combination of Chinese Opera, pop music, electronic music, rock music and other styles – forming a unique trend, which is now being appreciated and explored by increasingly more young people around the world.

The protection and inheritance of traditional culture has always been an important policy direction in China. Since 2000, The State Council of China has issued several Opinions on Strengthening the Protection and Inheritance of Excellent Traditional Chinese Culture and Opinions on Further Promoting the Implementation of the Project of Inheritance and Innovation of Excellent Traditional Chinese Culture, providing policy support for the protection and inheritance of traditional Chinese culture.

Since the beginning of the millennium, a large number of modern pop music, opera and folk music fusion works have emerged in China, which have gained worldwide popularity. For example, Jay Chou’s ‘Blue and White Porcelain’, Jacky Cheung’s ‘Half a Pot of Yarn’ and so on.

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Combining Chinese opera and pop music

In recent years, many instances of the combination of Chinese opera and pop music have emerged. Night · Peking Opera, for example, is a show that combines Beijing Opera, electronic music and visual arts. The performance combines traditional Peking Opera singing and dancing with modern electronic music, and creates a unique performance effect through various artistic forms such as light and shadow and projection.

Imaginary and Real Dreams: This is a modern musical that combines Beijing Opera, classical music and dance. Based on the classical role of Xun Huisheng, a famous Peking Opera actor, the performance combines traditional singing with orchestral music, chorus and other musical forms to create a modern performance effect.

Night Talk Tang Poetry is a show co-performed by pop singer Jane Zhang and famous Peking Opera actor Li Shengsu. The performance is a perfect combination of traditional singing and pop music, breaking traditional boundaries and allowing the audience to enjoy a brand new musical experience.

Tang Wan’s Song of Everlasting Regret: This is a modern musical that combines Beijing Opera, classical music and dance. Based on the Song of Everlasting Regret by Li Ye, a female poet in the Tang Dynasty, the performance combines traditional singing with various musical forms, such as piano and violin, to create a performance with both ancient style and fashionable sense.

Folk and pop, from avant-garde to traditional

In addition to the combination of drama and music, the combination of folk music and pop songs is also a good choice. In recent years, many Chinese singers have been cooperating with masters of traditional Chinese national musical instruments. For example, the episode of Heart Shanghai, sung by Zhou Shen, takes the erhu as the main melody and combines harmonica, drum and other strings and percussion instruments to show strong Oriental feelings.

“Bonfire”, sung by Chen Linong, takes cucurbit flute as the leading instrument and adds modern musical elements such as bass and guitar, which not only inherits traditional culture, but also shows the style of The Times.

Many Chinese avant-garde musicians, such as anti-gerenal, Howie Lee, Tzusing, etc., are increasingly embracing localized traditional music. In February this year, electronic music producer/artist CORSAK released his first full-length album based on his understanding of Chinese culture and C-POP, gaining a lot of attention for both modern pop elements and the use of traditional Chinese elements.

Combining modernity and tradition for an international audience

The significance of the combination of Chinese opera and modern music lies in inheritance and innovation. As an important part of traditional Chinese culture, Chinese opera has been inherited for thousands of years. Modern music is one of the symbols of contemporary culture. The combination of the two can not only continue the tradition of Chinese opera, but also innovate the performance form to attract more young people to participate in and enjoy. Many companies and institutions have begun to pay attention to the protection and development of traditional culture. For example, the Yue Dian project launched by Kanjian Music, has, since 2019, explored the best folk music in China. At present, these music have also been stored in the official “World Music Seeds” platform.

The future of the combination of Chinese opera and modern music is diversification and internationalisation. In terms of diversification, more different musical forms can be considered into opera, such as rock and jazz. This can further expand the audience and attract more people of different ages and cultural backgrounds to participate and appreciate. In terms of internationalization, we can consider promoting the performances combining Chinese opera and modern music to the international market, so that more foreigners can understand and love Chinese culture.

To sum up, the combination of Chinese opera and modern music is a meaningful and innovative attempt, which not only helps to inherit traditional Chinese culture, but also creates new performance forms to attract more young people to participate in and appreciate it.

Photo credit: Jayne Zhang By Yohannshen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

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Joe Sparrow

Joe SparrowEditor

Editor, Music Ally

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