Yellow River's gift of life inspires tide of praise
She is considered the mother river that nurtured Chinese civilization. Today, she is still nurturing farmlands and people are relying on her to live.
The Yellow River, with a total length of 5,464 kilometers and running through nine provinces and autonomous regions in China, including Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Henan, has become an inspiration for singer-songwriter Su Yang, who initiated a project, titled Yellow River Runs Forth, in 2016.
The project showcases the sound and visual materials Su has gathered during the past two decades of traveling along the Yellow River, as well as the paintings he created based on the areas he visited and a movie about local folk artists.
On July 15, an album, Nine Songs, was released as part of the project, in which nine Chinese singer-songwriters who were born and grew up in the nine provinces along the Yellow River wrote and performed original material inspired by folk music from the nine provinces.
"I have been intrigued by Chinese folk songs and have been researching and collecting folk songs for years," says Su, 50, who was born in Wenling, a small coastal and mountainous city in East China's Zhejiang province, and moved to Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia Hui autonomous region, with his parents when he was 7 years old. "The nine provinces alongside the Yellow River are very different, in terms of dialects, temperature, food and people's lifestyles, which gave birth to different folk songs. I am excited about sharing those unique songs."
The idea of the compilation started over a year ago but the plan of releasing it has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The nine musicians Su invited to join in the compilation were born and raised in the nine provinces and have their own memories about local folk songs. They were told to write their own songs based on those memories.
"I often think about a question: 'what do those old songs mean to the contemporary people?' When musicians recall folk songs and write new songs, the old songs gain new lives. I always want to present traditional Chinese folk songs in a way that connects to the contemporary life," says Su.
The opening song is called Brightness, written and performed by singer-songwriter Hugjiltu from Jarud Banner in North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region. Performed in Mongolian, the song is adapted from a nursery rhyme.
"Last winter, I returned to my hometown to visit my sister, who gave birth to her first son. When my mother put the baby to sleep and sang the song, I was inspired because she sang the same song to me when I was a child," recalls Hugjiltu. He plays a variety of Mongolian ethnic musical instruments, such as morin khuur (horse-headed fiddle), khun tovshuur (a two-stringed lute) and mastered the khoomei (a traditional throat-singing technique from Mongolia and Tova).He played with Hanggai, a rock band from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and has his own band, Ajinai.
"The song expresses the love from parents to their children. It also sings for the ancestors," Hugjiltu adds."When I sent the demo of the song to Su, he was very interested and soon the new song was finished."
The second song is titled Always Remember, written and performed by singer-songwriter Yan Zehuan, who was born and raised in Jincheng city, Shanxi province.
"It's a great experience to write a song based on my memories about my hometown. There are lots of folk songs from my hometown," says singer-songwriter Yan Zehuan, 25, who learned to play the drums as a child and taught himself guitar and keyboard. He rose to fame after performing on the reality show, Chuang, which was launched by online video platform Youku, in 2019, and released his debut album, Y.Z.H, the same year.
"One of the folk songs that impressed me is a song without a name. It touches me with its lyrics talking about people leaving their hometown to pursue their dreams in bigger cities while the parents miss their children and hope they will come back more often," says Yan, who adapted the folk song into his own creation."I returned to my hometown every year to spend some days with my family and old friends. I love talking to them in the local dialect, which makes me feel warm and close to them."
Other musicians who joined in the compilation include signer-songwriter Zhang Quan, who was born in Lanzhou, Northwest China's Gansu province, singer-songwriter Zhang Qianqian from Northwest China's Qinghai province, and singer-songwriter Liu Dongming from Shandong province.
Su also wrote and performed a song, Green Leek on the High Mountain, which was inspired by a folk song from Yinchuan.
"The original folk song is very popular in Yinchuan. It reminds me of the yard of my home, which had lots of green leek. The song symbolizes thriving and lasting life," says Su.
Su formed a rock band in 1995 and has been traveling around Northwest China since 2003 to collect folk music materials from local communities. In 2006, he released his debut album, Able and Virtuous. Four years later, he released his second album, Like A Grass. Both of his albums feature elements of Chinese folk music, such as Hua'er and Qinqiang Opera from Northwest China.
His music is deeply rooted in traditional folk music.
"When I listened to the nine songs, I was touched by the poetic lyrics and rhythms, which are simple yet memorable. Each of the nine songs could be developed into a movie, which is full of stories," says veteran Chinese musician Lao Lang.
As the head of Rye Music, a division of Beijing-based company, Taihe Music Group, Lao Lang discussed the idea of the compilation with Su and decided to help him publish the songs.
"It's a rare treat for the listeners to discover how interesting old folk songs could be introduced with a contemporary twist," Lao Lang says.
The nationwide tour of the nine musicians in support of the compilation has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic but Lao Lang notes that hopefully there will be online shows to offer to the fans.