Belgian pianist Jean-Francois Maljean's song, Chime of the Dawn Bells, released online on Feb 10, was dedicated to China and its people and expressed his support for the country's fight against the COVID-19 outbreak.
The song went viral and has an accumulated 100 million viewers online. Beyond his expectations, Maljean received lots of messages from his friends in China, especially from Wuhan, Hubei province, the hardest-hit city in China during the coronavirus pandemic, and from people he didn't even know before.
"The feedback was incredible. I had not expected so much success. I hope most of all that this song helped people to fight against the epidemic in this period. That was the first goal," says the musician.
He also received many requests to invite him to perform in China that came after the success of the song. Though the schedule has not been set yet, the musician released a new album, titled Chor, on Oct 1, which was inspired by the warm feedback of Chime of the Dawn Bells.
Referring to the translation of the Chinese word chu, which is an abbreviation for Hubei province, the album, Chor, is dedicated to Wuhan, in tribute to the courage of the inhabitants of the city in the face of the epidemic, Maljean says.
There are 15 tracks in the album, which is composed of songs, performed in Chinese, English and French as well as instrumental pieces－mainly piano solo pieces. Maljean wrote these songs from February to September in his studio in Genval, Belgium.
The new album also saw Maljean combine Chinese bianzhong (chime bells) with his musical instrument. The musician has been interested in mixing his music with bianzhong for a long time. In the song, Chime of the Dawn Bells, he combined the melodic sound of bianzhong with piano and human voices.
He wants to visit the Hubei Provincial Museum, which is known for its collection of the globally famed 2,400-year-old bronze chime bells of Marquis Yi of Zeng State. A set comprises bells of varying sizes that produce different sounds when struck.
The message he wants to deliver with the new album is suggested by the title of a new song from the album, Shared Future for Mankind, which means "let's try to build a better world, after this difficult period, being united to reach this goal", according to the musician.
Sung in English, the song, Shared Future for Mankind also has a Chinese version, titled Gong Sheng, in which Maljean not only played the piano but also performed in Chinese.
"I learn Chinese and try to speak as well as I can, but it's not easy to have the right accent. I used to sing some Chinese songs during my concerts in China or even in other countries. It would be nice if I had my own Chinese song," he says.
Chinese writer Shi Li, from Wuhan, also performs in the song's Chinese version with Maljean. Shi performed the Chinese version of Chime of the Dawn Bells along with 15 local residents from Wuhan, who are from all walks of life, such as medical staff, teachers and students. Though Maljean and Shi have not met, Maljean was impressed by her beautiful voice.
The cover of the new album has an image of the woodcut painting of Wuhan's landmark building, the Yellow Crane Tower, by Wuhan artist Li Fulu.
Born in Verviers, Belgium, Maljean started to learn the piano at 6 years old. At about 12, the classically trained pianist became interested in a diversity of music genres, especially pop music like that of The Beatles. He went to the United States to learn jazz music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and when he came back to Belgium, the pianist, then 23, eventually launched a career as a professional musician.
He initially started studying medicine following the advice of his parents, who were both medical doctors, but after two years, he quit and concentrated on music.
With a number of piano solo albums and instrumental albums under his belt, most of which have been released in China, Maljean visited China for the first time in 2002 and has been a frequent visitor since then.
He attributed the idea of the new album to his Chinese business partner, He Liu, who is a Wuhan native responsible for coordinating his performances in China.
He Liu, who wrote the Chinese lyrics for the song, Chime of the Dawn Bells, also wrote the Chinese lyrics for the new song, Gong Sheng.
"It was a tough period of time during the coronavirus pandemic. When we look back, we want to pay our respect to people who fought on the front line against COVID-19," says He, who introduced Shi to Maljean.