‘Voice of China’ helps pave way for Xinjiang music talent

By Li Jingjing in Urumqi Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/12 20:13:40

Zhang Lei Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Li Wei Photo: Cui Meng/GT


Perhat Khaliq Photo: Cui Meng/GT

When Uyghur singer Perhat Khaliq performed a rock'n'roll cover of a famous Chinese romance song with his deep, husky voice on hit talent show The Voice of China in 2014, he caused quite a stir among the audience as well as the judges.

That was the first time many people in China had heard a Uyghur singer perform a rock'n'roll song. Over the next two years, more Uyghur singers took to the stages of popular singing talent shows on major TV stations to showcase their talents with different music genres, including pop and hip-hop.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is known for its traditional folk music from its many ethnic cultures, yet not many realize that there is also a modern side to this music. Thanks to those talent shows and Xinjiang singers, a more complete picture was revealed to a broader audience.

Desert rock

Born and raised in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, 34-year-old Khaliq started learning how to play guitar at age 6. He was deeply influenced by rock'n'roll musicians like Bob Dylan during the 1990s, a time when rock was starting to gain widespread popularity in China.

His forays into composing music himself started gradually. In 2002, he tried something new by incorporating local ethnic music elements into his rock music.

Before his Voice of China appearance, few people in China from outside of Xinjiang knew of Khaliq as he mainly performed in local bars in Xinjiang.

But he did have a level of international fame before his performance, as he performed with his band Qetiq at the Morgenland Festival Osnabrück in Germany in 2010. They also released an album Qetiq: Rock from the Taklamakan Desert.

When The Voice of China first approached him, Khaliq wasn't interested at all, thinking the show was just meaningless showbiz that wouldn't do much for his career. However, show representatives were able to convince him after they told him that his music should be heard by more people.

"China has so many ethnic groups and diverse cultures, but many people don't know anything about other ethnic cultures. We should bring them different voices," Khaliq told the Global Times.

Khaliq won the second place in the end. His appearances not only brought him more popularity and more invitations to perform, it helped gain the music of Xinjiang more attention.

Life-changing appearances

Khaliq isn't the only musician from Xinjiang to have his life changed by the show.

Half Russian, half Han Chinese singer Li Wei also shot to stardom after his appearance on the show in 2014.

Although local ethnic music elements are not a main feature of his music, the influence of these cultures runs deep.

"I grew up listening to Uyghur music, it greatly influenced my personality," Li told the Global Times.

"Everybody is passionate and unconstrained, while kids growing up here are very open-minded."

Never receiving any professional training, Li, 29, first started singing in bars when he was 16. Hoping for a bigger stage, he didn't hesitate when The Voice of China came to Xinjiang to recruit local talent.

Thanks to the fame he gained from the talent show, he has been able to fully devote himself to music.

Also gained popularity through The Voice of China after winning first place in 2015, 35-year-old Zhang Lei is also a singer from Xinjiang. What sets him apart is that he is a Han Chinese musician originally from Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province who decided to move to Xinjiang when he was 20.

"Xinjiang was crucial to forming my personality," Zhang told the Global Times.

"It's very inclusive, there are churches, mosques and Buddhist temples, I haven't seen any signs of xenophobia or discrimination."

Married to a local woman, Zhang now considers Xinjiang his home.

Appearing on the talent show greatly changed his life. Before the win, most of Zhang's time was spent running a small shop that sold lighters. While he still runs the shop, being a professional singer has greatly improved his financial status.

Furthering understanding

Although they have helped raise awareness about Xinjiang, these musicians still feel that people outside the region know too little about Xinjiang. Many people still picture people riding horses through vast grasslands, living in yurts and having less access to modern culture when they think of the region.

"I hope everyone can come here and see things for themselves. There is more to Xinjiang than beautiful landscapes. There are also many different ethnic groups here, not just Uyghurs, it's a place of cultural integration," Li said.

"Some people harbor prejudices toward the local population thinking that there are only thieves and terrorists here, but in fact Uyghurs are very honest and kind," Zhang said.

Khaliq and his team sometimes encounter tougher security checks when going to different places, for example Yunnan Province, where a group of Xinjiang separatists launched a violent terrorist attack against innocent passengers in the Kunming Railway Station in 2014. Although he hates the experience, Khaliq said he understands the reason why people are being cautious.

Khaliq said that he believes talent shows are great platforms for Uyghur talent. As these talents gain more attention, people will be able to experience more of the regions' music. He is now working on learning more about the traditional music of different ethnic groups so he can preserve these sounds and incorporate them further into his own creations.

Newspaper headline: Open doors

Posted in: Music

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