By Matt Taylor
What happens when you mix the charm and charismatic nature of traditional Chinese instruments and weave them through contemporary western musical genres? You get instrumental group A-Play China 一奏器樂派, who in December 2017 released their debut album Chapter I - Kung Fu Pop 第一卷˙宮羽破, an avant-garde mashup of of Eastern old and Western new.
The aim of A-Play China is to create modern pop music with traditional Chinese instruments, thereby acting as a two way cross-cultural bridge between East and West. On Kung Fu Pop, traditional instruments which have their roots in Chinese folk (including the guzheng 古箏, erhu 二胡 and dizi 笛子) are seamlessly integrated into elements of soul, rock, disco and pop, resulting in a seven track album able to embody the beauty of the ancient and modern, whilst simultaneously combining the vigor and vitality of the urban and rural to create a new and refreshing musical landscape.
Founder of the group and producer of the album, Zhou Jin Tai 周金泰 is an accomplished producer and composer, and has already enjoyed an illustrious decade in the Chinese music industry. As well as producing for other artists, he has composed the theme tune for several TV drama’s, has acted as head producer for New Year & Spring Gala events for Jiangsu TV, and invited to sit on the panel of Sing! China 中國新歌聲.
In the Chinese music industry, Zhou is seen by many as a pioneer in pop music due to his cross-border music creation and innovative thinking, and he has dedicated his career to the exploration and excavation of high quality independent pop music.
Chinese instruments being utilized in modern pop isn’t completely new. Since the beginning of the 21st Century, musicians like Jay Chou 周杰倫, Wang Leehom 王力宏 and S.H.E were leading figures in the China Wave 中國風, which sought to not only bring Chinese instruments and folk tales into the modern pop dichotomy, but place them at the core of their records, with the bridges and hooks often dependent on these traditional instruments.
Where A-Play China differs from this however is in how the instruments are employed - rather than playing traditional melodies and then building a pop song around this, or being used simply for hooks and interludes, they are instead intrinsically fused with their partner Western genre, resulting in a refreshing and harmonious collaboration where it feels less of a novelty, and more genuine pop song led by traditional instruments - a surprising rarity in modern Chinese pop music.
Despite this innovative use of instrumentation however, these traditional instruments are still capable of tapping into the expressiveness and spiritual connotation of the folk music they have historically been used for. For thousands of years, these instruments have carried with them stories and feelings of the East, and that is not lost at any point on the record.
The album Chapter I - Kung Fu Pop 第一卷˙宮羽破 is available to stream and purchase on most major music platforms: