Shanren - Left Foot Dance Of The Yi

Don't let Shanren's flirtations with ska, funk, reggae and blues mislead you -their music is deeply rooted to the land of south-western China. The band formed in Yunnan province in 2000, a region that is known for its rich botany, its ethnic diversity and its mountainous landscape that is said to have inspired James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon. The members of Shanren, which translates literally as "mountain men", are an ethnically diverse group that are comprised of 3 out of the 55 state-designated minorities, representing  the Maio, Wa and Buyi minorities of the Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. They challenge both the ethnic fissure in Chinese society and the trend of urbanisation that often sees traditional music and practices left abandoned.

Their music is both a bold exploration yet a traditional revisiting, pulling ska punches, reggae bounces and rock-blues riffs blended seamlessly with traditional instrumentation and melodies, such as the dizi (shrill bamboo flute), and the qinqin (four-stringed lute/banjo). It is a sound that captures both the ambient wash of Yunana Province's urban centers and the broad folk character of rural mountain life. Their album Left Foot Dance Of The Yi is a contemporary re-working of Yunnan’s traditional music that traces out a striking collage of present day China. The opening track, ‘Wandering’, weaves field recordings of Yunan’s Yi and Wa tribes, with sounds captured from the frenetic streets of bustling Beijing. The anthemic track ‘Thirty Years’ is an original composition owing equal creative debt to western rock as it does to the sounds of the Yi people. 

Shanren began their careers as musicians in the 1990s. Buzzing off the red-hot rock heard on illegally imported cassettes they began to draw inspiration from classic bands such as Led Zeppelin and their creative disciples the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Realizing that the mix of Chinese folk music and Western rock was a potent one, their sound quickly matured into something entirely unique – the high-pitched vocals, unusual string textures and driving rhythmic beats heard on this album. Reading deeper in to the musical marriage of the two genres, the band came to see the outcast position of Chinese rock musicians as a mirror image of the Yunnan tribes’ struggle for cultural identity. Early Chinese rock and rollers were considered to be on the fringe by members of the mainstream Chinese machine and so their sounds were drowned out by the louder, brasher conventional pop music pumping out of urban cities. The music and traditions of the twenty-six ethnic groups that reside within Yunnan’s borders have been overpowered, leaving many of the younger generations without even a basic grasp of their own native customs. Shanren’s humble hope is that Left Foot Dance Of The Yi can inform the young Chinese of their rich and marvellously multi-faceted heritage.

 

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Buy 'Left Foot Dance Of The Yi' from £6.99

'These are Chinese folk-rockers to watch' 4**** stars, The Guardian




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