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Sa Ding-Ding And Her "Tree Of Voices"
She is the only Chinese artist I know that can be accepted and applauded by an international audience
By Hans Ebert
(more articles from this author)
2010-02-13
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[Editor's note: I first discovered Sa Ding Ding with the release of her first album Alive in 2008, coinciding with the Beijing Olympics excitement. I was immediately taken by her fusing of various ethnic music, notably Mongolian and Tibetan, with electronic and dance vibes. She appeared to have the potential to be that breakthrough artist that would bring the world's spotlight on China's music. Alas, she seemed to fade with the passing Games.

Well, she's back with her second album "Harmony" on iTunes and CD releases Feb. 1st in Asia and March 8th in Europe. Her first single "Ha Ha Li Li" has already been remixed by Paul Oakenfold while they were working on a new song for his upcoming album.

"Harmony is an expression of my thoughts and my life from spring 2009. When I was recording my first album I realized there are too many things that bother people and I wanted them to find calm from my music. Now I realise actually only by finding a balance between humanity and nature can people get this calm. If people found calm from Alive, I hope they find joy and happiness from Harmony."

This seemed like an opportune time to publish Hans Ebert's take on this young Chinese artist and her connection to Avatar. ~ Eric de Fontenay]

First off, let me say that I think James Cameron made a terrible mistake by not featuring any music by Sa Ding-ding in "Avatar." Ending with that gooey piece of schlock from Leona Lewis trying to "do a Celine Dion" was such a copout. We already have lived with "My Heart Goes On." Does the world need something the same- but far worse? But, it was during the opening of the movie where I heard Sa Ding-ding's voice and music- especially, the gorgeously mesmerizing track that is called "Alive."

Anyone who thinks Chinese music is down the crapper should make the time to click and listen to the track below. If you have seen "Avatar," close your eyes and imagine the movie opening with this track. Same with anyone who thinks they know it all about Chinese music and Dance.

In a region short on truly original musical talent, she is the only artist I know who can be accepted and applauded by an Internationally audience rather than an Asian audience and media who might see her as being "too gwei" and an oddity.

Before getting back to Sa Ding-ding, a group of us were discussing "Avatar" over dinner last week. Everyone who had seen it agreed that the visual and effects were stunning. As a plot, as a story, Josh thought it was "Lord Of The Rings Meets Tarzan." I think it was Lou who mentioned that it was "Pocahontas."

I was going to blurt out that I didn't really "rate" James Cameron as a storyteller until Jeff said that he was fan of "The King Of The World." So, when Kristine and I went to see the movie that is a Must See for the simple reason of all seeing all the new technology used, I went with a few apprehensions.

Mainly, as someone who wears glasses, I was thinking how my 3-D glasses would fit over my specs. In the end, I wore them without my specs and which meant not being able to see every "dark blue stripe" on the "blue people." I did, however, end up with a terrible headache and the plot and script didn't help. They are relentlessly awful.

"Avatar" is a stunning movie- visually- and has gone where no other movie has gone before- technically- though I do think people tend to underrate Michael Jackson's "Captain EO."

As for a plot, well, it's all more than a bit of a cliché and tries to make some political statements albeit in quite a naive and transparent way whereas except for the inspired casting of Sigourney Weaver as a "human" and, therefore, an "alien," the other actors are more or less there for James Cameron's Theatre Of Technological Wizardry.

Apart from Leonardo DeCapuccino and Kate Winslet, one doubts if Cameron really likes working with "real actors." They are more or less props and the more weird the accents, the better. Remember Arnie and "I'll be BUCK?" Here we have the Sky People and the Forest People and some new language created and I swear I heard the words, "cootchie coo."

As I sat through the two-a-half hours of The Movie That Refused To End and boredom eventually sunk in when all the new-fangled technology became too "familiar," I started to think whether this was some weird homage to movies or something for movie trivia buffs and with stunning technological effects holding it all together. Yes, The Technique really is The Idea here, meaning that the "plot" does not matter. It's all style over substance and which, in this instance, audiences expect.

Plot-wise, there are bits of "Braveheart," "The Last Of The Mohicans," "Apocalypse Now," "Platoon," "Alien," "The Never Ending Story," "Dances With Wolves," "The Wizard Of Oz," "Full Metal Jacket," "Blue Velvet" etc. The list is endless.

Both Kristine and I could also not understand how, despite all the money spent on the production, the screen was still populated by what looked like extras from "Robocop."And couldn't three writers not telegraph the message that this place they created called, er, Pandora, is a box not to be opened.

Also why, with all this advancement that has taken place on Earth, does the character Jack Skully remains a paraplegic? I said it was for that one scene where his avatar has legs and which makes him suddenly run off like Forrest Gump.

We also couldn't understand why his avatar had no, well, balls- literally- and why all the Actors playing the blue Navis were either Black or Native Americans.

I noticed that it took three people to "write" the story and I really did not understand how this writing process might have taken place. At times, some of the dialogue sounded like what one might expect from a Chinese cookie.

As some Pan pipes, reminiscent of the intro to "My Heart Goes On" started up and the voice of Leona Lewis wafted over the end credits, I again thought of Sa Ding-ding, her track "Mama Tian Ma" and its stunning music video and how perfect she would have been for this movie.

Hell, if James Cameron saw her, he might have even created an avatar of her as she really is "other-worldly." Damn, she should have starred in "Avatar." She should have been Netiyi and taught Cameron the language she has created for herself.

Sa Ding-ding is not "just a singer" nor as her bio says, a "Chinese folk singer." She is a performance artiste- exquisitely feminine, graceful and with a style of dancing that is pure poetry in motion with her music. I remember first seeing her at a launch party for her first album on Universal and where she performed with 3-4 background dancers on a tiny stage in a pretty dingy club in the bowels of Hong Kong's Central district.

I fell in love with her music and performance right then and there. I thought how great it would be to have her work with people like Bowie, Peter Gabriel, perhaps Damon Albarn, film makers like Tim Burton and Ridley Scott, an animator like Jamie Hewlett.

Like I said, Sa Ding-ding is not "just a singer." She is a creator of moods and musical landscapes. She is also an artiste who is "not commercial" as she doesn't prance around the stage making cooing sounds dressed like a hobbit lost at The Mad Hatter's Tea Party. She is all Class and, especially, Hong Kong's music industry which has been brought up on Crass, simply don't "get her." She is, simply put, "too different" for the mainstream Chinese music industry to accept. Not that she wishes to have this acceptance, thank you very much.

Audiences in France, Italy, perhaps, the UK, all of Scandinavia, they would trip over themselves to see her. And she has performed at WOMAD and other big festivals in Europe. Acts from Denmark like Kashmir and Mew should be working with her. Then again, many of even the veterans within the Danish music industry are gremlins and just bloody slow off the mark. Most are also clueless as to what they have on their own doorstep and in their own backyards and how to promote all of this outside of Copenhagen.

As for Sa Ding-ding, of Han and Mongolian ancestry and who sings in Mandarin, Sanskrit, Mongolian and a language she has created for herself, the second time I saw her was the first time I also heard Hong Kong's Khalil Fong and which was at a Music Matters Showcase. Again, she stole the show.

Kristine has far different tastes in music than I do, but was equally riveted to this performer. She wanted to know if Sa Ding-ding was Chinese and why she was so different and so much better than the Chinese artists she had seen up to that point. I really didn't know what to say other than, "She's unique and she has what many other Chinese artists don't have: Talent."

To Universal Music's credit, they have stayed true in their belief of Sa Ding-ding, especially Alice Yung, Yvonne "YY" Yuen and my old mate and boss Max Hole in the UK.

She has recorded with Deep Forest, she has had rave reviews in the UK and Europe and she'll embark on her first full-scale Asian tour. If she ever gets to India, AR Rahman should be sitting in the front seat along with Gaurav, one of my favourite bass guitarists in the world and the rest of The Raghu Dixit Project.

These artists working together with Sa Ding-sing will create some truly breakthrough music as the Raghu Dixit Project is just as unique, just as breathtakingly original as this Chinese performer who was formerly a "popster" known as something like "Shirley." That's the past. She has progressed in leaps and bounds.

And with the Raghu Dixit Project set to appear at the next OneMovement Festival in Perth, it would only make sense for her to share the stage with them for even one song. If this can be their "Antaragani," brilliant. Or the beautiful "No Man Will Ever Love You Like I Do. Click the link below and listen to the finest export from India and pay attention to the bass guitar, drumming, vocals and FIDDLES. BRILLIANT STUFF!

To me, James Cameron might be "The King Of His World" and "The Master Of His Domain" and "Avatar" might be one of the most important movies of all time when it comes to pushing the boundaries of the technological envelope.

Having said this, the man can learn a thing or two about music can, yes, enhance his movies, in general, and how some of the music from Asia can even help take them forward.

He missed the boat- and I don't mean the Titanic- by not including the music by Sa Ding-ding and The Raghu Dixit Project into this 160 minutes of dazzling effects and total self-indulgence and which tries to bring all worlds together.

Perhaps their music could have given "Avatar" the heart, soul and substance it's missing.


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