Every year I make a point of sitting down a few days after the Rainforest World Music Festival, watching the videos I have recorded, looking at the pictures taken, before I chose my favourite band. I must say this year was a tough task, with so many unique artists walking the several stages at the 2016 Rainforest World Music Festival, but in the end the choice was made: Shanren.
Shanren, literally meaning “mountain men”, have become one of China’s top indie folk bands. Formed in 2000 in the remote and mysterious Yunnan province of southwest China, have members that represent some of the least understood of China’s 56 ethnic groups – 27 of these are in Yunnan!
The band aims to promote and preserve the colorful and diverse heritage of Yunnan and Guizhou’s many ethnic minority tribes through original compositions and re-workings of local folk melodies. As modernization affects the conservation of cultures, and as it is harder and harder to keep traditions while the world progresses, Shanren believes traditional music is needed to draw young people to learn a genre that is slowly dying off in China.
But Shanren is not only this. Their pieces span from folk songs to ska to rock, a genre quite popular in their own country, fusing indigenous music with modern styles.
Shanren showcased a variety of traditional instruments such as the Xianzi, the Qinqin, the Dabiya (a four-stringed plucked instruments), the Xianggu and the Sun drum. Some of the instruments are created and made by them in order to tune them for the kind of music they play. These achieve new sounds not available in traditional instruments.
Shanren are gaining popularity in Beijing’s small but vibrant alternative folk scene, and especially the expat crowd, on the strength of their energetic live shows, and they did not disappoint the crowd at the 2016 Rainforest World Music Festival with a performance that made all dance and cheer.
Their career is a superb one: the band were invited to appear in front of 5,000 people at Cathedral Square for the Barcelona Festival Asia in 2010 (where their
Thirty Years became the best song of the festival), and they presented showcases at MIDEM in Cannes and Liverpool Sound City, UK in 2011. ‘Thirty Years’ then continued to attain international recognition, being featured on two releases by the World Music Network – Rough Guide to China 2012, Rough Guide to the Undiscovered World 2012.
Shanren were rated as No. 4 hottest international act at Canadian Music Week 2012 which they attended as part of a twelve date North American tour which attracted media attention including Huffington Post, Washington Post and National Geographic. Since then the band have been invited to perform all over the world: at the Bali Spirit Festival（Indonesia), at Turtle Island Festival (Japan), at Womadelaide (Australia) and at Womad (New Zealand). The band also embarked upon a 9 week tour of USA in 2014/2015 as part of the Arts Midwest Worldfest program, sharing Yunnan’s unique cultural heritage with rural communities in the American Midwest.
The 2013 album 听山 – China, “Left Foot Dance of the Yi and other Chinese Folk Anthems” was nominated for best rock album at the 2013 MIDI music awards, Best Folk album at the Golden Melody Awards and received Best Folk Roots albumat the Golden Folk Awards 2014. Since international release under the title of “Left Foot Dance of The Yi…” it was listed as number 51 in the 2014 Annual European World music album charts.
Shanren are staple headliners at China’s major music festivals and have been featured on a wide range of domestic TV shows reaching an audience in the tens of millions. Wild, eccentric, and charismatic, Shanren are true ambassadors for China’s ethnic diversity and emerging musical creativity.
Watch them live at Rotterdam here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvE9p-4-Bho&list=PLWDro5Apn1tKlsHsFpEKV_3IIrwNqjxhl
Find more info about Shanren at http://www.sonicbids.com/shanren and follow them on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/shanrenband
Browse Rainforest World Music Festival for future dates at www.rwmf.net