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Rock Across the Sea

The godfathers of German and Chinese rock owe a debt to Shanghai.


It was here where Udo Lindenberg first heard Cui Jian perform, and it was here, too, where the pair staged a warm-up concert last September prior to their collaboration in Lindenberg's musical, Atlantic Affairs, which will make its China premiere in Shanghai later this month.


Back in the rock 'n' roll 1970s, Lindenberg, now 58, was one of the driving forces that helped popularize German rock in the face of a massive English-language rock invasion.


Developing a unique straight-rock style mixed with occasional jazzy or symphonic influences and witty lyrics, Lindenberg showed that rock music with German lyrics was not only possible -- it could even be successful. Lindenberg's place in history was assured when, in 1983, he became the first West German rock star to appear in a live concert in East Germany, before the fall of the Berlin Wall.


The theme of German culture and history runs through Lindenberg's works, and Atlantic Affairs is no exception: The storyline has Lindenberg coming into an unexpected inheritance in New York, and looking forward to cashing his newly-acquired fortune. But instead of cash, he inherits 20 mysterious trunks. He returns to Germany by sea, and it is on this crossing, aboard the famous liner Queen Elizabeth II, that he begins opening the trunks with his new friends, the ship's entertainers. The trunks, it turns out, contain fabulous songs from Berlin in the 1920s: notes, texts, films and stories bequeathed by German artists who had to flee from the Nazis and migrated to America in the 1930s.


Lindenberg and his fellow singers investigate the material, adapt the songs to their present style, their contemporary groove -- between punk and panic, diva and drama, ballroom ballad and machine room rock.


"We want to bring the grand music of the 1920s and 30s out of the nostalgia cabinet," notes Lindenberg. "Free it from its musical vibrato, and set it right in the middle of the present Germany. This musical builds a bridge over time."


And over the boundaries of countries and cultures. Ever since its debut in May 2002, Lindenberg has invited artists from all over Europe to join in his tour of the continent, and when he decided to do a China tour in Shanghai and Beijing early last year, he started searching for a Chinese artist with whom to perform. Cui was the first name that came to his mind.


"He has a voice made for hard rock and an instrumental talent that also impressed me greatly," Lindenberg says.


Cui began his musical career as a classical trumpet player in the Beijing Symphony Orchestra. By 1985, though, he was better known for playing occasional live gigs in restaurants and hotels around the capital, performing original, edgy song lyrics. In 1988, with the release of his first solo album, Rock and Roll on the New Long March, his position as the country's first rock celebrity was established. For the first time, China had a true rock star.


Although his live rock performances dwindled throughout the 1990s, Cui is still devoted to music, lamenting the lack of opportunities for live rock.


"Live music is the only way that there'll be a real future for Chinese rock music," Cui says.


That's why Cui, who is now touring with Lindenberg in Germany, values the upcoming collaboration with his German counterpart.


The Shanghai show will feature some of the Chinese golden melodies from the 1920s and 30s, performed by German artists, while Cui and Lindenberg will perform their signature works.


Will the language barrier pose any problems?


"Lindenberg's songs are very close to the thoughts of common people and daily life," Cui says. "Although he will perform in German and local audiences may not be familiar with his works, I still believe that music has no frontiers, and his style will be well received here."



Time: 7:15 pm, February 27-28


Venue: Majestic Theater, 66 Jiangning Rd, Shanghai


Tickets: 80-880 yuan


Tel: (021) 6218-5283 ext 1012, (021) 6217-3311


(eastday.com February 20, 2004)

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