If there is a single person who best signifies China's growing hunger for rock and roll it is Cui Jian. Known to all as Lao Cui, he is recognized as the father of rock and roll in China and compared to Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen by the western media.
Cui Jian was born into an ethnically Korean family. His father is a professional trumpet player and his mother a member of a Korean minority dance troupe. An accomplished classical trumpet player, Lao Cui became a member of the prestigious Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra in 1981. It is here in the early eighties that Cui Jian becomes smitten by Western rock and roll as he begins to listen to music tapes spirited into the country by tourists and foreign students. Inspired by the likes of Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, he learns to play guitar and is soon singing in public.
Then in 1984, Cui Jian and six other classical musicians form the band "Seven Ply Board". Playing western pop songs, they perform in small restaurants and hotels around Beijing. It is one of the first bands of its kind in China. This year Cui Jian also records his first album, Langzigui. Although he does not contribute lyrics, the record's attempts at progressive arrangements and the inventive production are fresh experiments in the world of Chinese music. They provide the earliest glimpse of Cui Jian's musical character as it will later emerge.
By the mid eighties the bulk of western rock music has found its way into China's cultural underground and The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads and the Police are influencing Cui Jian. His earliest effort is a rock/rap number entitled "It's Not That I Don't Understand".
In 1985, Cui Jian first attracts attention with an appearance in a Beijing talent contest. Even at this early stage in his career, Cui Jian's songs show a preoccupation with weighter issues than the usual gauzy romantic fantasies expressed in the pop ballads of the day. He dares to address such sensitive topics as individualism and sexuality.
To a generation numbed by the deadening propaganda of the Cultural Revolution, the honesty of Cui Jian's lyrics is like a clarion call. The entire music scene in China is about to make a giant leap forward.
In May of 1986 at a Beijing concert commemorating the Year of World Peace, Cui Jian climbs onto the stage in peasant clothing and belts out his latest composition, "Nothing To My Name". As the song ends, a stunned audience erupts in a standing ovation. Before long, young people all over China are banging out.
Cui Jian songs on beat-up guitars in campus dormitories and sidewalk cafes. Cui Jian officially leaves the Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra and begins working with Ado, a Beijing band that includes two renegade foreign embassy employees, a Hungarian bassist and Madagascan guitarist.
In 1986 Cui Jian releases what he considers to be his first real album, Rock 'N' Roll On The New Long March". The album includes the first recording of "Nothing To My Name" and becomes the biggest selling album in China's history. In his later works, he has also begun to experiment with rap music, adding a drummer/MC to his band for The Power of the Powerless (1998). Cui Jian's own long march begins and China will never be the same.
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