Contemporary Chinese folk music has become increasingly popular these days because of the popularity of a recent TV show Our Folk Music 2022. A number of newborn folk musicians are introduced to the public and rise to fame quickly. However, as folk music is becoming a trend, few people really know about the folk musicians who shaped the spirit of contemporary Chinese folk music and culture. Among those musicians, the River Band, or He Yuedui, consisting of five members, is one of the most symbolic.
The River Band (Guo Long, Xiao He, Wan Xiaoli, Ana, and Weiwei, from left to right)
The origin of the River Band can be traced back to a small pub called the River in Beijing in the early 2000s. The founder of the pub was Wild Child, a folk band from Lanzhou. At that time, the River pub was the center of folk music in Beijing. Talented folk musicians from all around the country gathered at the River to exchange ideas, compositions, poems, etc. At the same period, a girl from France was studying at Beijing Normal University. Her name is Anaistamo Martane (known as Ana). Ana went to the River every week, and she was not only an audience, but also part of the folk musician community. Ana brought folk music from all around the world to the River, creating a fusion of cultures. Ana also recorded the moments of the young folk musicians with her camera. “I’m a photographer; I love music and those people, so I hope to learn more about them with my camera.” Ana said. Many years later, Ana’s photographs became the most precious records of the days at the River. In the River, Ana made some of her life-long friends: Weiwei, Xiao He, Wan Xiaoli, and Guo Long, who were the initial members of the River Band.
The River Pub, Beijing
Ana Singing at the River Pub
In 2003, an epidemic of SARS broke out all over China. Unfortunately, the River pub did not survive the harsh period. The place was gone, but Ana and her friends kept singing as they did in the old days. They decided to form a band, with its name in memory of the River pub. Since then, the River Band started its stories.
Roving, freedom, and solitude --- three themes of the River Band --- have become part of the spiritual core of contemporary Chinese folk music. The best representation of the spirit of the River Band was their music. A great number of their songs become the classics of Chinese folk music.
The Rice Shop, one of their most famous songs and the most symbolic contemporary Chinese folk music, writes:
“Dear, can you feel tommorow is coming;
by the wharf our boat is waiting;
I will wash my hair and climb upon the mast;
there lies our home like tender leaves of grape.”
It is more a poem than a normal song. With simple language, the Rice Shop depicts a scene with a strong sense of wandering. “We do not have a house and we are roving, but wherever we are is home.” The theme of roving is well demonstrated in this song. The folk musicians are not just musicians; they are wanderers and poets in this impetuous society.
Zhang Weiwei, Who Wrote the Song Rice Shop
The River Band is still singing, and more and more newborn folk musicians are emerging. If the River Band is the symbol and classics of Chinese folk music, the newborn musicians are the future. Weiwei, one of the members of the River Band, once said: “Folk music is not a fashion; it is something that will be remembered by our posterity; it keeps going down genration after generation.” The River Band might be gone someday, but their spirit and more importantly, Chinese folk music culture, will continue to prosper.