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Better Music, Better Life

Posted by on March 31, 2012

On two occasions music festivals were held in Zhuhai. The real awesome part was that both these events were organized by my school. I turned out, the founder of TPR English was quite the involved community member, and as his employee I got to be as well: )

His name was Simone. Yeah, he’s got Chinese name, but I forget it. He was 40-ish, medium build, a little on the short side, clean shaven which included his scalp. Soon after I arrived, I took notice of the expansion of my school and the amount of real-estate his company had acquired along the way.

One such property was an old temple west of town. It probably would have been bulldozed, but Simone decided to renovated it and maintain its significance. The multi-building complex was made of grey brick, thick wood beams lining the interior, and clay-tiled roofs. A courtyard centered the complex and a well with old, wooden bucket kept it all tied back to its roots.

Simone transformed the space to a cultural events center.

Between this and the new branches of his school, I was as confused as I was impressed. I had to ask him, “How did you do all this?”

Just a couple weeks after arriving, I shared with him the impression I had of China as one of a Communist country that didn’t allow private property or much private enterprise. Though I knew it had been liberalized somewhat over recent years, I still assumed that you had to ask the government for everything and to do anything. He answered plainly that 20 years ago he wouldn’t, and couldn’t, have done this. But things are different today. “That’s old China”, he said.

I never got any specifics about how he built his school business; I don’t know what kinds of permissions the government required. But here was a guy with ideas and ambition, and as far as I could tell, was doing everything he wanted…like throwing a jazz fest.

But before you can have a festival you have to promote the sucker, and I was asked to come to the taping of a local TV talk show.

Here was the inside of the studio building here in Zhuhai:

Busts of Chinese historical figures along the left side

Then we entered the studio. It reminded me of a cable access program I used to shoot in Minneapolis, having all the same ingredients:

Camera dude

Audience

The set

And your fancy-schmancy host (Oh, and that's Simone in the hat)

“Lights, camera, action” (or the Mandarin equivalent). They started talking away, and I hadn’t a clue what they were saying:

Bla, bla, bla. There was a Frenchman there, too, an expat who runs a local events website.

It was cool to watch. As the cameras rolled you felt the energy notch up. It wasn’t live, but they also weren’t planning any other takes. So the pressure was on to be light and swift and interesting. All while being watched by the audience. Apparently, not all were entertained, though:

zzzzzzzzzzzz

But I bet he was alert when this next star was asked to make an appearance:

My 15 seconds of fame

Alright. Now that it was publicized, let’s have a music fest!

Better Music, Better Life was the motto of the Beishan International Jazz Festival. Jazz in China—do they allow that? Until I got there, I wasn’t sure whether something as American as Jazz would be supported. And thus, my education about China deepened. (And now so will yours.)

Held at the temple property (the new cultural center), the largest building there boasted a big stage that featured music for two nights.

On one evening, the first act came out to the reception of a few hundred (mainly-Chinese). The band featured an upright bass, drums, some jazz flute and soprano sax filling the air with their beats and vibrations. They played upon the lit-up stage while a sea of black haired onlookers swayed along with the smooth, Kenny G-like sounds:

Play it, Brother

The second group was a vocal-jazz band with a female singer wearing a cool purple hat. They hailed from France. Forgive me as I can’t remember their name, but “Grapefruit” was part of it. Band names these days, right? Anyway, they rocked the horns and got the crowd a little bouncy:

grapefruity

Finally, a group from The Netherlands, “The Buzz Brothers Band” wooed the audience with a set of crunchy grooves. Drummer, bass, guitar, and piano kept the jazz train moving to its peak:

Buzzing along

I thought the music was pretty good. The Chinese fans thought it was amazing, giving “rock-on” hand gestures and cheering like the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan.

But don’t take my word for it, check out the vid:

Following the performances, the audience lined up for autographs. I got the feeling this jazz stuff was a real treat for these onlookers.

Culturally, as well as economically, it was an exciting time to be in China.

Such a Western showcase also brought out of the woodwork the foreigners living nearby. It was nice to have the chance to greet some fellow Westerners.

I met one late 30s-ish Canadian lady who had been teaching English in the area for nine years. “Nine years?”, I thought. At her age, I wondered if she came to China already hitched. If not, I was curious about her love-life since it’s much less common to see Western women going for local guys.

She sure did find herself a nice Chinese fella, got married, and settled down. Maybe they’ll have (or already have) some beautiful Chinadian babies.

I also met a young half Persian/half Austrian woman who lives the area temporarily as her European company moved her there. She had been up in Shanghai but enjoyed the chance to see other areas of China like there in Zhuhai.

Then a mom and daughter combo kept my attention for a little while. They were tan like the locals, but weren’t Chinese. In fact there were several folks there at the Jazz Festival that resembled these gals. Turns out they were Portuguese and lived just south of Zhuhai in the region called Macau:

Their ancestors settled in Macau, which Portugal owned up until 1999.

It was cool to mingle with the Portuguese. Macau was an upcoming destination of mine.

Finally, I made a couple Chinese friends, too: )

With that signal, I knew they meant no harm.

This night was a lot of fun. I felt at home with the familiar styles of these bands. (I used to play in a jazz band in college.)

Take care now, and if you’re in the groovin’ mood, why not put on a little jazz?

-Brandon

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