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Happy Chinese New Year (of the Rabbit)!

Gong hay fat choy!

Our World Is China compilation is intended as a celebration of China’s New Year. The ultimate idea for this compilation came from our Chief Marketing Officer. In the midst of a casual conversation with our Brand Content and Online VP, she simply asked, in light of our recent World Is Africa and World Is India CDs, if we’d ever considered doing something for Chinese New Year. That was it! She’d figured it out in one inspired swoop.

So began the task, much like our other globally-themed compilations of presenting an introduction to a certain country or continent’s music, while simultaneously aiming to reveal the span of China’s sound and how it influences and is influenced by music from around the globe. We’ve had much success with the world genre beginning way back in 1997 with our African (Africaffé), Cuban (Café Cubana, Más Café Cubana) Italian (Ciao Amore!, Bella Luna) and Parisian-themed compilations (Rendezvous à Paris, Paris Magnifique). These compilations have always served as both a primer and a deeper dive into the richness of each culture.

For China I looked to both my substantial collection of Asian music and cinema. I was equally as inspired by Jia Zhangke’s Still Life (2006), concerning the destruction of a small village on the Yangtze River in the wake of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, as I was by a Beijing indie rock showcase I saw at the 2010 South By Southwest Music Festival. Again, not everyone wants to hear an entire compilation of Chinese punk and indie rock, but it all served to influence what eventually became this compilation.

I’ll leave out all the somewhat dull licensing details out, but what I came up with was a blend that spanned from the 1940s to the present. Contemporary and vintage recordings that displayed the diversity of China and encompassed a broad range of classic Chinese pop, Beijing opera, hip-hop and electronica East-meets-West selections from Mainland China and Taiwan and Hong Kong.

I would have loved to include all of China’s “Seven Great Singing Stars” (the nation’s most famous singers of the 20th century), but was only able to feature two of them – including the most popular: actress/vocalist Zhou Xuan, called the “Edith Piaf of China” and known as “Golden Voice.” At the height of her fame in the 1940s, she was celebrated throughout Southeast Asia as well as her homeland. Her 1946 recording of “Age of Bloom” is prominently featured in one of my favorite films, Wong Kar-Wai’s 2000 masterpiece In the Mood for Love, which was also inspired by the song.

Also included are some hip-hop flavored offerings, including Nappy G’s delightful re-recording of “Gong Hay Fat Choi,” which features an innovative sampling of a Chinese children’s choir. Hip-hop (or “pinyin xīha” in Chinese) is not huge yet in China. Although it started popping up in the early ’80s, it was the ’90s before the sound became more common, particularly in Beijing. Inspired by influential early American hip-hop films like 1983’s Wild Style, Dragon Tongue Squad often use traditional instruments and take inspiration from ancient sounds. “Chinese Cooking,” from 2006’s Crazy 4 Hip-Hop, features the yang-qin (Chinese dulcimer), erhu (two-stringed Chinese violin) and pipa (a plucked string instrument). The rap is an amusing bit of “shuōchàng” (narrative) that’s exactly about…yep, Chinese cooking. Check it.

Someday maybe I’ll get a shot at a sequel and can finally give a slot to a runner up song choice that didn’t quite make the cut: the Chinese reggae band, Lions of Puxi, and their quite faithful rendition of Sting’s “Englishman in New York.” Until then, look for the stunning World Is China cover designed by our own Amy L. (in stores now), and celebrate The Year of the Rabbit. Enjoy!

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