Chinese folk singer Yao Shisan is in Macau, as a guest of The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival. In a short interview with mART, before going on stage tonight, Friday, March 11, the young artist who thinks that he is getting old, speaks of the strangeness of his humoured lyrics, his next album and the musical scene in China.
By Sofia Jesus
“Abnormal”; “a little bit strange”. This is how Chinese folk singer Yao Shisan describes his music to mART, less than two hours before going on stage, tonight, March 11, at the Macao Cultural Centre, as a guest of The Scrip Road – Macau Literary Festival.
“I normally don’t think about this question [of how to describe my music and what influences me],” he starts by saying, with a smile. But, as we insisted, he says it could be said to be “a little bit weird”, “because of the lyrics”.
Mr Yao writes his own songs, and he likes “playing with words”. Sometimes, his lyrics sound “a little bit like joking”, as he makes use of irony, sometimes mocking himself. “[My lyrics are usually] about my life.”
Mr Yao listens to a lot of music, much of which is “quite complex”, he says. He enjoys listening to Chinese folk songs, rock and post-rock. Composing music simply makes him “happy”.
Now at the age of 30, he considers he is “getting old”. Age and health are some of the issues that concern him at the moment and that have somehow influenced his song writing.
In the past, he used to think that he would never get old, that he would “always be a kid”. Now, he finds himself thinking about how “when [things] pass, it’s past”.
Back to basics
Mr Yao launched his first album “Spaceship, Astronaut” in 2015. He now hopes to launch a second album “by the end of this year” or in 2017.
In his first album, he used “a lot of musical instruments” in his compositions, such as “guitar, banjo, Chinese flute, Chinese percussion, piano, electric guitar, electric base and drums”. He knows “just a little bit” how to play each of them. But he says he was not very satisfied with the result.
“[For my next album] I want to go back to basics; just using one guitar and my own voice,” he tells mART.
The musical scene in China “is always changing”, he says. “It has become more complex, using more different elements, different types of music.” And this is “good” for his development as a musician, he believes. The fact that music is “coming from different directions” and “towards different directions” excites him, as he believes “something new is coming up”.
Chinese musicians are also “making an effort to learn” some of the many traditional instruments. “In the past, we always learned guitar, the Western music,” he says. Some still do it, but the music scene “is developing”. “It is really good [that this is happening now].”
According to The Script Road’s biographic note on Mr Yao, he “earned widespread acclaim in 2011 with the online release of his song ‘Blind’”. His music is now “very popular” in China and “is widely discussed in musical circles”.
Under a modern sky
Born in Guiyang, in China’s Guizhou Province, Mr Yao says he started performing in 2012. That year, he went to the Chinese capital, Beijing, where he met two very well known musicians in China, Song Dongye and Ma Di.
The three friends would later create the independent record label Ma You Ye, which represented around ten musicians. In 2013, Mr Yao, as well as Mr Song and Mr Sa, signed with a larger label company, Modern Sky.
Between 2013 and 2015, he performed in Modern Sky’s Strawberry Music Festival, an annual event that takes place in around 30 cities in China. Last year, the festival expanded its network to New York and Los Angeles.
The festival initially focused on Indie music, but, more recently, it started collaborating with more mainstream artists, including musicians from Taiwan. “It’s a big music festival, with different stages. It’s a good place for people to meet and have fun, enjoying the music,” Mr Yao explains.
Chinese director Ye Lou featured one of Mr Yao’s songs in the film “Blind Massage”, a winner at Taiwan’s 51st Golden Horse Awards.
Mr Yao recalls he had met Mr Ye in 2012, at a bar. He wrote a song inspired in a previous film directed by Mr Ye and, later on, the director heard the song and said it would be fit for his next film, “Blind Massage”.
Mr Yao sings in Mandarin, but he has also written a song in his hometown’s dialect, he says. As for plans to take his music abroad, he admits he “would love to, if there is an opportunity”.
Asked whether his choice for writing lyrics about ordinary life would somehow be related to the existing censorship in Mainland China, and on whether he would consider touching more sensitive topics, he replies he wouldn’t. He worries that he would “not be able to manage” what would come out of that.