Loud and proud

Updated: 2012-03-31 10:58

By Chen Nan (China Daily)

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Loud and proud

Cao Fang (above) and Qu Wanting (right) stand out in the indie music scene by exploring their feminism through music. Photos by Zou Hong and Kong Dejia


The return of Cao Fang to the limelight shows that making it on the indie scene as a woman isn't easy, but it is possible. Chen Nan reports in Beijing. 

Singer-songwriter Cao Fang blew audiences away with her love ballads and her sweet, clear voice when she was 23. 

But after releasing two successful albums, Meet Me and Farther Than the Sky, in 2005 and 2007, Cao struggled and became depressed as the limelight dimmed around her. 

When she returned to the scene with a new EP, Light Rainbow, she stunned audiences again - this time, with her rock beats and exotic new look, including flowery see-through long dresses and short haircut. 

"I know exactly what kind of songs audiences expect from me. But now I'm approaching 30, I want to be true to myself," she says. 

Her first concert for the new EP will be held at Beijing's Starlive on Saturday. 

Cao stands out in the indie music scene as she shows that ladies are no shrinking violets when it comes to singing and songwriting. These women utilize and explore their feminism through music as a form of self-expression and are becoming a big draw at live music venues across the country. 

"The new songs might not be so easy to sing along to as my early songs," Cao giggles. "I don't know whether they will accept a new Cao Fang or not. I'm looking forward to the reaction." 

All five songs on the EP were written in 2011 when Cao returned to her hometown, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province. Looking at the sky inspired her to write the title song, Light Rainbow. Her encounter with a girl, who traveled across Yunnan after breaking up with her boyfriend, led Cao to write the song, Heartbroken Traveler. 

"Unlike my early songs, which are carefree and connected with the listeners, the new songs are much more private and isolated," she says. "I did it intentionally because I don't want to be just a decorative element in the music scene. This EP represents me." 

Cao admits it's hard to survive on the indie scene, especially as a woman. 

"Female singer-songwriters are not treated as seriously as male music writers sometimes. They are remembered because of their face or fashion style. I am lucky to be remembered for my music," she says. 

Singer-songwriter Qu Wanting, a newcomer to the indie music scene, is also showing her talent for music. 

The 28-year-old says that women on the indie scene have entered a new phase of awareness and determination. 

In a video posted on Youku a year ago, Qu curls her hair and sits on a wrinkled bed, wearing a blue sport jacket with two characters, "zhong guo" (China) and clutches a guitar. Head swaying, she sings a committed, rock version of a popular Mandarin folk song, Old Boy. 

It was one of several videos she posted, including self-written songs such as Everything in the World and Anxiety, which received millions of viewers around the world. Her piano-swept music has also won her a large fan base in China. 

Qu says she loves live shows and working with her band. "It's like you've got 45 minutes to shine like a queen, make every minute gold," she says. 

She says she was fully aware of her passion to be a songwriter when she left Harbin, at 16, for boarding school in Canada. 

After moving from Toronto to Vancouver in 2005, she started performing original material, in both Chinese and English. 

Without a label behind her, her tunes have already become sound-tracks on the upcoming film Love in the Buff, appeared on a Mercedes Benz sampler, and amassed millions of views on YouTube. 

"I guess, as a female singer-songwriter, you can be more in touch with your inner emotions and be very direct about it with the lyrics," she says. 

It was a combination of talent and persistence that caught the attention of Nettwerk, a Canadian record company, which is home to singers such as Sarah McLachlan. 

Terry McBirde, the CEO and founder of Nettwerk, first met Qu at Sarah Mclachlan's concert in 2005. "I was immediately captivated by the honesty of the lyrics and the authentic song writing. She has the wonderful ability to seamlessly blend the cultures of East with the melodies of the West," McBride says. 

Qu will release her debut full-length studio album Everything in the World on April 24, featuring both Chinese and English songs. 

"Female singer-songwriters are rare in China. Qu has more than enough charisma to survive in the country's indie music scene," says music composer and producer Zhang Yadong, who watched Qu's show in Beijing at Yugong Yishan. 

"Due to their unique observations and emotions, female singer-songwriters bring a different musical perspective, which is their advantage." 

"The music made by those female singer-songwriters is not a mass market like that for commercialized pop singers. But there is a large group of people who like the kind of music they play," adds Gao Xiaosong, another singer-songwriter. 

Contact the writer at chennan@chinadaily.com.cn


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