Music is either about love or about freedom, or about both. This album is about the second. A Letter From China is fearless, is innocent and is brave. I didn’t think it was possible to be these three things at the same time but these three attitudes are the heart of this record.
Music can be used for many things, and punk is known for being a tool to deliver the frustrated voice of those oppresed by society, this is not an easy mission to accomplish in these lands, but SMZB can stand up victorious and proud because their spirit has not decline even though punk has lost a lot of power around the world and in China they haven’t. SMZB has even become sharper and more politically committed, a rare turn giving that most of the few bands from China that used to have a strong opinion of society have turned their attention to more mundane issues.
A Letter From China begins with a song for Chen Huaimin, the grandfather of their guitarist Xu Bi, Chen Huaimin is a Chinese hero who was a pilot during the war against Japan, he died crashing his plane against a Japanese fighter, and SMZB honors his memory offering this song to be sung around the world. This song about honor and pride establishes a very particular mood for the following songs that will speak about and against corruption, consumerism, manipulation, hypocresy, about the silent mass, and the government too. That first song makes the difference, without it the album would be from unhappy haters, but with it the message in A Letter From China is stronger. It’s not just to unload frustration but to yell that it might not be easy to be Chinese and politically and socially aware but it’s possible.
SMZB’s bagpipes became their music’s signature since some years ago, and then a couple of years ago a violin joined the formation, and now the new addition in A Letter From China is the banjo. Their melodies are cleaner and better produced but the structure of their songs still is simply punk, so along the album the songs flow quickly from one to the next one with few variations leaving the center spot to the intention behind the lyrics of each song.
The album comes with a all the lyrics of the songs in English and Chinese on a panflet that shows on the other side a collage of photos from Tiananmen and the text 1989-2014 25th Anniversary.
SMZB stands for Sheng Ming Zhi Bing (The bread of life), their story is big part of the history of punk in China, they are the longest living punk band active in the Republic. Wuwei, the leader of the band is a hero of punk music, as it is also Zhuning who was Wuwei’s partner in crime when they created SMZB. Zhu Ming was the original drummer of the band, and soon after the founder of Vox Livehouse. SMZB’s town is Wuhan, a city that has produced many of the bands that have shaped music in China. A Letter From China is their eight album, it was officially released on September of 2014 under Maybe Mars label. You can get the album at any of the concerts of SMZB. This Saturday their tour is bringing them to Shanghai’s YuyinTang.