What seems like eons ago, we sent the Lions of Puxi (Shanghai’s foremost and notorious reggae outfit) a set of interview questions… Unfortunately, they were a bit busy (fitting in things like opening for Diana King, being filmed for French TV and working on an album between keeping up their busy gig schedule), and we’ve only just got around to sharing their answers with you. We asked the band about their motivation, influences and the impact of living and playing reggae in China on their style and development. Here is what Gauthier and his Lions had to say:
What is it about reggae that turns you on?
Reggae is probably the first thing we all have in common in this band. 3 guys from Mauritius, 1 from china and 3 from France; but we all had, in our very different backgrounds and music studies, fallen in love with reggae. After going through many other kinds of music, different bands and different countries over the past 15 years, when we meet on stage, the universal language is still reggae. It gives us joy, freedom, allows us to express sadness and hope, and first of all: gives us a lot of fun!!
What prompted you to form a reggae band, here and now?
Again, we had this in our blood, but we also realized it would be fresh and new to do that in Shanghai because nobody was doing the kind of reggae we play: funky influences, rap bits, jazz choruses, and a good blend of sweet and spicy flavors.
The backgrounds and influences of the band-members are diverse, how has that affected your approach to playing reggae?
On the one hand, it can be hard to all be on the same page, because we all have different expectations and ideas, ways of feeling the music and playing it; but on the other hand, this gives us the opportunity to create a proper, unique sound that becomes our identity, where each single member is a key ingredient to the perfect recipe.
Equally, your choice of cover material includes a broad range of musical genres. Is any musical style off-limits to you? If so, why? If not, why not?!
We always talk of our musical desires and influences, and try to be as open minded as we can as for the choices of covers. We like to cover the good old reggae tunes from our teenage-hood (Bob Marley, UB40…), but never refuse to try and arrange a Pink Floyd or REM song… As long as we can make a song kinda “belong to us” and give it our color… as long as we please the audience and have fun while playing that song together, it doesn’t matter where it comes from or who wrote it, it’s a matter of good vibe.
Reggae lyrics have a strong tradition of political undertone, social criticism and the open promotion of cannabis use. How does being in China affect your ability or willingness to incorporate these topics into your work?
There are things you can say in some places, and things you have to keep as thoughts and not say… We also don’t really see the point exposing ourselves in terms of legal/illegal actions when it can be a source of misunderstanding.
We have so many more topics focus on in our songs such as Love, Nature, Music, Life, brotherhood and hope, travels, countries, women, Africa etc..
How does your own experience of living in China and Shanghai affect the music you write?
It is probably the secret magic touch to fun on stage, and to success.
We all met here and formed the band here in Shanghai, China so we owe a lot to this city and this country! It gave us the opportunity to create something new, that we would probably not have done the same way in any other country. This is it! Don’t ask me to explain. This is in the air, and in our blood.
Do you get a different reaction from predominantly western audiences and Chinese audiences, and how does that impact your performances?
Our menu is designed to please everybody, but also to bring people together… Western and Eastern audiences equally enjoy a reggae song sung in Chinese, or a good old rock ‘n’ roll classic tune turned into funky reggae…
Our goal is to keep our musical identity while gathering people, wherever they come from, around the same joy of dancing and feeling the vibe.
You are currently working on an album; can you give us any sneaky hints about that? Can we look forward to any new original material on it?
No, you can’t have any hints.
OK, there will be a couple of hits you already heard this year, and also some news stuff you won’t hear on stage before the release… 80 percent original songs and 20 percent covers… Sung in French, English and Chinese. (Editor’s note: The CD is now being released and the CD Release party is December 5th at Zhijiang Dream Factory.)
Some of you guys were in Swing Gum Dynasty, and we know you are all involved with different bands. What is the general feeling in the band about the Lions of Puxi?
Lions of Puxi is the main project for everybody. It’s always fun to have different bands on the side, in order to relax and change atmosphere… We all have a second band, sometimes three, four or more!! It is still a financial need and also a way to change our minds, but the main focus remains Lions of Puxi.
Can you describe the process by which you write and produce music? Who writes the lyrics and music?
Everybody is involved in the music writing and all of us bring ideas for rhythms, melodies and tempo. Gauthier and Gilbert write the lyrics. We work both ways: we write lyrics depending on the song already composed, or we compose the music to fit the lyrics we have. We can also jam and improvise on some random stuff… It is sometimes very groovy and surprising.
Which has been your best gig to date?
Probably opening for Diana King in Brown Sugar in May… But hold on, no! I remember the best gig; it was when Johnny our drummer broke his arm, so he was drumming all night with only one arm. That very same night, I lost my voice and had a high fever… but still, when on stage it went perfectly well. The energy given was very sincere, the show went great and a friend of ours even proposed his girlfriend on stage! They are getting married soon.
And the worst?
I don’t remember us playing a bad concert.
No, I’m kidding, bad concerts sometimes happen, when you don’t have time to do a proper sound check or when you have an inexperienced sound man. But it’s ok, experience makes us better… We learn from our mistakes.
The Lions of Puxi present their new CD with a show at the Zhijiang Dream Factory this Saturday, December 5th– check their site for details . We defy you to go along and not have a great time!