I was at the last day of the Zhajiang Dream Factory mini-festival this past Friday night. This was the third year of this new and hopeful tradition here in Shanghai, an event that attempts to cross the cultures of Germany and China under the catchy, if sinister sounding, heading of “German Tunes for Chinese Ears.” The first two days of this burlesque carnival were given to the heavy metal and punk genres while the last day was saved for some multilingual indie pop. From Hamburg, Germany, Kira headlined the show gracefully with her tightly knit band and played some fantastic numbers from their new EP Deine Insel.
Before the show, vocalist and guitarist Kira (otherwise known as Janine Scholz) and I sat down in the plush lounge of the Dream Factory and had a chat.
“I first picked up a guitar when I was 16-years-old,” Kira tells me with a smile. “At that moment, I knew that I was going to be a star.”
The guitar was not Kira’s first venture into music. She began playing violin when she was 10-years-old and kept that up for six years, but it was the guitar that really grabbed her. Kira ended up dropping out of school in the twelfth grade and started writing songs. After some false starts, she was happily introduced to the founder of England-based label Grönland, Herbert Grönemeyer, who signed her to the label in 2002.
“For me, there has been no ‘one’ highlight to my music career,” she says smiling with her sweet perfume hanging in the air between us. “It’s always been the next show, the next song. Always the next.”
Kira’s first album Inauswendig was released in October of 2004 and she followed this up with another album, Goldfisch, in April of 2006. Her most recent release is her EP. The songs on the album and the sounds on the stage are composed of frontwoman Kira, keyboardist and producer Michael Hagel, guitarist Dirk Häfner, drummer Alexander Jezdinsky and bassist Ben Schadow.
Although Kira speaks English, she has chosen to write her songs in her native language.
“The audience might not understand one word, not a word, but I can truly express myself in my own language. At first, I wrote some songs in English because I knew that if I wanted to be [internationally] successful, then I’d have to, but I don’t want to be successful. There’s nothing special about my music. I sing about things that are common to everyone. Things from every day life.” She smiles and adds, “Most of my songs are about love.”
Kira hopes to release a new LP in the Spring of 2010.
This was her first time in Shanghai, but she has been to China on several occasions and she showed her knowledge of this country by writing a song and singing it in Chinese with the chorus of “I belong to you.” The crowd at the Dream Factory loved it and her as they swayed and danced.
Shanghai favorites, The Honeys, composed of vocalist and guitarist Yu Tian, guitarist Wang Zhe, bassist Dai Zhe and drummer He Zhen Hao, opened the Friday night show with their special blend of harmony and driving rhythms that are well-executed and, at times, almost epic. The Honeys were recently named The Best Domestic Band, and for good reason, but, apparently, the band itself was not too concerned.
“We [The Honeys] didn’t go to the award show,” frontman Yu Tian and drummer He Hao tell me. Apparently, the entire band was not invited to the award ceremony so the band decided not to go at all. “At first, we didn’t even know about the award and then we didn’t really care.”
For The Honeys, it’s not the acclaim but the audience that they care about. A number of the people that turned out for the Dream Factory show were certainly there to see this Shanghai favorite and, in return, The Honeys gave them the energy-infused music that they love.
“We try to avoid mainstream music, which is full of love songs, and to give the people more meaningful lyrics,” says Yu Tian. “Our music is more about human beings, about peace, about life in general. We hope to see a big change in the music in China. We want the music to be more meaningful, not so sweet.”
The Honeys have been together since 1997 and were the second Shanghainese band to release an album and the first band from Shanghai to be featured on a Shanghainese label. The list of their accomplishments and gigs is a long one including shows in the US at the famous Whiskey-A-Go-Go.
Their blend of pop and rock is tantalizing in English and Chinese and, at this show, they gave the audience a treat of their popular and catchy song “Yi Jiang Nan” and the rocking “Hello Bomb.”
Following The Honeys was Shanghai-based artist and social activist Zhong Chi with her bandmates guitarist Zhang Wei, bassist Chen Qi, keyboardist Jiayang Yixi and drummer Chen Song. This band has been making an impact on the music scene since the release of Easy World in December of 2007.
Zhong Chi’s music gives us not just great tunes, but a message.
“We’re all equal,” Zhong Chi tells me and it seems like such a simple message albeit an important one. “Most people don’t know what’s going on with the environment, pollution…I write lyrics about things like that.”
Zhong Chi grew up in Denmark and began getting interested in music when she was eighteen and met musician Jiayang Yixi who she collaborated with and has been playing with ever since. She has a strong presence on stage and this relatively young band is certainly an up-and-comer. This band’s music is lyrically driven and Zhong Chi’s steady and strong voice give her song’s stories the solid foundation to push the listener beyond listening and into thinking.
“Songs and language can give back,” Zhong Chi believes. “They let us speak out about what we think is important.”
If you missed the shows at the Dream Factory this year, then shame on you. Thankfully though, the movement will return next year for the 4th Annual German Music for Chinese Ears.
For more information on the bands visit www.kira-net.com for Kira, www.TianmiDeHaizi.com for The Honeys and www.zhongchimusic.com for Zhong Chi. You can also hear a bit of their music on their myspace pages at myspace.com/kiramusic, myspace.com/tianmidehaizi, myspace.cn/zhongchi.