Academic journal article China: An International Journal

Yunnanese Sounds: Creativity and Alterity in the Dance and Music Scenes of Urban Yunnan

Academic journal article China: An International Journal

Yunnanese Sounds: Creativity and Alterity in the Dance and Music Scenes of Urban Yunnan

Article excerpt

This paper explores the vibrant dance and music scenes of urban Yunnan, providing insights into the multiplicity of musical expressions amongst Yunnanese youth--from rock and pop to hip-hop and dance. It discusses musical expression in Kunming, as well as in smaller cities and townships including Dali and Jinghong. Kunming is perhaps China's second rock-n-roll city after Being. The multiple meanings and associations of this musical expression are explored within the wider Chinese polity. In a changing China, music provides a site of creative negotiation where new identities can be forged.

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Night clubs, discos and punk venues are now a familiar part of the street scenery in China's cities and towns. This article explores the vibrant dance and music scenes of urban Yunnan. It touches on musical expression in Kunming, Yunnan's provincial capital, as well as smaller cities and townships including Dali and Jinghong. I provide some insight into the multiplicity of musical expression amongst Yunnanese youth (from rock to hip-hop and dance) and explore the diversity of this expression whilst providing some idea as to what inspires these young people. Yunnan is China's most demographically diverse province. According to Chinese official classification it is home to over 25 non-Han peoples. It is for this reason and for its stunning scenery that Yunnan is currently being promoted as an eco- and ethnic-tourist destination. Narratives of categorisation concerning locality (native place), ethnicity, gender and nationality are woven into the ethnography, which uncovers multiple, overlapping and complex subjectivities. This article should not be read as a straightforward comparison between the worlds of rock and disco in Yunnan but rather as an exploration of the transformative and creative expression of music and dance within ongoing processes of identity negotiation. Most music scenes in Yunnan contain (in both senses) sparks of rebellion. However, evidence is given here to explain that it is too simplistic to view any of them as necessarily antagonistic to the state's vision for China.

Yunnan's music and dance scenes can be read as embedded within dichotomous interstices and as such they are sites of great potentiality and creativity within and between tradition/innovation; global/local; rebellion/ compliance; Han/non-Han and so on. (1) I would argue that they also show the complexity of the relationship between creation and destruction and the deformation inherent in generative transformation. In this article, the situation in Yunnan is compared with other "hyper-syncretic"/"hybrid" musical expressions (2) such as the "British Asian/Desi" music scene and some of the many manifestations of the trans-global hip-hop community. (3) This is done to provide comparative evidence of the ways in which music and dance are used as "sonic tactics" to "carve out a space in contemporary China", that is to enable negotiation of shifting identities. (4)

The research for this article was carried out between 1997 and 2003. Throughout that time Kunming was home to a growing number of cafes, bars and discos. Many of these venues incorporated art galleries and played host to live bands and other performers. Music played at these night spots varied from soft pop, (6) Chinese rock and punk, to dance and techno, and later, hip-hop, garage and reggae (especially Bob Marley although dub reggae and dance hall were also enjoyed) and on occasion, drum'n'base and Desi/(post) Bhangra beats. (7) They all could be thought of as places of interface, where questions of foreignness and nationalism, centre and periphery, male and female, Han and "minority" were being played with, contested and negotiated. The British Desi music scene provides a vivid example of the vast creative potential enabled and enhanced through multicultural interaction within such places of interface. Many post-Bhangra bands have an anti-racist, anti-imperialist political stance which they articulate through their music. …

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