Like no other city, Shanghai stands for the new China. With its skyline and international flair -- a remnant of colonial times -- Shanghai has become a model city for globalisation. It’s the centre of the Chinese business world. As well as of the entertainment industry. The shiny metropolis attracts Chinese and foreigners alike. One young Frenchman has already made his mark on the local showbiz scene.
Everyone is trying to make it in Shanghai -- China's business and showbusiness capital
His Chinese name is Dai Liang. His French name is Dantes. He sings his Chinese songs with a strong French accent. He has lived in Shanghai for eight years and dreams of becoming a Chinese rock star.
“The trigger was maybe Jean-Michel Jarre, a singer we have in France -- when I was 16 or 17 I would listen to his music and I always wanted to go to China -- this was a French guy who had brought back audible proof from there -- the sounds of Beijing, Chinese people talking -- all this amid his synthesiser sounds,” Dantes recalls.
18 years after Jean-Michel Jarre’s trip to China, Christophe Hisquin stood at Shanghai airport with a guitar in hand and a grant from the Chinese government to learn Chinese. He moved into a campus room. In the mornings, he would swot up on Chinese characters. In the afternoons he would set out to meet Chinese musicians.
Rock not sentimental pop
Later, he started performing in bars and produced his first CD: “In 2005, the first time I went to Beijing TV to CCTV 4 I was asked to sing a song, which praises China and when the TV bosses saw the lyrics they thought it was great but the problem was when I arrived with my music and my soundtrack I started singing in rock fashion like this”
“They said ‘it’s OK but on stage you have to move in a particular way, you have to look graceful’ they said, but I didn’t come to China to look graceful so I told them I wanted to sing it in rock fashion because that’s the way it sounds good to me, with electric guitar sounds. At first they didn’t want me -- I told them if I have to redo my song in Chinese pop style then I’ll go back to Shanghai and I won’t be part of your programme, so in the end they let me play.”
Singing sex and freedom
Rock music in China still has a rebellious touch. In the 1980s, the first Chinese rock stars started singing about freedom, sexuality and independence. Their texts were not overtly political but they are signs of an era when people dared broach societal taboos for the first time in decades.
“Yi Wu Suo You” -- “I have nothing” sang the rock pioneer Cui Jian, whose song became an anthem for a whole generation. The generation that, in 1989, stormed onto Tiananmen Square in Beijing, only to be crushed by the tanks.
Today’s young generation is not so much into rock music -- the mainstream is dominated by nostalgic pop hits. There is a small rock music scene in Beijing however with a steady following. CDs have to pass the censors before being put on the market. Dantes also has to have his lyrics checked. Last time, they passed.
Although his Chinese is not perfect, Dantes writes his own texts -- not only does he have an accent but he also expresses himself like a foreigner. This is what makes the Dai Liang/Dantes -- the French Chinese rock star -- unique.