“Folk singers are more like poets than singers,” Li Yahe, a music investor, once told China Youth Daily.
That quote perfectly describes Zhang Lei, the 34-year-old champion of the fourth “Voice of China” singing competition, which concluded on Oct 7.
Critics hailed Zhang’s triumph as a victory for folk singers. The Voice of China used to place great emphasis on singing skills and vocal techniques, which are not necessarily what folk singers are good at. “Folk songs are more about emotions and storytelling,” said Li.
Folk is one of the oldest musical genres. It dates back to ancient times, when people sang about their everyday lives and the society around them.
A powerful comeback
Folk music saw a revival in the Western world in the 1960s. During social upheaval, many young Westerners turned to the simple rhythms of folk. Pioneers included US singer Bob Dylan, whose songs protested contemporary social issues like the Vietnam War. Singers at that time used traditional folk instruments like the banjo, the upright bass, the mandolin and the piano.
In the late 1970s, folk music was introduced to Taiwan. The rise of singers like Lo Tayu (罗大佑) and Chyi Yu (齐豫) popularized folk music, particularly among young Chinese people.
At that time, folk tunes were based on simple song structures, with pleasant chord progression and pretty lyrics, just like during old times. But they were stripped of all politics and instead focused more on the dreams and sorrow of youth.
This continued to be the case when the folk “wave” rippled over to Chinese mainland in the 1990s.
Sadly, the trend didn’t last long in China. Folk gave way to pop in the late 1990s, when people started living more fast-paced lives. But that didn’t mean folk music had disappeared from the music world entirely.
“The drop in the popularity of folk songs is because the business mode of the music industry is outdated, not because of the music itself,” folk singer Song Ke once said.
He was right. Recent years have seen folk songs gaining popularity, with the emergence of singers like Li Jian and Song Dongye.
“The prevalence of the Internet has shocked the traditional profit model in music industry,” Lu Zhongqiang, manager of 13-Month, a music recording and publishing company (十三月唱片公司), told Tencent Entertainment.
“Indie music starts showing its strength when the production of mainstream music is declining,” he added.