The Chinese Kate Bush?
The Mongolian Bjork?
As Chinese music strives to win auds outside of Greater China, a new voice — that of 25-year-old Sa Dingding — aims to bridge the cultural chasm.
Sa, who was raised a nomad with sheep and cows in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, was signed to Universal Music in 2007. Her album “Alive” — or “The Life of 10,000 Things” as it is known in China — has sold 2 million legitimate copies there and untold more pirated editions.
Now she has her sights set firmly on the West, with showcase events in the U.S. over the past month and fest appearances like the just-concluded World of Music and Dance (WOMAD) in the U.K. She also collaborated with French producer Deep Forest to produce a song for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake.
Since winning a BBC3 World Music Award in April, Sa — who sings in a combination of Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan and her own invented language — has been touring tirelessly to promote her blend of electronica, Chinese singing and Buddhist chants.
And she continues to draw from diverse influences.
“I listen to a lot of Western musicians, because they are not afraid to show their individuality. They express themselves openly and publicly, particularly contemporary Western music. But I also like Asian music for its subtlety,” she says.
Sa, who is prepping a new album that she hopes to release at the end of the year, faced controversy when earlier this year she said she supported Beijing’s policy on Tibet following the crackdown on anti-Chinese protests in the Himalayan enclave.
But she remains a fan of Icelandic warbler Bjork, who angered the Chinese government by singing pro-Tibetan independence lyrics during a show in Shanghai, shortly before the riots in Lhasa.
“I like Bjork’s music very much. I think that when a new concept emerges, people will make comparisons with something already out there, and I’m OK with that. The most important thing is that as time passes, people see Sa Dingding’s performances, then they can understand Sa Dingding’s music better.
“This process takes time,” she says.