A Canadian in Beijing: First Official Concert in China

I am happy to reprt that my first official concert here in Beijing was a complete success. By “first official concert,” I mean the first “Ember Swift” show in Beijing and not a show that is part of another event or a performance that is supporting another artist or band. This concert took place on May 23rd @ Yu Gong Yi Shan ???????? and it felt like a historical moment for my career.

I had nine weeks to gather enough contacts, friends, supporters and fans and I am thrilled to say that the people came. I did an email and a text call-out in both Chinese and English (the Chinese took me some time and some help, but it was nearly error-free!) and the crowd was a mixture of people I have met in the women’s community, the music community, the student community and this city in general. I felt loved and supported.

Thanks everyone!

When I arrived, the sound tech was already there and we did a leisurely sound check that stretched into almost an hour. I practiced some songs while they worked on their recording gear. It was wonderful to play through a professional P.A. again and I casually ran through a variety of my material and enjoyed the full sound.

I had advertised the show at nine o’clock, but of course the times were extended and I didn’t go on stage until after ten. Still, everyone was patient and the opening act warmed the room up with some folk and traditional singing from China’s northern regions.

I was particularly touched that a large number of my classmates came to the show. Our “Ban Zhang 班长” (or class president – the equivalent term in North America) planned the outing that included a big group dinner and then a trip downtown for my show. Since I live in Wudaokou and most of my class does as well, this is a long journey for everyone and requires some organization. Getting home after the subway stops running (which is quite early, i.e. before eleven o’clock at night) also requires paying for a taxi or hiring a large vehicle and I was moved that so much organization went into attending my performance. In a class of twenty-one students, twelve came and I think that’s incredible.

Otherwise, two different music producers were in attendance as well as a local music label manager, a tour promoter (or agent), a local filmmaker with her camera as well as some friends I had casually met at various functions, both ex-pat and Chinese alike. It was a great mix of people and I felt so happy to see the crowd growing in numbers right up until I took to the stage and even during the first half of my performance.

The show began with me welcoming the crowd and introducing myself in Chinese. Then, I told the audience in Chinese that “I am here, you are there and it’s lonely over here!” That was my way of saying “come closer” and they laughed at my roundabout Chinese and got the picture. Everyone gathered closer to the stage and cheered me on before I had even begun.

I managed to continue the whole show in Chinese, as well, and felt incredibly proud of myself for not slipping into English, which would have been so easy to do considering the diversity of cultures present. Despite the fact that many people know English, Chinese is the standard here and I really wanted to respect that. At one point, I had to resort to my notes and I read an introduction rather than reciting it by memory.

My fluency is not there yet and I stumble and pause a lot when I speak, which actually makes it really hard to understand me. I lose the rhythm of the language when this happens and I find that I have to attach my words more quickly to be understood. In this way, Chinese is like music; without the rhythm, the melody has no meaning! Reading the introduction made a big difference and they were great about it. I think the point is that I am trying. I can only hope that I’m getting better, but I must be. Every day is a struggle and every day I learn something more. Three months in not enough time for fluency, but it’s a start.

During the Chinese song that I’ve learned (the very famous “Yue Liang Dai Biao Wode Xin 月亮代表我的心“) I asked the audience to sing with me and the whole place raised their voices. It was a beautiful moment and I extended the song just to hear the crowd sing the chorus one more time.

When the show ended, I was told right away that I had sold out of CDs and DVDs long before I had finished performing. I had only brought as many as would fit in my bag and so I am hoping that people will come to my June shows if they are interested in buying some music. Otherwise, the cost of purchasing the CDs over the Internet is way too high in comparison to the currency here and so I don’t imagine that anyone will place an overseas order. I’m selling them for only fifty kuai (about $7.00 Canadian), which only barely covers my base costs (i.e. manufacturing and recording costs). I figured that since brand new CDs are thirty kuai in the stores, selling them for any more would be really tough to do. All in all, no one has balked at the fifty kuai price tag. I suppose they are used to expensive overseas products and my CDs are relatively cheap compared to what I’ve seen at other shows.

The night was a great success. I felt the beginnings of a fan base here in China and I can only hope that this will grow into June. When I return to this country with my band next year, at least I’ll have a foundation in Beijing and that’s a great starting place.

I waved goodbye to everyone at the door as they filed out. Finally, I felt complete here in China; combining both my love for this language and culture and my love for music and performing. Here was a chance to show people my full spectrum and I felt welcomed with open ears.

(This last picture shows me and the Ban Zhang whose Chinese name is “Zheng Xiao Zhe 郑晓哲.” He is a super kind man from Korea who provided most of these pictures, as well, so thank you so much for letting me use them!)