ChaCha takes China's underground music into the light
ChaCha is a self-taught lyricist and producer from Guizhou Province, China. As well as hosting her own trip hop and abstract hip hop night Karma Koma at The Shelter in Shanghai she regularly performs as a member of the Uprooted Sunshine Soundsystem. The last few years have seen her record and perform with a host of great international artists such as Clive Chin, Vibronics, Kode9, The Bug, Jimi Tenor, Disrupt (Jahtari), Mungo's HiFi, Jay Soul and Sunbiz to name but a few. Check for recent releases on UK's Hyperdub, Jamaica's Randy's Records and for forthcoming releases on Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound.
Chengdu Music: You’ve worked with some amazing artists. Which acts excited you the most to work with and which artists would you most like to work with in the future?
ChaCha: Yeah, the last few years because of The Shelter club in Shanghai I had more opportunities to record with some amazing artists from all over the world. But working with Dutch producer Jay.Soul aka The Groove Architect together as AM444 excited me the most. AM444 is my first personal project. We released our first album “Eye Wonder” in April this year. Jay is a fantastic producer and he knows how important it is to give a singer 100 percent respect and freedom. So I had a chance to write songs that are more close to the “real” ChaCha, show people my different singing styles. It was also a big challenge for me, not only musically but also how to arrange those tracks, think of an image for us, how to promote ourselves, prepare good live shows, make music videos and so on. We had lots of firsts during this project. That was lots of fun and pressure, but I feel this is the best way to grow up with my music. Me and Jay will continue to work together in the future. Apart from that, I want to work more with local Chinese musicians.
CM: Can you tell us a little bit about The Shelter and your Karma Koma nights? How long has it been going and what type of crowds do you generally attract? What’s your take on The Shelter’s role in the Chinese underground community and the importance of venues like this all around China.
ChaCha:The Shelter opened at the end of 2007, run by Shanghai legendary hip hop DJ V-Nutz (LAB) aka Gary and British DJ Drunk Monk (Uprooted Sunshine/Sub-Culture) aka Gaz. They focus on underground and quality music, work with local independent party promoters and bring international and local talents to play every weekend. Wednesdays have classic funk soul parties, Thursdays have trip hop, experimental music, IDM and local producers’ live shows, Fridays have hip hop and reggae parties and Saturdays have techno electro drum and bass and more dance music parties. My Karma Koma party was on the first Thursday every month from 2007 to 2009, focusing on trip hop, experimental hip hop, abstract hip hop, downbeat and IDM. We find and introduce local Chinese musicians. Now Karma Koma is not a regular party any more -- I’m too busy on my work and recordings and don't really have enough time to do it -- but from this summer, Karma Koma will be back at Shelter on some Thursdays.
Compared to commercial music, the underground music scene is small everywhere, especially in China. We only have a tiny percentage of people into this kind of music. Without mainstream press support people hardly get any information about it. As an underground music fan, I don't think I want to go to any random clubs to listen to their badly remixed Jay Zhou house music from their non-bass speakers. The Shelter is unique; this is a space really for people in love with quality music. This is a space for young Chinese kids to get involved with real sub-culture. This is a space for musicians to share their music and skills. And also a space for music fans to have real fun together. I hope we will have more places like The Shelter in China.
CM: You recently toured China with Clive Chin and the Uprooted Sunshine Soundsystem. How did the tour go and how was the touring schedule? How well received were the shows?
ChaCha:Last October I toured nine cities in China with Clive, Selector Twice and Uprooted Sunshine for a total of 14 days [including an appearance at the Hemp House in Chengdu]. We also did a picture exhibition in Shanghai and Beijing. This tour has been totally successful, every venue
went bananas. We met lots of friends and reggae fans and also met up with local reggae party promoters and musicians. What remarkable memories! During the tour we got lots of phone calls from Changsha, Yunnan, Guizhou, Macao etcetera. They want us to add their cities to our tour. They were so excited to hear that we were touring, but we can't go to all the places. That’s a big shame, but in the future, we will tour with our new music to more cities for sure.
CM: We’d like to talk a little about your new collaboration with Jay Soul Am444. The album “Eye Wonder” is great, by the way. What is the setup? Does Jay produce and you do the vocals or do you both do a bit of each? What's your songwriting process like?
ChaCha:Ha, thanks. I’m happy to know that you like it. Jay gave me almost 50 beats that he produced before, so I can pick up some that I like to record. So I chose eight tracks from it, made melodies, wrote lyrics and recorded in my bedroom studio. Then I give the acappella to Jay and he mastered it. This is basically how we work together. When we are doing the live show, I sing with a backing vocal and Jay plays guitar, bass, keyboard and turntables.
CM: Can you tell us a little about how you go about promoting yourselves and the new album? Is there a special audience you want to reach in China?
ChaCha:I have no idea how to promote myself, really! And I don't really care that much. If I put a sexy picture online I can get 10 times more clicks on my page but it seems nobody really gives a shit about my music. Some people might think that’s a good way to promote but I don't
need that. I don't need random people to listen to my music, and I don't need a big fan group. I do music because I love music, and I have lots fun when I’m doing it, so that’s enough for me. I don't want to be busy working online to make people like me. If they like this kind of music, they will find me. If they find my music by themselves and they like it, it will make me really happy.
CM: Can you tell us a little about how you came to be working with Kode9? Do you have any future tours planned and how does it feel to know your tracks receive airplay all around the world?
ChaCha:We have a group called Sub-Culture in Shanghai, doing good bass music parties at Shelter. Gaz is a big fan of Kode9, so we booked him to play at Shelter with us two times. So we went to studio together in Shanghai twice, in 2009 and 2010. When the first time we went to the studio with Kode9, I didn’t even know him, I didn’t know how big he is and I didn’t know how amazing it was that I can record with him. In 2009 I recorded double vocals on Kode9 and MC Spaceape's early track “Time Partrol”. It was on BBC Radio 1. Then in 2010 I recorded some tracks for their new album “Black Sun”, and in the end Kode9 put me on four tracks of it. It was on the radio again, and I was also in the comics of the album. We plan to book Kode9 and MC Spaceape together late this year, so we will do the album tracks live. But MC Spaceape's health is not good at the moment, so we can't confirm anything now. But I’m looking forward to singing on the
same stage with them. That will be amazing. Lots of people from different places have told me that they heard my voice on the radio show. But I haven't even heard it once. I feel happy for sure, but I hope more people are interested in Chinese underground music. ChaCha is not the only one in China. We have a lot more talented musicians here!
CM: Tell us about the forthcoming releases on Adrian Sherwood’s legendary On-U Sound.
ChaCha:This year is On-U Sound’s 30th year. It is a real legendary music label. Adrian wants to put out a compilation album with different female vocalists from all over the world to celebrate. Adrian played at Shelter two years ago. He was already starting to plan it, so he gave me almost 100 very rare riddims. I recorded two of them and sent them to him. He likes them very much. So those two tracks will be all in the compilation, but I don't know when he’s going to release it.
CM: Any major influences musically? How do you write your lyrics and who influences your lyrical style?
ChaCha:Bjork, Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky, and DJ Krush have definitely influenced me a lot and they are still my favorite artists. Writing lyrics is a very abstract thing. It depends on the weather, the mood, the music etcetera. I used to listen to Hong Kong pop music when I was younger, but I haven’t listened to that for 15 years. Most music that I listen to now is all from different countries and nearly all of them I don't know what they are singing about, so I didn't get any lyrical influences. Maybe it’s a good thing. Writing lyrics is not an easy thing; it also needs a lot of practice. I’m still trying to learn more about it.
CM: Who’s your favorite reggae producer and what’s on the stereo at home?
ChaCha:I love lots of reggae producers but I’m terrible at remembering names. Now I only can think of King Tubby and Vibronics for you. Sorry about that. Lately I’ve been listening to some Sly & Robbie riddims. It’s for a new project I’m working on with them.
CM: What does the future hold for Cha Cha?
ChaCha:This year and next year I will record more music and work with Sly & Robbie. Pinch and RSD are all on the planning list and some of the work I’ve already started. Also AM444 will do more live shows at least in Asia, but we want to tour in China first. We will come to Chengdu for sure. We
will record more songs together and maybe get ready for our next album. Another big thing for me is to work more with local Chinese musicians. I’m working with Guangzhou beatmaker Along (阿龙). He used to make beats for Guangzhou hip hop group Dumdue (噔哚/精气神) but now he has his new team called 44 (肆拾肆). Along and me already have three demos , so hopefully we can do some more stuff and release something at the end of this year. Also, I’m running a Chinese website called louder.cn to introduce local musicians, do good artist interviews and list good events. Now we kind of concentrate on the Shanghai scene but we will make it bigger in the future.
'Eye Wonder' the debut album from AM444 is out now. Check it out here www.am444.com
ChaCha's douban & soundcloud pages : http://site.douban.com/chacha http://soundcloud.com/chachachina
Uprooted Sunshine: http://www.douban.com/artist/uprooted/