We all cherish the chance to perform as a team and to try a new artistic form. We’ve just got to keep improving and creating good music, otherwise we’ll lose our appeal. -- Zhong Bao
Opinions within music circles are divided on whether it’s good or not to modify traditional instrumental music with modern methods, or whether play popular music with Chinese instruments. -- Wang Xiaojing
Twelve Girls Band – 女子十二樂坊. Think The Corrs, only there are more of them and they play on traditional Chinese instruments, add a pinch of Secret Garden and Yanni, a little of Vangelis thrown in for good measure, and you are somewhere near to the sound of Twelve Girls Band.
Drawn from the leading music academies and conservatories in China, Twelve Girls Band are 13 Chinese girls, 12 play on stage with one held in reserve.
Twelve Girls Band play an eclectic fusion of traditional Chinese music mixed with modern pop, rock and jazz.
The girls are multi-talented and each can play more than one instrument – the gu zheng (ancient zither with movable bridges and 16-25 strings), pipa (four-stringed lute with pear shaped body), yang qin (Chinese hammered dulcimer with a near-square soundboard), erhu (two stringed Chinese violin) and dizi (bamboo flute) plus other traditional instruments.
On stage for live performances they are backed by a rock group and an orchestra.
As an elderly gentleman said after a performance at the Shenzhen Grand Theatre: 'They are talented. They interpret Chinese music with a groove, and play foreign songs with a strong Chinese flavor.'
As the Twelve Girls Band demonstrate every time they perform, traditional Chinese instruments can also be used for techno and rock.
The girls are especially popular in Japan, where 1.5 million CDs of their first album Miracle were sold in 6 months. A first for a Chinese album in a foreign country.
The 12 young musicians were selected for the band from top students at the Central Conservatory of Music in 2001. Since then, they have performed extensively in China and other countries, including a US tour.
The Twelve Girls Band had a sell-out tour in Japan – 32 arenas sold out within 10 minutes!
Their Japanese succcess was repeated with their 2004 tour of the US. To tie in with the tour Eastern Energy was released as their debut US album. It reached 62 in the charts, the highest ever position for an Asian release, No 1 in the World Music charts.
In Japan, the band’s debut album Beautiful Energy remained at the top of the charts for 30 weeks and sold more than 2 million copies. Their follow-up album Shining Energy went platinum within a couple of months. A Japanese DVD of the Twelve Girls Band live in concert sold over 200,000 copies. They were named International Artist of the Year at the 2004 Japan Golden Disc Award ceremonies.
Twelve is an important figure in Chinese numerology. There are twelve months in a year, twelve jinchai (or golden hairpins, representing womanhood) in ancient Chinese mythology. When producer Xiaojing Wang, known as the father of Chinese rock music, had the idea for an all female ensemble, he knew it had to have twelve members.
The Twelve Girls Band have returned to the art of Yue Fang, the female ensembles that played in the royal courts of the Tang Dynasty, centuries ago.
Their music is a mix of Chinese and western music, with a Celtic theme featuring strongly. Varying from the compositions of Chinese composer/arranger Jianfeng Liang, to cover versions of Coldplay’s 'Clocks', Enya’s 'Only Time' and 'Reel Around The Sun' from the Irish Riverdance.
Albums to date include: Beautiful Energy, Miracle Live, Eastern Energy and Shining Energy.
An absolute must is Shining Energy, a live concert on DVD.
The Twelve Girls Band is a girl band, but a girl band with a difference – they have talent. Their phenomenal success, in China they appeal to young and old alike, has led to an explosion of girl bands in China.
One of these female ensembles is the seven-member, classically-trained Classical & Trendy – five violinists and two flautists.
Classical & Trendy weave into their music synthesisers, vocal samples and world music.
One of the founders of Classical & Trendy, violinist Li Peng, Manager of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra explained this new fusion in music:
I have been with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra for decades. I love classical music. But I don't think we are doing it well. People are reluctant to come to the theatre for our performances. I believe it is because of their fast-paced lifestyles. The orchestra is too classical to fit into their life.
A view shared by flautist Zhao Xiaoxiao, a graduate from the Central Academy of Music:
All seven of us are really open-minded to all kinds of music. The concept of Classical & Trendy is about breaking down barriers.
Twelve Girls Band and Classical & Trendy are following a pop cum classical trend already seen in the West with groups like Mediaeval Baebes.