From West Hunan to Beijing, and from Beijing to New York, Tia Ray has been singing soul music for greater than a decade. For 10 years, Ray has been on the trail to worldwide fame, whereas working to deliver Chinese language music to the world. In her newest album, The Moon Can not Sleep, Ray showcases Chinese language soul music.
Ray hopes to introduce extra music from around the globe to China over the following decade. In an interview with Billboard China, she talked about her decade within the business, how she turned the primary soul musician in mainland China and her future plans for music.
Born and raised in Huaihua, West Hunan, about an hour’s drive from the traditional metropolis of Fenghuang (phoenix), Ray inherited the musical gene from her great-grandmother, who was Hmong. She likes singing, and was a daring youngster who loudly sang the Cantonese theme music of Nice Hero Huo Yuanjia on the streets. She can be a romantic woman who likes Hmong folks songs. The Hmong folks categorical their love by way of songs. The unrestrained, cheerful and candy music was her first impression of music.
At age 16, Ray got here to Beijing to review and noticed her classmate’s DVD of Michael Jackson’s world tour. That was her first contact with Western music, and she or he was shocked by how cool pop music could possibly be. That night time, she sat on the sphere and watched the DVD numerous occasions. As she seemed on the stars, a seed was planted in her coronary heart. She wished to study different music kinds and discover the world to see the locations that had nurtured such music.
That exploration ultimately led her to soul music. It was love at first “beat,” and her soul resonated with it. She fell in love with the music instinctively and it turned her most essential music type. On the finish of 2022, the story got here full-circle. Ray gave a efficiency on the New York MetaMoon Music Pageant. She had not solely come to Michael Jackson’s nation, however had, because the soul diva, additionally let the world hear her voice.
Hmong folks songs and soul music, homeland and the world — they might appear to be polar opposites. Nonetheless, in Ray’s view, they’re rooted in life, passionate and unrestrained, free just like the wind, and have lots in frequent.
Music has no nationwide boundaries, however musicians have a nationality. It was from her fourth album, As soon as Upon a Moon, that she started to mix her personal experiences, emotions and ideas with Chinese language options and Western singing type. She lastly created a singular Chinese language soul type and introduced its affect to the world stage.
Deciding on a Model and Liberating the Thoughts
After I first met Tia at a tea home close to the China World Commerce Heart in Beijing, she was dressed like a cool woman. She wore a shiny black short-down jacket and her hair was tied up in a excessive ponytail. Her black eyeliner and earrings have been particularly eye-catching. The blue cartoon sweater below her jacket, her shiny smile and her passionate solutions revealed her relaxed and assured nature.
She nonetheless remembers her first encounter with soul music. In a dwell home in Chaoyang Park, Cui Jian, the primary rock star in mainland China, was consuming downstairs. Tia ordered a glass of orange juice on the door when she out of the blue heard a loud voice coming from upstairs. A black girl with a wi-fi microphone walked as much as the stage whereas singing, and the musicians improvised the efficiency.
After the efficiency, Ray and a guitarist ran to the Hello-Fi store in Dongsi Alley in Beijing to seek out related CDs. There, they noticed the albums of well-liked Western feminine singers similar to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Additionally they discovered many imported CDs within the warehouse. Ray scrimped on meals and purchased a CD participant. Each weekend, she would go to Dongsi to purchase CDs, and this lasted for a number of years. She broke three CD gamers and listened to loads of music by musicians like Stevie Surprise and India.Arie who weren’t well-known in China at the moment. She nonetheless has a group of greater than 200 CDs.
“I was very lucky to have come into contact with these things and experience what feels like true love,” she says. The Western music led her to embark on the trail of soul music.
“I am a sentimental person. I am a girl from West Hunan who grew up eating chili peppers,” Ray says. “I yearn for freedom, and I pursue passion and things that allow me to imagine. The flexibility, openness, tension and diversity of soul music make me feel free.”
Ray fashioned a band along with her pals instantly, similar to how she couldn’t wait to get to a hairdresser and lower her hair when she wished a haircut. On the finish of 2007, she arrange the primary unique composition band, Soul Facet. The band introduced collectively many professionals. The drummer was Cui Jian’s drummer; well-known musician Chang Shilei was the second keyboard participant; Zhao Zhao, the music director of Sister Who Make Waves, was the primary keyboard participant; and Han Yang, the bass participant of Radio Mars, was the bass participant. They’ve been lecturers and pals on the street of music and have become Ray’s soulmates as she explored music. Throughout these years, Ray discovered from her bandmates, absorbing data like a sponge.
Later, Ray joined a second unique composition band ThaKnutZ, and she or he grew to have a deeper understanding of music with out borders. The drummer of ThaKnutZ had studied overseas in London, the bassist was from the Dominican Republic, and the keyboard participant was from Atlanta. In 2010, the band launched a CD. The expertise educated Ray in lots of abilities. She purchased her first pc and designed the CD’s cowl in Photoshop.
She nonetheless remembers a present at Jiangjinjiu. She had designed the poster and the tickets have been RMB 50 (about $7 U.S.) every. In the long run, they solely bought 12 tickets. She remembers clearly that she was carrying a black-and-white striped long-sleeve shirt, navy high-waisted denims and a pair of sneakers. She sang along with her hair unfastened behind her shoulders. The entire band felt that they owned the world.
In 2012, a much bigger alternative got here her manner. Ray turned a sensation on The Voice of China and got here below the highlight. She gained a wider viewers and a bigger market. Two years later, she launched her first solo album T.I.A and positioned herself as a neo-soul singer. From then on, she turned generally known as a soul music singer-songwriter.
Soul music is uncommon within the Chinese language pop music market. It’s certainly troublesome to turn out to be well-liked singing within the Western type. Zhang Yadong, a well-known producer, as soon as stated that Ray was too aggressive. Many individuals count on her to proceed singing contemporary and quiet folks songs like “A-Chu.”
Ray wavered as soon as. In 2017, on her first look on Singer, she sang “A-Chu” and was eradicated instantly. Fortuitously, she had an opportunity to return onstage. She now not tried to please the viewers, however selected what she was finest at — soul music. The music “Golden” gained the best rating given by the viewers within the historical past of the present.
“Don’t think about which is more popular, and don’t think about whether the audience will like it,” she says. “Instead, do what you love. We only have one lifetime. I want to be myself.”
Create Chinese language Soul Music
Her second album TIARA was recorded within the U.S. Ray traveled to the U.S. twice to ask producers of the Grammy Awards to supply her third album 1212. They appreciated her music as quickly as they heard it. Feeling accepted by the native tradition, she grew much more assured.
On the similar time, there have been some male R&B and soul musicians in China, similar to David Tao, Wang Leehom, Taiwanese singer Jay Chou and Fang Datong. However Ray was the one feminine soul musician at the moment. This gave her a way of mission, and she or he began to consider create soul music that actually belonged to her.
“I hope to bring Chinese soul music to the world, and show other countries that Chinese musicians can create soul music with Chinese characteristics,” Ray says.
This sense of mission has grown stronger since 2018. On the invitation of the Berklee Faculty of Music, Ray carried out overseas and realized the affect of her abroad affect for the primary time. Within the auditorium, one third of the viewers was Chinese language, and so they sang alongside along with her. When she stepped off the stage, many individuals instructed her that the majority the Chinese language college students auditioning to get into the college sang Love Can Fly. Ray was moved, and in addition turned conscious of the good accountability she had.
This accountability additionally appeared to have affected her music creation. She built-in the Chinese language flute, guzheng, and folks music into her compositions. Music critic Er Di commented that the comfortable music of the guzheng, the type of the tune, and the distinct Chinese language high quality within the lyrics “Vermilion street, the Bell Tower, the blue dragon and the white tiger…” within the music “On the Clouds” in Tia’s third album 1212 was the soul music of China.
In 2019, Ray introduced Chinese language soul music to the worldwide stage.
She was the primary Chinese language singer to be invited to sing on the Warner international headquarters summit assembly in Los Angeles. She sang an English music first, in order that the senior executives may perceive what she was singing. Then she requested what number of of them have been from Los Angeles. Just a few folks raised their fingers. “You must miss your home and family when you leave home to pursue your dreams,” she stated. “Next, I will tell you what my hometown looks like.” Then, she sang “A-Chu.” “This is a folk song, but it is my soul music. Chu means Hunan, which is where I was born.” Then, she sang one other Chinese language music, Love Can Fly, and was met with thunderous applause. The Warner World CEO instructed her that he wished to go to her hometown due to A-Chu.
Maybe that is the attraction of music. By means of easy scales and notes, we will cross geographical, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, join cultures in minutes, and create emotional resonance. Two years later, along with her fourth album, The Moon Can not Sleep, Ray ushered in a brand new period. In contrast with the direct presentation of Chinese language components in 1212, she built-in Chinese language components and soul music extra naturally, seamlessly stitching collectively ethereal singing and oriental options, and constructing a global angle that transcends nationwide boundaries and cultural variations between the East and the West.
The album was impressed by the moon. Ray used conventional oriental options such because the moon and butterflies to begin her creation. As a substitute of counting on worldwide musicians, she produced the album herself, and in addition did the copywriting, poster design, her personal styling, and different positive particulars, to create soul music that belonged totally to herself.
The singing type within the album matches the oriental attraction of the moon and the butterfly. It’s reserved, clear, and delicate. The melody of every music connects to the following, giving the album a way of wholeness. As for the singing type, Ray spent loads of time serious about pronounce the phrases. After the age of 30, “I don’t like singing loudly. It’s like I practiced ‘Iron Fist’ at the beginning, but now I want to practice ‘18 Dragon Subduing Palms’ or ‘Lightness Skill.”
The market response exceeded her expectations. The album gained her a number of nominations for the Golden Melody Awards, and obtained a excessive Douban (a Chinese language tradition on-line neighborhood) rating of 8 factors. Folks commented that she is “romantic, complicated, noble, languid, full of soul, and deadly attractive.”
The nice success of the Chinese language soul music album made Ray assume, “What do I want to do, what can I do, and what can I bring.”
At this stage, all music followers, no matter nationwide boundaries, are additionally her soulmates. “Music belongs to everyone,” she says. “There is no national boundary. It is a common language.”
Larger Alternatives within the Subsequent Decade
On the finish of final 12 months, on the New York MetaMoon Music Pageant, Ray as soon as once more soared to even higher heights on the worldwide stage.
This time she made satisfactory preparations. She instructed her agent from the start that she wished to seek out musicians. Her agent instructed her that it was too costly to deliver musicians in from China. She considered the music director of the Justin Bieber band she had labored with. She was somewhat frightened earlier than the decision, “He is so busy. Would he answer my call? Would he be willing to join the show?”
It labored out. The music director remembered serving to Ray to rearrange music and agreed to kind a band along with her. He helped her to lease a brief band, which included Bieber’s keyboard participant. Regardless that there have been solely 4 of them, the four-man band carried out as if it had 10 members.
On the stage, Ray discovered that there have been many Chinese language followers, however most of her viewers was American. The primary music she sang was her Chinese language soul piece, “On the Clouds.” She taught the viewers sing it and so they sang the music collectively.
Tia was full of feelings then and started to consider a much bigger query. “What music do we Chinese musicians want to create, what kind of music should we create, and what should we bring back to China?”
The previous decade marks Tia Ray’s self-recognition.
Wanting again, “it seems like time has passed in a blink of an eye, but I feel like I have walked for a long time. There were many twists and turns, but the significance is far-reaching. This is the decade that laid the foundation for my understanding. It allowed me to understand who I am, and allowed me to believe more in myself, so it is precious to me.”
Within the new decade, the artist hopes to introduce extra abroad music to China.
“People have always asked me the question about popular and unconventional music,” she says. “I think the world is actually led by the minority, but embraced by the public. The minority is responsible for development, and the public for dissemination. If everyone follows the popular style, how can music develop? From music styles, singing styles to artistic presentations, I hope they can be personalized, and they must be individualized to stand out.”
Ray is keen to be the pathfinder who explores and opens up lesser identified paths. She may also dig into her personal progress expertise and ideas, discover extra native music, and add it to her personal music. On the similar time, she hopes that music can embody extra subjects that present a caring for the world, for instance, environmental safety.
Apart from music, Ray hopes to do one thing completely different. “It is neither a brand, nor a production company,” she says. “It is definitely not a management company. I hope to build a ‘soulciety.’ It is a society with a soul, and I hope to build a larger world of music expression.”
She additionally plans to construct a digital accomplice TIVA within the metaverse. TIVA isn’t a singer, however a stylist. Ray and TIVA can collaboratebeyond the metaverse. “For example, when I sing, she can help me to design my outfit or the stage.”
The music setting can be altering. Brief movies and AI have impacted it, however Ray isn’t frightened. “On the contrary, heroes will emerge in troubled times. AI can compose, but I sing better,” she says. Actually, she has at all times embraced higher variety in her compositions. Similar to falling in love with soul music at first, then having her personal Chinese language soul music, and now the mixing of East and West, her music transcends nationwide boundaries.
Within the subsequent 10 years, she additionally hopes to have extra like-minded music companions, her music soulmates.
Her best reward over the previous decade has been her lecturers and pals. They’re her followers, pals, and soulmates. Lately, 10 years after the debut of Superb Timeless Trip, a live performance has been deliberate. Ray has ready a shock. She revealed there can be greater than 10 musicians taking part within the live performance, and she or he can be singing over 20 rearranged tracks. They’ve chosen to carry the live performance emulating a dwell home mannequin, permitting them to rise up shut with their followers. The format of the live performance can be based mostly on a solo live performance so that each positive element can be taken care of. She hopes that everybody could have a very good time and can depart behind the regrets they’ve about not assembly throughout the pandemic.
The last word which means of music, Ray says, is a seed that permits folks to really feel magnificence and power. Music has allowed her to know who she is and to really feel extra self-consistent. It has allowed her to seek out quite a few soulmates, let her be herself and dwell in everlasting romance. It has additionally allowed her to climb over mountains, journey the seas and cross nationwide boundaries, giving her wonderful energy.
Her 2022 journey ended when she returned to Beijing from New York after performing, after which returned from Beijing to West Hunan for the New 12 months. She got here again from the most important worldwide stage to the place music began for her. It was a journey throughout three fully completely different locations, however there was no sense of boundary or distance.
–Article by Xi Bu