Bill Clinton once described music as “a powerful unifying force in our world” and a new rock star from restive Xinjiang might prove the point.
Who is he?
Born in Urumqi in 1982, Perhat Khaliq’s fascination with music began as a six year-old when he was given a broken guitar with two strings. But he didn’t start performing professionally until he left the Xinjiang Art Institute, where he had studied painting. Over the next 13 years Perhat performed in Xinjiang’s pubs, forming the rock band Sour Milk and begnning to attract a growing following in the autonomous region.
Why is he in the news?
Perhat made a rare appearance beyond his Xinjiang base this month on The Voice of China, a singing show that first aired in 2012 (see WiC162).
Perhat is a Uighur – the ethnic group from Xinjiang that sometimes resorts to violence against Han Chinese. He thus caused a surprise when he sang How Can You Let Me Be So Sad, a break-up song in Mandarin. Strumming a guitar, he started in almost spoken-word register and slowly escalated into a rock performance. His reminiscences of loss and longing – his parents and brother have passed away – soon had two of the three judges in tears and the video of his performance is still causing a buzz in China’s social media.
Nevertheless the Chinese press was soon describing Perhat as the “most controversial singer” to appear on The Voice, with a style that you either love (because of the passion) or hate (because of his disregard for traditional melody and perfect pitch). Some of the reviewers compared Perhat’s style to Bob Dylan, insisting that he’s a better singer than some of the judges (including Wang Feng, who is dating actress Zhang Ziyi, see WiC216 for more). His fans, especially those from Xinjiang, will be happy to see a pub singer hit the big time. And although some might wonder if there are propaganda motives behind giving a Mandarin-singing Uighur national exposure, others have noted that Perhat isn’t obviously affiliated with any government organisations.
Likewise it appears that Perhat isn’t too fussed about winning the singing contest. In fact, he has said that he might even have to skip the finals of the competition as he plans to take his band to a music festival in Germany next month.
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