Zhao “Lao Da” Yiran: Live in 1988 but still relevant in 2010
Roaming around the music scene in Beijing, I have encountered more than my fair share of characters, none of which is as fascinating and puzzling as the guy we affectionately call Lao Da over at 2 Kolegas.
I’ve spent many a night sitting outside right next to the guy without having the slightest clue as to what he really did, because that just nevers matters on that side of liangmaqiao. Every so often, Lao Da would grab a guitar drunk and start strumming a few chords, humming along with a raspy voice that’s a cross between tom waits and nick cave, entertaining the drunken Ningxia crew.
Then, the time was right, years after the fact for Lao Da to release his album, 活在1988 南門空間現場, and for the Ningxia family to celebrate. 2 sheeps were roasted and the friends showed up! 2 Kolegas was cleaned up with Flowers on stage, lights, clean chairs and what not. I remember walking into the show with Ruby and SQ, along with some musicians. Now, musicians don’t usually pay a ticket to get into 2 Kolegas but on that night, they ALL insisted to pay their RMB 100 cover.
As we stood in the back of the room, I was amazed at the power this old man was exerting over this 300+ audience, taking them on a musical trip through Chinese classics he had reworked in his unique style.
After a 2 hour+ set, he finally got some rest and let others come up for a jam session but he wouldn’t be denied and came back for more, this time as a drummer. See, Lao Da loves the drums and it shows as he’s banging on them… that was one of the most musically entertaining evenings in Beijing this year.
A couple of weeks have gone by and I’ve had time to do some research as well as listen to that live CD he released. The guy is a freaking legend that’s been around for years despite the apparent lack of records to his name. He’s a drummer, a poet, a charlatan, a troubadour and much more that amuses the audiences…. and he does it all so freaking well! I’m not sure if any of the songs on the CD are originals… so far I’ve recognized a couple of Theresa Teng titles, some Xinjiang songs etc… His cover of 我是不是你最疼愛的人 brings a smile to my face, reminding me of good old Beijing Rob who used to perform it at his open mike appearances. Granted, their respective styles are so different it’s not even possible to compare.
In the CD much like in real life, Lao Da toys with the audience, talking to them and asking for permission for a break to have a smoke amongst others.. I don’t know why but his tone of voice just gets me hooked! I’m glad the record is out and I’m even gladder I bought it despite the hefty price tag of RMB100. It’s been taken for plenty of spins over the past few weeks.
From what I’ve seen so far, Lao Da is looking more and more like the bastard love child of Joan Baez and Woody Guthrie , someone who’s making a living singing and interpreting other people’s songs in ways they never though of, turning mundane romantic songs or Folk ditties into painfully beautiful tales of passion, albeit raspy cigarette-flavored bluesy ones!
Check out some of his songs on Douban, the guy’s voice is unique if you’re into that kind of music: