Music for AIDS Awareness and Beijing’s Musicians Coming Together: 10 Questions with William Gray
One could argue that music/concerts have been one of the better publicized ways of draw attention or fundraising for a certain issue! Live Aid, Farm Aid etc… We’ve had concerts in Beijing held to raise money for the victims of various natural disasters so it nothing new. What’s new though is the approach one man has taken in the lead up to World’s AIDS day:
William Gray has joined hands with P.T.E to put together a compilation of songs donated by Beijing based bands hoping to bring more awareness to the issue. Read what he’s got to say about PTE, himself, the bands and get ready to come out to the CD launch next week:
1- Who is Will Gray? This is you chance to plug your stuff
I am a local foreigner (as apposed to expat) who’s lived in Beijing for 2 years, and a Year in Taiwan before that. I arrived in Beijing on the last day of the Olympics and my first objective was to get involved in the community, and to learn a little about some of the challenges of my new environment. I always felt that it wasn’t enough to just live in a place, I needed to be active and learn what was important to the local population . You cant do that from eating in Subway, and sitting in SanLiTun bars drinking QingDao Beer…
2- What’s the AIDS CD and how did it all come together?
I think making mix tapes was always an obsession of mine, right back to the day where i would record from the Radio onto cassette, and right from an early age children from Church of England Schools (like the one i went too) were/are encouraged to get involved in Charity. I grew up listening to people like Bono (U2) and Bob Geldoff using music as a voice for social change so I kind of melted together their influence and my mix-tape culture. My teenage years were spent living right next to (and attending) Glastonbury festival, and I think although in recent years there is a much greater commercial drive to it, the point of Glastonbury is that the profits from the event all go to WaterAid, GreenPeace and a host of other local charities. Its a perfect mix…. music and humanity.
3- Why P.T.E as opposed to the other charities?
I have to thank the Beijinger.com for that one as most “fresh of the boat” foreigners first port-of-call. After 2 weeks of being here I answered an Ad on there from Prevention Through Education (P.T.E) to help with website design. Although there was an element of randomness about our initial co-operation, I was so engaged by what both Carl (Deputy Director) and Gabe (Founder) were trying to achieve, and their knowledge of the HIV/AIDs issue here i was compelled to try to help them more. I think in someways its healthier to be actively involved in a field that your not emotionally attached too. If you had asked me 2 years ago what kind of volunteering I would like to do I imagine that I would have suggested British Heart Foundation, or something like that considering both my grandfathers suffered severe heart problems. Volunteering is a way of being involved in something that could easily pass you by… that is until you met someone who was effected by that cause, and then you might question why you didn’t do it sooner.
4- It’s an interesting lineup of musicians you managed to get there. How were they selected? did they volunteer?
I’ve been playing in bands since I was 16 years old, and I always have a healthy quoter of musical friends around. Last year I was working with Beijing producer Martin Rawlins on a solo project, and when this idea for the CD came up he was someone i consulted on it as his connections with musicians were greater than mine. He went on to master the CD, and between us we probably gathered 50% of the artists each. Its been a an incredibly short period of time that this has come to fruition. I regularly attend gigs and events around town, and through the Open Mic night at V.A bar (plug) on Wednesdays I was able to rope in a lot of other young hopefuls. In truth there was no real selection process, however we had some criteria that were essential like, were they regularly part of the Beijing music scene and did they have/were they working on recordings at this current time. In the end the crop of musicians we got, too quote a phrase “performed beautifully on the night” and as the CD slowly took shape my expectations were totally surpassed.
5- There are many ways one can choose to contribute to this cause. Why music?
Music is universally important to all cultures, and its something really lives deep within Beijing. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your nationality is… hearing a song you love can bring you out of the darkest places. I’d love to think that when people listen to the CD they see the amount of hours and depth of songwriting that has gone into each and every contribution. This is no amateur mix-tape but a professional and significant recording of what is going on at this time in Beijing musically. Each song on the CD is a story, and the history behind it all is immense. Even (and I hope this is not the case) if there are people who don’t take an interest in the issues that are behind the production of the CD, you can most definetly identify with it on a musical level and if you buy the CD you are still contributing regardless on your level of interest or interaction! For P.T.E and the others who contributed its a win win situation!
6- What’s the ultimate goal here? raise awareness, raise money?
The final goal is to get people to be aware and of course P.T.E hopes to raise the importance of HIV and AIDS issue in China, but not only that, with HIV and AIDS its always peoples attitude towards it that has potentially the most damaging result. As with all work like this its not as simple as throwing condoms at people, its got to be about empowering people with knowledge. With that they are able to educate and empower others. All individuals have the right to exist and receive care regardless of their gender, sexuality, or anything else, but ideally you want to get them knowledgeable before a risk situation occurs. If you could eradicate all the prejudice and mis-information that exists about the condition, and replace it with individuals who can make good, life changing decisions then you would be half way there to significantly improving the situation. It has to be said there is a lot of work being done both on international levels and on grassroots level to achieve this.
7- Back the the CD for a bit. What was the process like?
I woke up one morning in late October and decided I would do this. I wrote an email CC’d all the musical people I knew and then broke out into a sweat over all the logistical problems i was going to encounter. Over the period of 2 weeks i enlisted the musicians and got Martin to agree to help master the CD, and in some cases he recorded and re-recorded parts or whole songs. I found a manufacturer in Hebei, and designed the CD whilst at the same time getting JiangHu bar to agree to host our release party. Its been a mad rush, and it is a great platform for what I want to happen next year. I see this as testing the water really, and pushing my boundaries to get something to happen. There was no pre-defined formular for a mix-tape, and even when i was a kid the best cassettes i made were the most eclectic and least considered, so In that respect not much has changed. This particular mix tape is a bueatiful mix of styles, genres, nationalities and great songwriting.
8- I noticed mostly foreign names on the list, any special reason? Was it easier to approach them as opposed to Chinese artist?
It’s a little red herring that, as listening deeper into the CD you will find a much greater Chinese contribution, which also signifies a new and greater co-operation between Western and Chinese musicians here. Ping Pong Diplomacy’s singer, Amber is Chinese, and their song is performed in Chinese, similarly Nakoma’s contribution is also in Chinese. A personal favorite of mine, the Pink Chimneys “Sunflower” performed and written in Chinese. Special credit needs to be given to Zhang Si’An, the first foreigner to significantly perform and write Chinese songs in China. The Discounts have a significant Chinese presence in their band, and of course Maysha, the bass player with Mr. Wolf is of Dutch-Chinese.
It is important to acknowledge that this CD is genuinely international, and to over-represent any one nationality, would not do it justice. This also reflects a truly international struggle to combat HIV and AIDS, to create universal access to health care and to eliminate stigma and discrimination.
9- I know you’ve just finished this one and it’s not even out yet but are there already plans in motion for a follow up?
Yup. Next year… bigger, fatter, nastier…. I’m planning a similar project, where this time its more in the mould of “Live Aid” or what more easily comes to mind when you think “charity CD”. I hope to get a song written and performed collectively, mastered onto a CD and sold internationally as a single. On occasions recently I have felt completely out of my depth in terms of producing and managing this project, and what next year brings I have no idea, but i genuinely believe its going to make a difference… if you don’t believe then there is no point right? I think in all aspects of your life you have to be totally idealistic and music is the perfect arena for that idealism. By the way if any one reading this article and thinks that making mix-tapes to win girls hearts works… it doesn’t. Firsthand experience.
10- Last but not least, because I always ask, any gems/recommendation for Chinese restaurants that are trying to make a difference either with their food or their social reach?
Well i think its good to recognize chifan for charity (www.chifanforcharity.org) who organize some of Beijing’s classier establishments to put on a fine show, all in a great cause. I would like to thank Lee, the new owner of the Brick (Shuang Jing) who jumped at the opportunity to sell and promote the CD, also the Bookworm cafe who really kindly also are helping us.
There is a lot of great social causes being fought out there right under our noses, and i think if your sitting at home wondering what the purpose of your life is its time to get out and to get involved (or buy the CD)! You can also preview the Tracks for the CD on http://www.pte-china.org/world-aids-day-2010-compilation-cd/world-aids-day-2009/ and learn more about P.T.E there too!
Kudos to Will, PTE and all the musicians for coming together and making this possible. They need all the support you can give them on this issue so please show up for the release party at Jianghu Jiu Ba.
World AIDS Day CD Release Party
Jianghu Jiu Ba
Dec 3rd. 7:30 pm – 11pm
Celebrate the release of Beijing’s World AIDS Day album. Performers include Pink Chimneys, Mr. Wolf, Jordan Michell, Zhang Si’an, Nakoma, David Musket and Russian News Agency. RMB35 entry. RMB50 includes CD. All proceeds benefit Prevention Through Education.