10 Questions with Jurat: Rock and Roll is a Spirit…. with Psychedelic Characteristics.
Jurat is one of those guys you’ve seen around Beijing over the past few years sitting at the table next to you at the restaurant in Gulou or sipping tea somewhere down a hutong hole-in-a-wall. He’s been playing around the city for a few years already persevering through a number of setbacks with too many ex-ban members departing. In a city where everyone is trying to find a gimmick, this is a guy that walks down his own path! I like that! Let’s not forget that the guy is one hell of a talented multi-instrumentalist…. let’s discover more, shall we?
1- Who is Jurat and what are you up to? This is your chance to plug your stuff.
My name is Jurat. Jurat T.T. is my stage name. My Chinese name is Julaiti. I grew up in Karamay. For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked music, listened to music, sang along to music. When I was in primary school, I liked to sing popular songs from films, Western songs and songs from HK pop singers.
In 1989 I heard the HK band Beyond, and after that I was hooked on rock and roll. The way they changed their style was very attractive. I started to learn to play guitar. In 1994 I started to write some simple songs. In 1996, I joined some folk rock bands. After that I started my own band, playing locally changing and copying the popular songs at that time. In 2002 I came to Beijing and have been here since then. This is my first album. My music includes French, Uyghur, and English songs, and is not purely folk music or folk rock.
Many people tell me I should do music that comes from my ethnic background, but my roots are in me, in my heart. When it fits, I include ethnic elements, but I don’t want to be boxed into any particular style. The songs in my shows this year and on this album include psychedelic rock, art rock. In addition to that I also have songs that are very folk, songs that are close to nature, and songs that are more experimental. Then there will be an album all in English.
I have several songs that are like Western music 100 years ago or more. I am from Xinjiang, but the songs I write are definitely more like Western music, like Bird’s Song, Waltz of the Dark. These songs are about the dark side of life. Many European artists like my music. I feel that if I write good songs, then I’ll sing in whatever language best fits that song. I don’t like to think of myself as only being able to make folk music, purely ethnic-based music. There are many fantastic older folk artists in Xinjiang. I need to revolutionize Xinjiang Uyghur music, especially to bring good rock to Xinjiang. People who have seen my shows or Mamer’s shows say “Why do rock? Folk rock sounds so good.” But I like rock. It’s as simple as that.
2- There are many musicians in Beijing that hail from Xinjiang but they tend to play more flamenco. How did you start playing this type of psychedelic rock?
Sometimes, when I go to bars or places like that, I hear this music. I don’t want to be in the mainstream. That would be meaningless for me. Sure, you can make a lot of money, but I have want to do the dark, unhappy stuff that I like. I’ve got so many songs I’ve written that I need to get out of me, I need for people to hear them. Also, the music I write tends to be dark, so that’s why most of my music is psychedelic rock or art rock.
3- How long did you work on “Sans Famille” and why did it take so much time?
This album, actually, has been in the works for exactly one year, from the start of recording to the release. The reason is simple. I didn’t have a lot of money for recording. Everything from the recording to the mixing of this album has been done for free, based on the help of friends. So it has taken a little longer. This is my first experience with recording an album. There were lots of things I didn’t know about. Every time I’d listen to what we’d finished and hear a problem, we’d have to go back and fix it. That took six months. So, that’s how it went.
4- It seems to me, without understanding all the lyrics in Uighur, that this is very much a conceptual album with a lot of reflections about life, is that correct?
First, this is a Uyghur album. I chose many songs from among those I’ve written since 1996, and the music was composed at various times. When you see the cover, you can get a feeling for the concept of this album. What I’ve written is what I’ve wanted to express and say, the negative side of humanity, religion, life, being lost and alone, things like that.
5- I heard that you played all the instruments in that record..is that right? why?
Because when I started recording the album I hadn’t found other players to work on the project. Once you find people you need to practice and then record. It’s very time consuming. Also, I can play each of the instruments, well enough to express what I want. This way has been very efficient. No matter whether we’re talking about the bass, guitar, keyboards, I can play those well enough to express what’s in my mind. It’s a good way to work, and the composition is very straightforward.
6- You’ve got an interesting slogan: “Islam is my life, music is my live”… does religion influence your music much?
A big influence. Before I drank and even got into fights, things like that. Through throwing myself into music and through the influence of my father, I’ve experienced the significance and power of religion. People in China are of many faiths, but mostly within their own hearts. I believe that religious faith is not only something internal but should be expressed externally as well, especially in the rock world.
Drugs, trouble, many people believe these are part of a “rock and roll lifestyle”. But that’s not true. Rock and roll is a spirit, it’s not “going crazy” or doing drugs. I want the people who know me to know that I am Muslim and I can also be a rock musician. Have I gone off topic? Haha…..
7- Word Association: Write the first thing that comes to your mind
Beijing: Although this is not a place I really like, but it’s been ten years; I have some affection for it.
Shanghai: I’ve never been there, haha.
Mamer: He’s an important person to me, no matter whether we’re talking about music or life, loving good music or how you choose to live your life, we are very much in sync. In terms of music, he sometimes is there beside me, encouraging me to let go and do my music, and to reach to a higher level in music. Whenever I share the stage with him, I’m able to give my best. Personally, he’s been a great help to me, and has encouraged me, like a brother. When he’s in Beijing we’re together every day.
Karamay: this is where I grew up, and it’s a great place. My friends and family are all there. But I can’t reach a higher level in my music.
If you ask me to pick one word from the list, I’d pick “Mamer”, haha
8- Do you find it easier to play for the audiences in Beijing or at home in Xinjiang?
Audiences in Xinjiang know me and like my music, but the conditions are not there to support performing. In Beijing, not so many people know me, but there is a good number of people here who do know my music, and the conditions for doing music are a bit better in Beijing.
9- Besides yourself and Mamer, are there any Xinjiang musicians that people should learn more about?
I don’t know what other musicians are doing. In terms of truly independent music, I don’t think there are any people doing that right now. There will be in the future though. Haha…..
10- We like Xinjiang food here at ‘daze, especially latiaozi and dapanji…. which restaurant makes the most authentic ones in Beijing?
Haha, an interesting question and one that every journalist will ask. There are many great places to eat, like Tianchi over by the Minorities University, Amannisahan, Crescent Moon on Dongsi Liutiao and Silu Yinxiang (a personal favorite of mine and Mamer’s haha)
Thanks to Jurat for taking the time to answer and huge thanks to T for helping translate the questions and answers! couldn’t have done it without ya. Some interesting answers and perspectives coming from Jurat that make me appreciate him even more. I might have to rethink those word association questions, especially the polka dots.
Folks, go check it out on saturday night and get a copy of the album… I heard a preview and it’s quite different. Expect a review of Sans Famille to be up at some point.