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Moved to tears

Updated: 2012-07-20 09:18
By Chen Nan (China Daily)

Moved to tears

Sa Dingding's latest album, The Coming Ones, is inspired by her trip to Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Provided to China Daily

It was spring 2011 and Sa Dingding wanted to take a break. So, she flew to Chengdu and then traveled by car on a bumpy mountain road to Axu grassland of Axu town, Sichuan province.

More than 4,000 meters above sea level, the grassland was the home of King Gesar, the Tibetan hero.

Sa, who is known for mixing electronica with traditional folk influences, spent more than a month listening to the story of King Gesar told by local villagers.

When it was time to say goodbye to the locals, a 70-year-old Tibetan woman put her head against Sa's head to show her affection.

Sa was so moved she cried and the photograph became the cover of her third album, The Coming Ones, released on July 1. "When she held my hands and put her forehead on mine, I melted," she recalls.

The Newcomers of the North, one of the new songs from the album, was written and composed by Sa for the people she met in Axu town.

The music video was shot in the form of a documentary and just recorded what she saw in the town.

Locals in Axu know her because she has widely used Tibetan music and fashion for her albums and shows. Her performance at the 2012 CCTV Spring Festival Gala is also well-known.

"They thought I was Tibetan. I once came across a man riding a motorcycle, with his CD player loudly playing my songs. I felt so connected there," she says.

Born to a Mongolian mother and Han Chinese father, the 29-year-old sings in a variety of languages, from Sanskrit to Mandarin, from Tibetan to a language she invented herself.

Her Tibetan folk and electronica fusion album, Alive, sold 2 million copies in Southeast Asia. In 2008, she won a BBC Radio 3 World Music Award and performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Then she toured European countries for more than a year and finally returned to Beijing to prepare her second album, Harmony, which borrowed musical elements from ethnic groups in Yunnan province.

For the new album, she revisited Yunnan, meeting people and listening to their stories.

The Little Well Village, 32 km from Yunnan provincial capital Kunming, has about 70 people and retains a traditional lifestyle.

In the morning, men farm in the fields and women do handicrafts at home; at night, families gather at a small Catholic church and chant in the Miao ethnic group's dialect Ode to Joy, without accompaniment and conducted by the head of the village.

The scene inspired Sa to write Like Shadows, which is included in the new album, and featured the 40-people choir from the village.

The recording took just two days.

"The recording was just like pouring my heart out, totally and thoroughly without hesitation."

Besides expressing her emotions through music, Sa also wrote a book and made a documentary about the trips to the two places.