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Music proves a two-way street for promoter

By Mike Peters | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-01 09:20

Music proves a two-way street for promoter

African dancers performed twice a day for the Shanghai Expo. [Photo provided to China Daily]

If you want to talk to Dick Mackridge about China, be prepared for him to burst into song.

"Night and you - and 'Blue Shanghai'

Those nights were heavenly, when you were near to me

Lovely you - and 'Mei li Shanghai'

With all that loveliness - the days were so good

There's no doubt South Africa's Dick Mackridge has a soft spot for China not to mention a few Elvis Presley songs, some of which he's adapted to express his love for Shanghai.

"My initial exposure came through an e-mail from officials at our local Chinese Embassy in Johannesburg," says the longtime music promoter. "They asked me if I would like to take some performers to China. I mean - c'mon! I attended a few meetings, arranged some auditions and we were 'A' for away."

That was in 2009, when Mackridge took a team of musicians to the Chengdu Intangible Cultural Heritage Festival. Since then, he's been back for the "magnificent" Shanghai 2010 Expo and later that year in October for the Suzhou and Beijing combined China International Folk Festivals. In 2011 they came to China for the Zhangjiajie International Folk Festival and the Hangzhou World Leisure Expo.

Now Mackridge can't wait to hear about the next opportunity to come to China. "I'll implode if I don't get to China this year," he says, laughing.

"Coming from a Westernized society we were blown away with the culture, the food, the often unruly traffic, the relatively low cost of clothing and similar commodities," he says, reminiscing about time spent walking around in the old shopping areas of Shanghai. "And Old Street (YuYuan Gardens) was a favorite for all of us!"

But his best memories, he says, are undoubtedly interacting with Chinese people and seeing the delight on their faces when they saw South African singing and dancing for the first time.

"We have experienced that wonderful sensation of arriving at Hong Kong and then flying out to our respective festivals five times thus far for six different festivals."

For the Shanghai Expo in June 2010, Mackridge brought "our Zulu Marimba band as well as our African drummers, dancers, Moyo face-painters and gum-boot performers as well as our 'Township' Pantsula (street) dancers. Our audiences at the Expo increased from an expectant few on day one to well over 6,000 after day two," he says. "We performed twice a day, afternoon and evening."

He was back at the Expo's Africa Square in August with an interactive drumming team, where his team handed out more than 100 drums and "boom whackers" at each show. Mackridge was perforning on drums. "In a nutshell, we had six different groups and genres, all highly appreciated by our Chinese audiences. For the Suzhou/Beijing festival, we incorporated a group of Scatamiya (a capella) singers from Cape Town."

While he's rhapsodic about Shanghai, "each of the cities that we visited brought its own splendor: the giant pandas of Chengdu (not to mention the spicy food). Shanghai's beautiful Huangpu river. Its vast and colorful bridges. The Bund. Suzhou's sheer beauty. Beijing's wonderful Forbidden City and Great Wall. The splendor of the Zhangjiajie mountains. The sheer beauty of Hangzhou's West Lake I could go on and on!"

He can't say enough about the Chinese people he met "so absolutely kind, humble and hospitable". Fortunate to be in a business that's allowed him to see the world, Mackridge says when he's asked where he'd like to go if he could go anywhere in the world, "the answer is Shanghai, China!"

Mackridge came to expose Africa's music to China but the revelation worked both ways.

"I was given the gift of a CD pack, explaining and highlighting the many Chinese instruments, both contemporary and historic. Listening to this is my form of relaxation," he says.

"I have realized that even Chinese music has progressed rather dramatically. While we all expected the official Shanghai expo to feature the 'old', we were surprised to find that the music and singing were extremely contemporary, with a hint of the traditional."

The singing styles he and his musicians experienced were absolutely world class, he says. "While I enjoy adapting old songs to China," he says, referring to the Elvis covers he's written about the country, "I plan to write songs for each of the cities at which we have performed."

While such music exchanges have become common and influence both sides, he says indigenous music must stay true to itself.

"I sincerely hope that Chinese musicians of the future will not become too hung up on Western sounds and influences," he says. "The inclusion of traditional Chinese instruments in their contemporary music keeps it essentially Chinese. This should never change."

Some of his musicians are crazy about Chinese cuisine and has really taken to rice and the noodles. And when he comes to China with a group of African musicians, "we often bring samples over for our facilitators, the most popular being our 'biltong' (beef jerky) and South African chocolates. I have also taken over mini bottles of South African brandy which the Chinese guys absolutely adore. Our dream is to introduce them to the wonders of the South African 'braai' (barbecue).

michaelpeters@chinadaily.com.cn

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