It’s been two weeks since the Uyghur rock star Perhat Khaliq took on The Voice of China, and the Uyghur Internet is still buzzing about the way he delivered his songs of loss and longing to a national audience.
Perhat surprised everyone with the painful tension in his voice. Strumming an acoustic guitar, he started his song in a low, almost spoken-word register that slowly evolved into a full roar.
Like so many young Uyghurs, Perhat experienced the loss of those he loved far too early. First his brother died, then his parents, well before the average Uyghur life expectancy of 61. As he told the judges through tears, “It’s just me now.”
The legacy of his parents and brother live on in the songs he sings. As he explained, “How Can You Let Me Be So Sad” was a song introduced to him by his brother before he died.
Perhat’s Uyghur fans are ecstatic to see someone they knew as a local singer at Ürümchi restaurants succeed in such a major way. Unlike many other famous Uyghur musicians, Perhat is not affiliated with a danwei, or government organization. One fan said, “He is just an independent musician who leads a precarious life as a performer in Ürümchi.” The fan also thought it was important to note that Perhat never studied music formally. His major at the Xinjiang Art Institute wasn’t performance – it was painting. Perhaps because Perhat’s music emerges out of a personal passion, he and his wife seem to be more invested in reviving older Uyghur traditional art forms and turning them toward more contemporary and international modes.
“Perhat is really good at singing folk songs in the rock style,” the fan said. “My favorite is his rendition of the Dolan Muqam.” Like the original Uyghur rock star Exmetjan, Perhat has taken on the Muqam with his electric guitar. Through his collaborations with music ensembles in Germany and elsewhere, he has brought Uyghur musical traditions to an international audience. In the video below, Perhat’s wife Pazilet Tursun introduces one of these transnational collaborations by reciting a poem by the contemporary poet Adil Tuniyaz.
Following his exposure on The Voice of China, Perhat’s fan base has expanded across the nation. As the video shows, most of the judges were blown away. The judge Wang Feng, who Perhat eventually chose as his mentor, told the young singer that it’s clear he understands “to be the very best possible singer, you need to speak from your own life. That kind of melody is a melody you think has already been overlooked. It already comes straight from your heart.”
On the Chinese Internet, Perhat’s voice has been compared to that of Axel Rose, Bryan Adams, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen, among others. Like Eddy Vedder, he has the sort of voice you either love because of the passion and freedom of range and emotion or hate because of his growling disregard for perfectly pitched melody lines.
According to some reviewers, he is the most controversial contestant to have ever appeared on the show. Those who love him think his ability exceeds that of even the show’s judges. Gushed one fan: “Pa-er-ha-ti is going to prevent Wang Feng from dominating the headlines!”
Beige Wind runs the website The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, which attempts to recognize and create dialogue around the ways minority people create a durable existence, and, in turn, how these voices from the margins implicate all of us in simultaneously distinctive and connected ways.