Adil Mijit is not the only Uyghur comedian to incorporate a discussion of hip-hop into his performances. In the recent state-sponsored film Shewket’s Summer, directed by Pan Yu with assistance from Beijing Film Academy students, Abdukerim Abliz joins the Uyghur hip-hop crew Six City as a reticent folk musician. The film, which is both a “coming-of-age” and “parent-trap” melodrama, highlights the way conflicts resolved at the level of the family have larger implications for society.
The Uyghur-language songs of teen heartthrob Ablajan Awut Ayup run on a loop through the heads of many Uyghur tweens and young urbanites. Taking cues from Justin Bieber, the ever-popular dance moves of the late-Michael Jackson, and the pretty-gangster affect of Korean pop stars, Ablajan is a self-styled chart-climber; he is a self-made song-and-dance man. Whether you love him or hate him, the fact remains that he has cornered the Uyghur children’s music market by tying clever songwriting with catchy beats.
In the film The Silk Road of Pop a classically trained Uyghur tambur player tells viewers that Western music such as hip-hop and jazz does not carry the same feelings of love, tradition, and family as Uyghur traditional and folk music. He says he hopes that Uyghur musicians coming of age today do not forget their past. This tambur player, a member of studio musicians who often accompany the King of Uyghur pop Abdulla, is repeating a refrain heard frequently by performance artists trained under the Maoist regime.
The Silk Road of Pop (2013: 53 min) ends with a young rapper saying he wants the world to know Uyghurs exist. The man, a sculpted crop of hair jutting from his chin, says, “Aside from China, who knows that Uyghurs exist? Zero percent.” As a view from a train window merges into film credits while the Uyghur musician Perhet Xaliq and his wife Pezilet sing an old song of Uyghur youth “sent down” from the city, the pathos of the rapper's plea seems to resonate with the atmosphere of the land, the tight cement block apartments, the frozen sidewalks paved with Shandong tiles.
By all standards Wang Meng (1934- ) has had a tremendously successful career. Easing out of his problematic role as Cultural Minister in 1989, Wang was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1994 by the Chinese Literary Society. He has published more than 100 books and was listed as the 24th most commercially successful writer in China in 2010 with a net worth of 1.75 million yuan. This past year a village on the border of Kazakhstan opened a museum in his honor.
“Sometimes the mountains faded into the whiteness of the clouds and it was difficult to distinguish what was snow and what was clouds. Yet some days there were no clouds and the mountains seem to float in the air. This caused me to have a good and proper smile.” –Ai Qing, The Poetic Life, 2007, 67 (looking south from his labor camp in Shihezi to the Heavenly Mountains)
In his book The Gift the Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov describes the mountains of Northwest China as a “transparent and changeable setting” where “the dryness of the air produced an amazing contrast between light and shadow: in the light there were such flashes, such a wealth of brilliance, that at times it became impossible to look at a rock, at a stream; and in the shadow a darkness that absorbed all detail.”
The first time Tasken competed on the TV show The Voice of China, the Chinese version of America’s Got Talent, he didn’t get through to the second round.
But the second time, he sang the song “A Lovely Rose” in Chinese. The judges were so impressed, they asked him to sing it in his native language – Kazakh.
The sketch comedy that I outlined last week ends with a return to proper gender norms: a husband taking responsibility for his wife and children. But before this can take place, Abdukerim’s character is confronted with the wide range of his sins and their social effects.
Over the next few weeks I will be discussing the comedy of Abdukarim Abliz, the most famous of contemporary Uyghur comedians. Abdukarim is a tall distinguished-looking man from Kashgar famous for his carefully groomed mustache. Like other suave comedians (Stephen Colbert springs to mind) Abdukarim not only embodies a masculine ideal, he parodies it. Yet for all his quick-witted use of language, metaphor, and jawline, Abdukarim has something serious to say about Uyghur society. By making them laugh, he is trying to mirror how his Uyghur audience acts, talks, and thinks about common sense issues in society.