Secret Folk Music Holds Firm In Badlands

NPR’s Anthony Kuhn, recently returned to China, introduces the Shaanxi folk music known as lao qiang  (老腔), or “old tune”:

Traditionally, Lao Qiang musicians would accompany a puppeteer, who would tell stories from behind a screen. It wasn’t until a couple of decades ago that the musicians came out from behind that screen and performed on their own, in full view of the audience.

The origin of Lao Qiang music is a matter of some dispute, but Zhang says the most plausible explanation he’s heard is that it is descended from the chanteys of boatmen on the (lots of “hey’s” and “ho’s”) as they rowed barges laden with grain to the imperial capital at Chang’an during the Western Han dynasty, roughly 2,000 years ago.

[…] Beijing-based music critic Wang Xiaofeng says that when he heard Lao Qiang for the first time about 18 years ago, it reminded him of heavy metal: very physical and somewhat operatic. He adds that Lao Qiang is way outside the mainstream of Chinese popular musical taste, which he argues has two main qualities.

“The first is that its melody is very easy to remember,” Wang says. “The second is that its rhythm is very simple, like a disco beat.” [Source]