When the China Music Business News journalist met Liu Zhao, the CEO of Stallion Era, he was busy preparing for the company’s first “Stallion World Music Festival” in Beijing and Shanghai. The theme for this the chamber music festival is “Tuvan Hero”. It includes a series of outstanding and active musicians, such as Huun Huur Tu, Sainkho Kosmos, Yat-Kha, etc. The ticket prices range from 80 to 580 RMB.
Liu showed up in a Bucket hat and apologized for keeping us waiting and lead us to his office to talk.
In the early days of the establishment of the Stallion Era, Mr.Liu told China Music Business News about his two failed ventures before starting Stallion Era. Because of his failures in the two previous ventures, he decided to make his interest into a business venture and promote folk music around the world. In Liu Zhao’s own words, “I love it with my whole heart.”
However, Liu Zhao is slightly annoyed at the word “niche” and reluctant to label himself as someone who promotes “world music”. He believes that music has its continuity and a stable audience. During the interview, Liu Zhao adjusted his hat multiple times, seemingly searching for the right words.
Liu said: “Just like Urna Chahar-Tugchi said, the concept of “world music” is widely known in Europe but most people talk about it from a shallow business perspective. Now no one knows what “world music” means exactly. It doesn’t have a precise origin, like jazz, blues or Chinese traditional music.”
Liu Zhao shared some of his previous experiences with us. He was one of the first people influenced by world music in China. In 2011, he started working for HAYA as their manager. In 2014, he cooperated with Hanggai Band. And before all that he was a music critic, which gave him some theoretical knowledge for “world music.”
When he first started artist management, he found out that unless the general public is acceptive of something, there’s no commercial market for it. After all these years running Stallion Era, he learned that it’s always the top artists that are making the big bucks but there are many niche markets where you can comfortably stay in as well.
Stallion Era developed a promotional system in the past two years. Now they run fan clubs, social media accounts, have a staff member dedicated to targeted promotions on line and host live concerts.
Liu is also very happy to see the audience getting younger thanks to the internet. At Huun-Huur-Tu’s Zhuhai concert this year, an incoming college freshman shared his story about how Huun-Huur-Tu’s music calmed him down before the college entrance exam and got him through the process. Feedbacks from fans like this gives Liu the confidence to keep up with the good work.
Regarding Stallion World Music Festival, Liu said it’s a result of organic growth. Instead of capital intensive, highly competitive outdoor music festivals, Liu focuses on cultivating an indoor music festival brand and creating a special musical experience for the fans.
As long as Stallion can find sponsors with common ground, it is not financially burdensome to host the Stallion World Music Festival. Liu told us that they hosted 6 concerts in Beijing and Shanghai in three days with a total audience of around 5000 people, and the tickets are on average 200 to 300 RMB. “After paying the venue’s share, there’s still a lot of money left.” He said.
Mr. Liu wanted to build a Mongolian yurt for the audience in the theater and have a Mongolian man dressed in traditional clothing and tattoos to serve coffee drinks and food to the audience. He wanted to create an immersive experience for the audience with the food and culture and visual effects, but it didn’t happen because of various reasons.
“This is our first time hosting a music festival, of course there will be people criticizing us. But next time we will combine the festival, salon, exhibition and food. We will try different things and we will do better. We are planning to host two to three different music festivals per year.” He said.
In the Shanghai performance, Liu sold beer in the theatre. He thought, people can drink beer in Sydney Opera House and they can eat popcorn in Metropolitan Opera House so why can’t we let people drink beer in our theaters? Luckily, the managers at the 1862 theater were very supportive of the idea. They brought Pandabrew into the theatre and sold more than 500 beers in 2 days at a price of 20 RMB each. Fans even asked the artists to sign on the beer bottle.
ΔLead singer of Yat-Kha, Albert Kuvezin
“The reason why we invited artists like Sainkho Namtchylak to perform at this “Tuvan Hero” concert is because Tuvan culture is of great significance to the World music circle in China. Tuva’s Khoomei was the earliest sound of Asia that the westerners heard.” Liu said. This time, three Tuvan bands were invited to the festival and their musical style is more blues and rock with a “traditional Tuvan undertone.” Most performers dressed no different than regular rock band members except for Albert Kuvezin. He has long gray hair and a very typical Mongolian face.
Kuvezin was a founding member of Huun-Huur-Tu. After leaving Huun-Huur-Tu, he founded the band Yat-Kha with an avant-garde electronic musician in Moscow in 1991. The band got its name from a small instrument in Central Asia that Kuvezin like to use. After releasing the album Yat-Kha, Kuvezin and his band mate went their separate ways. He continued to make Tuvan music but also incorporates blues, rock and punk elements in his music.
Interestingly, the youngest member of Huun-Huur-Tu was also once a member of Yat-Kha. But the two bands have not heard each other perform in almost ten years.
ΔSainkho Namtchylak performing at Stallion World Music Festival
In the early morning of September 13th, Sainkho Namtchylak landed in Beijing. She came to Beijing for Stallion World Music Festival on the 14th and then on the 15th in Shanghai. The last time the China Music Business News journalist met this legend in the field of world music was in April this year at the opening ceremony of Pollux, the joint venture label of Modern Sky and Starsing Music.
Sainkho Namtchylak is a Khoomei singer, an experimental musician, and a Tuvan. She studied Shamanism and in Kizil, the capital of the Republic of Tuva, and later joined in the circle of avant-garde musicians in Moscow. She was there since the beginning of world music in 1993. In the past 30 years, she released 76 albums. Her work “Lost Rivers” have almost 200,000 comments and some of those even got more than 10,000 likes. It received some criticism but also widely praised among young people and successfully became a part of pop culture in China.
For the market of world music is gradually heating up and the competition in this field is getting fiercer but Liu thinks this is a good sign because the cake is getting bigger and bigger and more sustainable.
“Comparing to making money,” Liu added. “we are more focused on the expression of culture and building a cultural bridge between tradition and the future for young people.”
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