Zhang Xiaohou (left) and Qin Hao from Haomeimei Photo: courtesy of Chunsheng Studio
Once popular in the 1990s, folk music is now making a comeback in China. With its successful albums and sold-out concert performances, Haomeimei, a small independent band that earned its popularity online, is now being referred to by some in the media as "inverse raiders" of the music industry.
Just as warm and affable as their songs, the 28-year-old Qin Hao and 27-year-old Zhang Xiaohou are both humorous and cheerful despite years of struggle. Sitting down with them, they discussed their history in a light and easy manner covering everything from quitting their jobs and coming together from entirely different cities to starting their music career and gaining popularity among audiences of all ages.
This folk band kicked off their new album of songs especially written for children on Tuesday by releasing their newest song "Send You a Camellia" on popular music site xiami.com.
"They're very simple songs; cheerful and easy to learn," said Qin.
Singer-composers, guitar lovers
Both amateur guitar lovers, Qin and Zhang met online when they were still university students. At the time, Zhang was taking an engineering course in Hangzhou in East China's Zhejiang Province, while Qin was studying animation all the way over in Changchun in Northeast China's Jilin Province. Both had posted videos of themselves playing guitar and singing online which earned each of them quite a bit of popularity. This in turn led them to find out about each other.
"A friend of mine introduced Zhang to me, saying that we should team up as a group because we both could play guitar well and composed our own songs. I didn't think much about it at the time, because we were too far away from each other," said Qin.
The two's first offline meeting happened in March of 2010, when Qin was backpacking around the country and decided to drop by Wuxi, Jiangsu Province where Zhang was working. After Qin left his job, he moved in with Zhang and began preparing for the exams needed to get into a graduate program.
However, Qin was soon distracted from his plans because as soon as the two got together they began having hundreds of ideas for starting a music career: taking photos to post on online stores, street performances, and even going on a talent show.
Although they didn't win, the experience at the talent show gave them the inspiration to start calling themselves "Haomeimei", a random lyric they chose from one of the songs they performed :"Ni jiujing you jige haomeimei?" (lit. Just how many good little sisters do you have).
Not long after the two officially began their band. Despite objections from his parents, Zhang quit his job and along with Qin moved to Beijing where the unemployed duo started to focus on music creation. They performed at bars and live houses, gaining and interacting with fans. They posted their original songs and covers on media entertainment site douban.com, establishing a dedicated Web page so fans could follow their work.
"We don't feel like we became popular all of a sudden. We accumulated our audience gradually through those shows and our songs," said Zhang.
Haomeimei started working on their first formal album in late 2011. This first album Chunsheng (lit. Born in spring) was released in July 2012 and their next album Nanbei (lit. The south and north) was released in May of last year.
Not signed with any record companies, the band did all the composing and recording themselves. Qin, who used to be a fine arts teacher, focused on designing the album covers, while Zhang worked on promotions.
The two prefer recording their own real experiences in their songs. The cities mentioned in their music all carry their memories, feelings and thoughts on love, youth and city life.
Qin believes that folk music is like a mirror, "I don't try to express anything in my music. I compose and write for myself. Anyone who feels something from my music is actually just seeing their own heart and experiences reflected back at them. Maybe they find something in common, and cry tears over their own stories."
Besides the peaceful and touching songs collected in their albums, Haomeimei has also posted several hilarious songs online, some with obvious sexual innuendos while others joke about current events. Although they aren't published as part of the band's official albums, these songs experience wide popularity among people who love this type of music.
Qin and Zhang have been involved in charity events since their first commercial concert was held in Beijing on June 25, 2011. All their income from the concert was donated to make cotton-padded clothes for students at a school in the Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, with assistance of Guanghuitang, a charity organization in Shanghai.
"They're children at a Tibetan Buddhism orphanage. I heard that they chanted for us to express their gratitude," said Zhang.
According to Qin, even though some people might feel that charity is something only stars can do, while others are suspicious because some charities have been involved in scandals, they still believe that charity work is something they should keep doing.
The two are currently working on a mini album with five children's rhymes and led by the single "Send You a Camellia." The album is a reward for supporters of a project by vfund.org (which was founded by the Hunan Broadcasting System and the China Social Welfare Foundation). Money earned from the pre-sale of this album has already been collected and will be used to build a music classroom for a school in Hunan Province.
"We use a lot of flowers in our songs, indicating beautiful and simple things. We want to express something bright and happy for both children and adults, to help ease the pressure of modern daily life," said Zhang.