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FACE THE MUSIC
Foreigners in China
By Cool Han

NOTE: The following article is Track B of a two-track series on American indie-jazz band MAYA AZUCENA, who performed this past April across China. The four-piece outfit - Maya Azucena (Vocals), Ivan Katz (Drums), and Christian Ver Halen (Guitar) and Bruce Mack (Keyboards, guest)- are part of the The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program developed by ‘Jazz at Lincoln Center’ and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which affords MAYA AZUCENA a chance to perform internationally before a wide variety of audiences.

TRACK B
Christian Ver Halen
The first time I saw Christian Ver Halen, I knew he was an industrious man. After a performance in Beijing, while the other members of his band Maya Azucena were busy packaging their equipment, Christian brought out a pocket book and asked me how to say “I’m sorry” in Chinese. It was his first time in China and the second day in Beijing. To my surprise, there were rows of Chinese Pinyin scrawled across his notebook. Between his intensive performance schedule and self-taught Chinese lessons, I doubt whether he had time to sleep.


The tall, 38-year-old guitarist (temporarily transformed into an 8-year-old student eager to learn by heart the Chinese words I taught him), just might be the “hardest working man in show business after James Brown” that he describes himself as. The passion in his eyes is evidence of truth to this claim.

On the stage, Christian Ver Halen is not the center; as a rule the brightest spotlight belongs to vocalist Maya Azucena, not her guitarists. But Christian’s guitar work and string arrangements compliment the lead singer as well as energize the audience with a wall of sound. While his front woman performs from her heart, in Christian’s case he performs from his strings.

Christian Ver Halen is Maya’s primary musical collaborator and producer, who began writing and performing with the rising songstress only a few years ago. “We wrote some tunes, started playing gigs, people dug it…we worked our asses off, and now she (Maya) is one of the few independent artists known worldwide.” Manu Chao and M.I.A. watch out!

Actually, Christian Ver Halen’s other group “ROOFTOP” is “an all-star band fronted by some of the biggest names on the NYC Soul scene.” Their focus is on songwriting, and the sound is “a unique blend of modern soul, jazz, blues, gospel and acoustic world music.” As they claimed in their official biography, “it’s not that synthetic soul sound from the corporate music world, it’s…real.”

Christian put together ROOFTOP because he “wanted to bring these amazing artists together.” Some call it “NYC Indie-Soul,” others call it “Soulful Songwriters” or “Raw Soul.” Christian just hopes people call it “good music.” For a true musician, that’s the biggest compliment.

But in this current corporate climate when independent artists continue to get screwed by record label execs, can Christian and his band mates endure the bad and ignore the ugly by focusing only on the good? Or more precisely, is it not a little bit naïve to only care about the reactions of the grassroots?

Christian believes both indie and mainstream have their gains and losses. And he hopes that one day he will be recognized as one of the top artists in his field. He holds no strong dislike towards “corporate” or “commercial” as long as he retains the freedom to do things his way rather than manipulated by executive pressures.

Every diamond has many facets, and Christian Ver Halen is no exception. If you’ve read some of his blogs, you know I’m not lying. He always keeps a wary eye analyzing music industry, the world behind music. Are you doing your thesis on cyberspace IPR protection? Contact Christian and read his tome “Internet Service Providers and technology entrepreneurs taking responsibility to stop copyright infringement.” Are you curious about the music biz and the rising touring industry? Talk to Christian, he has a long, long story for you starting in 1969 when “the recording industry was booming while the touring industry was having a huge problem.” Right now the climate is the opposite - “concerts cost a ton of money, and people think that recorded music should be free.” Christian’s conclusion: “history, baby, it’s a beeatch.”

Fans across the globe often wait to take photos with Christian; he is their hero. As an artist, Christian has his own heroes. “I had the pleasure to book music at the Blue Note jazz club in NYC for a few years. During that time I met many of my heroes and made friends with some of the all-time jazz greats.” Leon Ware, for example, is “the coolest person” he has ever met in his life. It is through constant interactions with great people and life-changing musical experiences like this that complete Christian’s persona as a true musician.

Currently Christian and his band Maya Azucena just completed their China tour as well as to other Asian countries. He later told me that their performance in Shenyang was a notable success. “The people in China were so great towards us. It was really a rewarding experience.”

As Dante wrote 700 years ago, “Whatever anybody says, I will always do on my way.” I believe Christian Ver Halen will face the music by himself, and on the way find his faith behind the music. The rhythm road Christian chose is neither a short cut nor a broad avenue. However, is there actually a shortcut to success?

Christian Ver Halen and his band Maya Azucena can be contacted via their official homepage:

http://www.mayaazucena.com/
http://www.therooftopmusic.com/

http://www.myspace.com/therooftopmusic

Read “Track A (Maya Who?!)” by Cool Han here:
http://www.foreignercn.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1409&Itemid=29

编者按:以下这篇文章是对美国独立爵士乐队玛雅阿祖赛娜的系列报道之二。2008年4月乐队在中国进行了演出。乐队的成员包括主唱玛雅﹒阿祖赛娜, 鼓手伊凡﹒卡茨,吉他手克里斯汀﹒冯﹒哈伦和客座键盘手布鲁斯﹒马克。他们的演出是由林肯中心爵士乐社和美国国务院教育与文化局共同主办的“旋律之路:美国音乐在海外”活动的一部分。这个活动给玛雅乐队提供了在全球众多观众面前进行演出的机会。
接受挑战
                                             B声道:克里斯汀﹒冯﹒哈伦

    第一次见到克里斯,我就知道他是个勤奋的人。结束了他们在北京的一场演出后,乐队的其他成员都在忙着收拾行李,克里斯从兜里掏出了一个笔记本,问我“对不起”用中文怎么说。这是他第一次到中国,在北京也就刚刚待了两天,但让我大感惊讶的是,他的笔记本上已经写满了汉语拼音。他的演出行程很紧张,还要自学中文,真不知道他还有没有时间睡觉。

    这位38岁的高个子艺术家在跟我学中文时一下子就变成了一个8岁的孩子,兴致勃勃地要记住我教他的东西。正如他对自己的评价那样,他算是“詹姆斯﹒布朗之后在演出行当里最勤奋的艺人。”他眼中的那份激情就是对此最好的证明。

    舞台上,克里斯并非中心。通常,最亮的聚光灯属于主唱玛雅﹒阿祖赛娜而不是她的吉他伴奏。但是克里斯的吉他伴奏和旋律配合是向歌者的致敬,也是点燃观众激情的音乐之声。当玛雅用心灵歌唱的时候,克里斯在用琴弦歌唱。

    克里斯是玛雅最主要的音乐合作者和制作人,数年之前他就已经开始和正在升起的音乐之星玛雅合作写歌和演出了。“我们写歌,玩爵士乐,大家很爱听。我们工作很用力,现在玛雅已经是少数的几个世界知名的独立音乐人之一了。”玛努加奥和M.I.A.小心了啊!

    实际上,克里斯的另一个乐队“屋顶”是“由纽约爵士灵歌舞台上最著名的一群音乐家组成的全明星乐队。”他们的侧重点在歌曲创作上,而他们的风格则“融合了现代灵歌,爵士,布鲁斯,福音以及非电子世界性音乐。”正如他们在自己的传记中写的那样,“(我们的音乐)不是在唱片公司里合成制作出来的灵歌风,我们的音乐是真实可感的。”

    克里斯组建“屋顶”乐队是因为他“想把这些出色的艺术家聚集到一起。”有些人叫它“纽约独立灵歌之魂,”还有人叫它“深情灵歌作曲家”或者“原生态灵歌。”克里斯只希望人们叫它“好音乐”,对一个真正的音乐家而言,这就是最大的褒奖。

    但是在现在的商业环境中,独立音乐人不断受到唱片公司的挤压。克里斯和他的乐队成员真的可以忽视让人不快的那些东西而专注于故事美好的一面吗?或者更确切地说,仅仅在乎来自草根观众的评价是不是有点天真?

    克里斯相信做独立和主流各有得失。他希望有一天他能被看作是这个领域里顶尖的艺术家之一。对于商业化他并没有很强的抵触情绪,只要他不被来自主管层的压力操控而可以自由选择自己的做事方式就可以。

    每块钻石都不止一面,克里斯当然也不止一面。如果你看过他的博客,你就会明白我没骗人。他一直密切关注着音乐产业,那个音乐背后的世界。你在写关于网络知识产权保护的论文吗?联系克里斯,读读他的那篇“网络服务提供商和科技公司承担起责任来阻止版权侵害”。你对音乐产业和现在火热的演出业很好奇吗?去跟克里斯聊聊,他有一个长长的故事等着你,故事从1969年开始。那时候“唱片业正在兴起,演出业却问题重重。”现在恰恰相反—“演唱会很花钱,大家都想着唱片应该是免费的。”克里斯的结论:“亲爱的,历史一文不值,说明不了任何问题。”

    全球的歌迷都等着和克里斯合影;他是他们的偶像。作为一个艺术家,克里斯也有他自己的英雄。“我在纽约蓝调爵士俱乐部做了几年签约音乐家。在那期间我遇到了很多我的偶像,和很多顶级的爵士音乐家结为了朋友。”比如,里昂﹒威尔就是他这辈子遇到过的“最特立独行的人。”正是由于不断和这些出色的音乐家保持交流,还有一些改变人生的音乐经历才使得克里斯成为了一个真正的音乐家。

    目前克里斯和他乐队的成员刚刚结束了他们在中国和亚洲其他国家的巡回演出。随后他告诉我他们在沈阳的演出相当出色。“中国观众对我们太热情了。这样的经历太难忘了。”

    700年前,但丁写道:“走自己的路,让别人说去吧。”我相信克里斯自己会解决所有的困难,在音乐之路上寻找音乐背后的那个属于他的信仰。这条路既不是捷径也不是大路。但是,世界上真的有通往成功的捷径吗?

可通过以下官方网站网址联系克里斯汀﹒冯﹒哈伦以及他的乐队:
http://www.mayaazucena.com/
http://www.therooftopmusic.com/ http://www.myspace.com/therooftopmusic
在这里阅读系列报道之一《玛雅是谁?》
http://www.foreignercn.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1409&Itemid=29


 

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