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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.

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:

Read “Track A (Maya Who?!)” by Cool Han here:

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。















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