Turkestan Lovesongs, ‘New Flamenco’ and the Emergence of the ‘World Citizen’ in Urban Xinjiang

By Jo Smith Finley: Link


In this paper, I explore how geo-political territory (Xinjiang, tr. ‘New Dominion’), identity (regional, national, global) and cultural ownership are represented and contested through lyrical texts, musical styles and instrumentation in popular song, as well as through visual texts in pop music videos and new media (e.g. YouTube). I examine two singers who enjoy popularity both within Xinjiang and more broadly across China/the East Asia region. Arken, the Uyghur ‘Guitar King’, represents a style of pop fusion known as ‘New Flamenco’, originally inspired by the Gypsy Kings; Dao Lang, a Sichuanese (Han) immigrant to Ürümchi describes himself as a Xin Xinjiangren (‘new Xinjiangese’) and draws on traditional Uyghur musical instruments to infuse his rock adaptations of regional folk songs and Chinese revolutionary classics. I analyse how the production, transmission and consumption of oral, musical and visual texts are manipulated by artists and audience and come to represent two distinct identities: Xinjiang (the territory) as a ‘bounded’, inalienable part of the New China vs. Xinjiang (the indigenous peoples) as part of a ‘boundless’, global community that is open to and influenced by Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Western cultural flows. In doing so, I emphasise how Chinese – the language of the ‘coloniser’ – is increasingly the vehicle through which the Uyghur youth transmits this new identity of ‘world citizen’, and suggest that the Uyghur language may yet turn out to be less ‘fixed’ a cultural symbol than previously thought.

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