ABOUT THE FILM

Documentary | 53 min
Produced in: China, Canada, Holland, Belgium | December 2012

On the distant northwest edge of China lies Xinjiang, a vast region of snow-capped mountains, barren deserts and gritty market cities. Here, along the ancient Silk Road, music is one of the hottest commodities: it is vibrant, infectious, and far-reaching, permeating every corner of the province. Yet, around the music lies a troubling reality. Engaged in an identity tug-of-war, the region’s main population – the Uyghur Muslims – are gradually watching their populations dwindle as they are engulfed by a predominant Han Chinese settlement. One of the very few documentaries to come out of Xinjiang, The Silk Road of Pop captures the challenges of a minority group in China and the explosive music scene which results. The Silk Road of Pop tells the story of Ay, a young music fan. Apprehensive about her own life choices as a young Uyghur woman in China and curious about the outside world, she turns to music for answers and is drawn to musicians who mirror her struggles in their songs.
The film follows the trails left by Ay’s interest in music, documenting her influences and portraying her musical idols. A breathtaking journey unfolds, leading to traditional musicians uncovering the age-old roots of the Uyghur music culture in Kashgar, metal bands combining local folk music & Western hard rock in their wild performances, and hip-hop crews honing their skills in the smoky basements of communist block towers.
Featuring an entrancing compilation of songs and video-clips, The Silk Road of Pop taps into the rhythmical zeitgeist of what it means to be young and Uyghur in China, showing how music becomes a liberating element for a minority trying to assert its identity within a repressive environment.

 

TEAM

This documentary was produced and directed by Sameer Farooq, Ursula Engel and Stijn Deklerck. We are an international team of documentary makers whose work is fuelled by a curiosity to tell compelling stories on film. We choose stories that we have a unique and personal access to and which contribute new perspectives to societal issues we find important to highlight. For the creation of The Silk Road of Pop, we relied on the help of a team of inspiring people – their tireless efforts were crucial in the realization of this film.

Director: Sameer Farooq,
Co-director: Ursula Engel
Producer: Stijn Deklerck

Camera: Ursula Engel
Sound: Sameer Farooq
Editor: Oliver Husain
Consulting Editor: Edward Goldberg
Secondary Editing: Sameer Farooq, Ursula Engel
Interviews: Stijn Deklerck
Research Consultant: Mukaddas Mijit
Story Consultant: Scott McLaren
Sound Design and Mix: Finlay Braithwaite
Colour Design: Zachary Cox
Title Design and Image Tracking: Alex Kurina

 

DIRECTOR STATEMENT

Music was the perfect arena to explore the experience of Uyghur youth in the distant northwest of China. As a Muslim director I feel a particular compassion to the Uyghur case. After spending over three years living and working in Beijing, I was astounded upon my first visit to Xinjiang. Everything was oddly familiar: music, food, traditions –  yet we were still in China. Making this film stems out of my strong desire to represent a diversity of being Muslim. In a broader sense, I recognize that my position as a postcolonial filmmaker has prompted me to develop new ways of dealing with material which speaks from a position of placelessness, critiquing established norms and creating a space within documentary making which is relevant to my experience. I let this position inform my directorial vision of The Silk Road of Pop and see the project as a timely and relevant pursuit.

 

MUSICIANS

When making The Silk Road of Pop, we were continuously astounded and inspired by the extraordinary talent of the Uyghur musicians who crossed our path. Here’s a short introduction of the musicians we introduce in our documentary – enjoy, and spread the word!

Mehmet (Maimaiti Aili) is a Uyghur school teacher we met in Kashgar. He’s a local Dutar hero who introduced us to the traditional music scene in his town. His idol is the great Abdurehim Heyit – check out his song “Uchrashqanda” which we include in our documentary here:

Mahmut Mehmet began playing the tambour when he was eleven years old and studied with the late virtuoso Nurmahemmet Tursun. He’s an expert on the Uyghur Muqam, large-scale suites consisting of sung poetry, stories, dance tunes and instrumental sections. We got to know him through our friend Camilla French, who made the 2009 documentary Lost in the Muqam about him, of which you can watch a trailer here:

Karhan (formerly Laji Dang) is one of the only metal bands in Xinjiang. They’re based in Urumqi, and are lead by the charismatic and talented singer-songwriter Adil. Citing Western influences like Korn, Slipknot and Nirvana, they’re also very inspired by traditional Uyghur music, which they try to incorporate in their music. They’re at the core of the tiny Urumqi hardrock scene, for which they regularly organize passionate concerts.

Six City is Xinjiang’s first and most important hip-hop band. Operating from a basement in one of Urumqi’s countless communist residential blocks, they have been steadily building up a fan-base throughout China’s North-West, and are trying to break through in the rest of China and the world. You can listen to their songs on their website and watch some amazing clips on youtube, such as this one from “Bichare Tohmet”:

X1 is a crew of beatboxers, rappers, breakdancers and musicians which we randomly met at one of the parties they threw on a Sunday afternoon in Urumqi. The city is full of crews of youngsters like them, and they’re in a constant friendly battle over who can throw the “sickest” afternoon parties. They invited us for chicken when the party was over, and treated us to an extraordinary showcase of their talent.

Other heroes: The number of musicians who influenced this film are countless. Here’s just a small selection of Uyghur musicians you definitely need to know.

Perhat Xaliq & Pezilet: Perhat is one of the most famous current Uyghur rock musicians in Xinjiang. Together with his wife Pezilet, he recorded his version of the beautiful folk classic Tarim Naxshisi, which is featured in The Silk Road of Pop.

Nicknamed “Xinjiang’s Madonna”, Aytulan was one of the first people we interviewed for this film. She’s currently residing in Beijing, where’s she’s building out a career singing both in Uyghur and in Chinese.

Ahmetjan is the earliest Uyghur rock guitarist, and a hero of nearly all the young musicians we encountered in Xinjiang. Check out some of his breathtaking play here:

Sadly, the metal bank Khrow didn’t make it into our documentary. We met them when they performed at a concert organized by Karhan – they’re obviously super-talented, and we were mesmerized by the traditional Uyghur influences in their rock songs.

Probably one of the best known contemporary Uyghur rock musicians in the West is Askar Grey Wolf. He’s currently based in Beijing, and often participates in foreign festivals with his music band. Check out his performance at the Auckland Lantern Festival in 2011 here:

From the first time we went to Xinjiang, we were intrigued by the Girl Band Gul Yaru which made some of the biggest Xinjiang popular hits during the last years. Unfortunately, we were never able to meet them in person, but we’re still happy every time we see one of their clips.