Interview: Djang San

Djang San is playing on Sunday 19th June at 77 Theatre, right after Smokey Joe. Here’s a little about him. He has also been a great help to Fete de la Musique this year, we’re very happy he’s been such a great member of the team.

Question 1: Who is Djang San ?

Djang San a name, the name I have been using for a very long time, it is a name I have created using my original name, Jean-Sébastien in pinyin (Chinese to western pronouciation transcription) « zhang si’an », mixing it with a Chinese expression Zhang San Li Si 张三李四 which means « That guy » or « Mr X or Y» basically « anyone ».

The name in English is written in such a way that any non-Chinese can read it as « zh » in Chinese is pronouced « dje » in English.

I have started releasing albums in 2003 and I have so far released 36, the last album «Eye.Ai.I.爱» just came out and was released on the 26 of May 2016 at Yugong Yishan in Beijing.

Question 2: When and how did you start the band and why do you play Chinese instruments ?

I started Djang San + Band in 2013 in order to put Chinese electrified instruments at the center of the music I was doing. I have been playing Chinese instruments since I ever came to China in 2000. The goal with Djang San + Band, which started with Stefano Latorre on bass and Carlo V. Fuentes on drums was really to explore the possibilities of electrified old Chinese instruments into modernity, but I have been playing what people call « ethnic » instruments for a very long time. I don’t like the idea of the word « ethnic » which signifies a division between people in the world, there is only one kind of people in the world, human beings. We are sometimes divided by our culture and our environment, but in fact we are the same.

At some point I was gathering instruments from everywhere I would go and ask friends to bring some back to me too from wherever they would go.

In recordings I did when I was 18 to 20 years old I used instruments from Brazil, Peru, and all kinds of instruments collected by my family and anything I could find as well like trash cans and things like that. I have always been obsessed with sounds and using all kinds of sounds to create a different kind of music.

Question 3: I heard you are going to Japan in August, what do you expect from it ?

Djang San + Band has been invited by a World music festival to perform on the island of Hokkaido in Japan, Carlo V. Fuentes (drums), Clancy Lethbridge (bass) as well as myself are going there to play electric zhongruan and electric pipa for the first time to a Japanese audience.

Question 4: It seems your music has evolved a lot since the beginning, tell us more about that.

I started music when I was 9 as a violin player but stopped rapidly when a teacher at the conservatory in Bordeaux told me I would never be a musician. It’s only when I was 13-14 that I started being interested by singing, I started to listen to the family’s vinyl collection and discovered lots of music, I started to sing in a rock band in high school when I was 15, then started to play guitar at 16 almost smashing completely a guitar of one of my brother’s friend.

Question 5: Why 36 albums ? Why do you release so much ?

The first thing I did when I started learning guitar was to write songd, I wasn’t at the time interested in learning songs from famous artists, I wanted to scream, I wanted to evacuate all these feelings of anger that I had and I used music for it, it helped a lot. Everytime I was back from school I woufd take the guitar and start singing and write words, create songs. By the end of my first year of learning guitar I already had 20 songs I could use, I had also formed a band with a few kids at school and we played for the school party, it was my first concert playing my own songs, a sort ot a revelation for me, being on stage playing music still is one of the things I like the most in life.

I release so much because I have ideas for music ideas all the time. Not recording and not releasing would be nonsense for me. I understand it might be confusing for people but I choose to do that because that is a part of me and as an artist I need to create all the time.

Question 6: What do you think about Chinese underground music ? what do you think is the future of music in China ?

When I came to Beijing in 2000 I feel there were a lot of possibilities that don’t exist now.

In between 2000 and 2015 venues flourished in Beijing and now more and more are closing. It is difficult to know where all of this is going but I can see there is a form of professionalsation of the underground music scene that didn’t exist before.

I think China has a lot to learn about what it can do with rock music and hopefully this will happen. Some people think rock music is not Chinese culture but foreign culture and therefore cannot blend with local Chinese culture. What I have to say about that is that pop music is also recent in Chinese history and is also a foreign concept, rock can also have success in China, it has happened before, it will happen again.

Question 7: What do you think of Fête de la Musique? What do you know about French music?

Being French I have played at FDLM many times in my hometown in Bordeaux when I was younger, I think it’s a great concept and the proof for it is that more and more countries organize it every year. I am happy to be part of the organization this year in Beijing and to be able to develop that concept here. It’s an inclusive concept that works because everyone can join, it’s free, it’s a party for everybody.