Bahtiyar Aziz is a member of a new generation of Uyghur musicians who have had a chance to travel around China and are quite worldly. Originally from Urumqi, he lived in Beijing for ten years before returning recently. In addition to his native language he is fluent four others including English and Mandarin Chinese.
His most recent album is called 心语in Chinese (Speaking from the Heart) and is a soulful and moving example of traditional Uyghur-themed music with strong influences from around the world. During his time in Beijing he frequently played at local bars and cultivated a strong following. Back in his native Urumqi it is easy to find his albums throughout the city. He primarily sings in Uyghur, but also adds some English at times. As a budding musician in China he has a unique view on local music and the factors that influence those who make it.China Expat sat down with Bahtiyar to discuss his album and the state of Uyghur music.
China Expat: First of all, congratulations on your album. How has the response been around the country and in your native Urumqi?
Bahtiyar Aziz: My music is considered to be somewhat underground, so I have a big group of devoted fans. A lot of people buy my albums, but the music industry does not know how to deal with my sound. In Xinjiang, the people who control the music market do not understand local music movements very well. They just copy foreign music and changed the lyrics into Uyghur. There are actually very few good singers here.
CEX: What musicians do you think influenced you the most?
BA: I like many musicians from all different genres. There is a lot western rock that I like. One good example is [Atlanta’s] The Black Crowes. In some ways I feel Xinjiang music is quite old fashion, so I feel the need to mix some newer sounds into my music.
CEX: Do you consider your music to be Uygur, Chinese, pop, or something else?
BA: It is hard to define my music in any one category. I am looking to make music that I like, and I’ll let other people label it.
CEX: Your most recent album is quite mellow. For those of us who do not speak Uygur, can you explain what you are singing about?
BA: My music is about life, love, and friendships…
CEX: You lived in Beijing for ten years and recently returned to your hometown of Urumqi. How do you think Beijing has influenced you musically?
BA: When I was in Beijing, I missed home a lot. From this I developed a new and deeper understanding of traditional Xinjiang music. I kind of created my own style—a mix between traditional and classic music. Beijing is the place where I grew up in many ways, and where I found my own sound. My first song was also written there. It gave me independence. When I was a sophomore at university I started to listen to bands from America, Japan and Korea in a bar at Beijing University. This had a big impact on me and my music.
CEX: Do you have any plans to make a new album soon? Will it be similar to your previous music?
BA: Yes, pretty soon, by the end of this year hopefully. I am still in the process of deciding which kind of songs because I have to think about marketing as well. I will add several songs in Mandarin. On my last album, it only had Uyghur and English lyrics. Most of the songs will follow my style that I have developed, but to be completely honest, I will also add a couple of songs to appeal to a wider audience. CE