One of the hardest things to get right in this non-existent genre that we insist on calling ‘world music’ is the marriage between modern arrangements and traditional instrumentation and melodies. On Alive, China’s multi-million selling singer Sa Ding Ding has achieved just such a marriage with exceptional style and grace.
If she were singing in English, Sa Ding Ding might already be a global superstar. Her striking voice is unmistakably East Asian, but with an elegance and soulful poise with which a broader audience should easily be able to connect.
The songs (sung in Tibetan, Mandarin, Sanskrit or Sa Ding Ding’s own self-created language) are built around traditional Chinese folk music but exquisitely executed with refined use of programmed electronic sounds and beats in tandem with Chinese instrumentation -gu zheng zither (sounding particularly effective on the title track), ma tou qin violin and bamboo flute.
Haunting is a word that comes constantly to mind, especially on the aforementioned title track and another highlight Lagu Lagu, on which Sa Ding Ding really pushes her voice to its emotional limits, one moment delicately, playfully dancing over washes of keyboard and ethereal backing vocals, the next stretching her voice out almost to a shout against a thudding percussion backbeat.
An exceptional track but the centrepieces of the album are the pair of tracks that appear in two forms on the album (delivered first in Tibetan, then Mandarin). Holy Incense is delicately flavoured, hauntingly melodic and with atmospheric male backing.
Contrastingly, the title track is magnificent in its brooding, stalking defiance, with Sa Ding Ding’s voice at its sweet but unyielding best as programmed beats and guitar crash against traditional instruments. A great brace of songs on a very impressive album.
This review first appeared on www.flyglobalmusic.com