Mighty melody

Updated: 2012-12-03 18:34

By Liu Nan (China Daily)

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Self-taught singer-songwriter Liu Huan remains China’s king of Mandopop at 49. He tells Chen Nan about his music, upcoming concert and his life as a university lecturer.

 Mighty melody

Liu Huan, a household name in China for his hit songs from various TV series, leads a low-profile life teaching history of Western music at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY 


One day 30 years ago, Lu Jiankang’s busy schedule was interrupted by a student who came knocking on his office door to ask for a ticket to Japanese conductor Ozawa Seiji’s concert.

Lu, who was then Haidian Theater’s manager, was surprised by the boldness of the student. But he was also impressed by the boy’s courage, which prompted him to add a seat in the theater.

That student was Liu Huan, the established singer-songwriter of You and Me, a piece he performed with English actress and singer Sarah Brightman at Beijing’s Olympic Opening Ceremony. Liu was then a sophomore at the University of International Relations in Beijing.

Decades later, the two meet again.

This time, Lu, a veteran producer behind many national galas, is working with Liu on the latter’s upcoming concert, Our Days, which will be held on Jan 1.

"I have always wanted to have a concert for Chinese mainland musicians,” says Lu, who is the show’s producer. “As the performance market booms in China, our audiences need to be treated to a high-quality concert from an iconic mainland figure. Liu is a great choice.”

Although the 49-year-old Liu has only released three albums and two concerts, he is regarded as a celebrated figure in China’s music industry for his wide vocal range and songwriting talent.

Mighty melody

Liu Huan, a household name in China for his hit songs from various TV series, leads a low-profile life teaching history of Western music at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY 

"He is a household name in China, and his songs are widely enjoyed by audiences of different generations,” Lu adds. “He is not only a pop star but also a crossover musician who is good at other music genres, such as classical music and jazz.”

When Lu approached Liu about the concert, Liu was hesitant because he keeps a low profile and rarely performs in public.

"Although new faces pop up every day, people still remember his songs. It’s meaningful to review those songs, which have left an impression during the past 30 years,” Lu says.

Liu’s concert, Our Days, will be held on Jan 1, 2013, at MasterCard Center in Beijing.

Having turned down many concert invitations during the past few years, Liu says he has been pushed to return to the spotlight in 2012.

Two of the most popular TV shows in China this year saw the involvement of the low-profile musician — he sang the theme song for the 76-episode TV series Legend of Zhen Huan, which has swept the mainland with its popularity, and reality TV show, The Voice of China, which had Liu as one of the judges and coaches.

"Initially, I was not sure about the concert. But I have made promises on The Voice of China, so I have to keep my word,” Liu tells China Daily, laughing.

Liu keeps his concerts simple. He usually wears a round-neck black T-shirt and loose pants. He avoids having dancers and dazzling stage designs, which he says are distracting.

The only thing he cares about is the presentation of his music.

"I believe what the audiences want most is to listen to my songs during the concert,” he says.

One of the anthems he will perform is Lu Lu, which he wrote 10 years ago and sang in public for the first time in 2004. It’s a song for his wife, Lu Lu. They married nine days after they met in November 1987.

These days, Liu spends a lot of his time with his family in the United States.

He also teaches history of Western music at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

"Teaching at the university not only gives me a regular lifestyle but also enables me to observe the music industry from the outside.

"My parents are both teachers, and that’s why I feel connected to the job. Personally, I like Western music, and I taught myself Western music history during my university years,” he says.

He’s a star in his students’ eyes. But Liu says: “Once you sit in my class, you will have a different view. I am a teacher in the classroom, not a star. I am a very talkative person in class but onstage, I prefer to sing rather than talk.”

Liu says his role as a teacher also broadens his musical perspective. “It’s not conflicting to be a teacher and a singer-songwriter at the same time because I love music and both jobs lead me to it,” he says.

Ever since Liu majored in French at the University of International Relations, he liked listening to music broadcast on the campus. He used to like writing songs in his dormitory after classes, accompanied by a few bottles of beer.

He participated in a French songwriting competition in 1985 and won the first prize, which included an all-expense paid trip to Paris.

A year later, Liu was sent to the Ningxia Hui autonomous region to be a teacher, where he absorbed local folk music.

Although Liu has been exposed to both Western and folk music, he had never undergone any formal music training. He says he sings from his heart.

Liu’s achievements include writing the English lyrics for Asking Myself a Thousand Times, which was the theme song for popular drama A Beijing Native in New York in 1993.

In 1996, he cooperated with symphony orchestras instead of using conventional band accompaniments in the soundtracks for the TV series Sunrise in the East, Rain in the West.

He also added Peking Opera singing to the song he wrote for TV series Hu Xueyan in 2005.

For the theme song for the TV series Legend of Zhen Huan, Liu wrote poetic lyrics that rhyme.

"One of the best things about fame is that I can express myself at will,” he says.

"I am happy that I still have the passion for music after all these years. If one day I don’t feel happy doing music anymore, it will be the end of the world for me.”

Contact the writer at chennan@chinadaily.com.cn.