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B-Side China Podcast: City to Country with ChaCha and Kayla Briët

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B-Side China is a podcast monitoring the flip side of cultural stories in the PRC, initiated by Josh Feola for RADII. Find it on iTunes, Stitcher, or Soundcloud.

Continuing season two of B-Side China with a second episode featuring the fellows of Found Sound China, a cultural exchange program supported by the US Embassy in Beijing that paired three American and three Chinese artists for a month of field-recording-based engagements and creative collaborations. Last time, I spoke with program co-founder Eddie Lu and four of the fellows about their experiences traveling and creating in Qinghai, Yunnan, Shanghai and Chengdu — stream that here.

Of all the artist pairings, one in particular highlighted an interesting set of parallel experiences: the duo of Shanghai-based singer, producer and songwriter ChaCha and southern Californian musician, filmmaker, and VR artist Kayla Briët.

ChaCha and Kayla in traditional Baizu garb in Guizhou.

ChaCha (left) and Kayla in traditional Bai minority garb in Guizhou (photo courtesy Eddie Lu/Found Sound China)

If you’re a regular RADII reader, ChaCha will already be a familiar name (if not, catch up here). ChaCha was born in Zunyi, a remote mountain city in southwestern Guizhou province that is home to a wide range of Chinese ethnic minorities, including the Gelao, Miao, Tujia, Yi, and Dong people, among other groups. (ChaCha herself is a member of the Manchu minority, which is mostly concentrated in China’s northeast; her parents moved to Guizhou before she was born.)

After learning the basics of music theory from her mother — a singer and dancer who bought whatever music learning materials she could find and first taught herself before teaching her daughter — ChaCha struck out to find “the bigger world beyond those mountains.” Attracted by Western forms like jazz, reggae, and trip hop, she ultimately landed in Shanghai, where she has lived for the past 13 years and developed an eclectic career spanning multiple genres.

Kayla was born and raised amidst the sprawling urban expanse of southern California, but has been deeply influenced by her Potawatomi Native American, Dutch Indonesian and Chinese heritage. As a child she followed in her father’s footsteps to study the Taos Pueblo hoop dance, and began learning the guzheng — a plucked Chinese zither — as a teenager, influenced by her maternal grandmother’s deep connection to the greater-LA Chinese community.

At 21, Kayla already has a TED Fellowship and a widely viewed short film under her belt, and is currently working on an archival virtual reality project and a documentary about a Native American community in New Mexico, among other projects. She felt an instant affinity with the native cultures of China that she experienced while exploring Guizhou with ChaCha during her residency period, an experience that she says will have an immediate influence on her practice moving forward.

Kayla Briët (TED)

In the podcast, we talk about the unexpected parallels Kayla and ChaCha discovered during their time together, the delicate balance between cultural preservation and innovation, how new media can tell old stories, and how a return to cultural roots is pointing out new directions for the creative path of each artist.

Find B-Side China on iTunes or Stitcher (or here), and more RADII podcasts here.

Opening/closing track: “Sleep Tight With Your Lies” by Found Sound China 2018 fellows ChaCha, Jamel Mims (aka Jam No Peanut), eu-IV, Kayla Briët, and Eddie Lu

Cover image: ChaCha recording local musicians in Lijiang Old Town, Yunnan

You might also like:

B-Side China Podcast: Found Sound China

Yin: Shanghai Singer and Producer ChaCha’s Bold Reinvention

Josh Feola
Josh Feola is a Shanghai-based writer and musician, and RADII's Culture Editor. His coverage of Chinese music and art has appeared in The Wire, Dazed, Artsy, LEAP, Tiny Mix Tapes, and more. He's been active in China's underground music scene since 2010 via his booking platform pangbianr.com, and is a former member of Beijing bands Chui Wan, SUBS, and Vagus Nerve.

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