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Xinjiang Rocker Jurat T.T of “the Uyghur Pink Floyd” on Pain, Childhood and Music

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Jurat T.T is an anomaly in Chinese underground music.

Having always refused to sign to a major label, preferring to remain a free spirit and making his music by himself, the guitarist and songwriter has independently released countless albums and tracks in the past 20 years, mixing his peculiar blend of musical inspiration with a variety of different styles from different parts of the world. 

Jurat was born in Karamay in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an area of the world that has of course been making international headlines for non-musical reasons in recent years. He began to play the guitar in 1994, mixing traditional Xinjiang music with modern pop and rock. Around that time, he was primarily influenced by pop music from Hong Kong and Taiwan, which was pervasive through Chinese society in the early 1990s. “In the summer of 1990, I bought a best-of tape of popular bands from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore,” he says. “There were songs from Alan Tam, Leslie Cheung and Angus Tong. There was only one song from the Hong Kong band Beyond, but it had a lasting impact on me.”

Like a lot of Chinese musicians in the ’90s, Beyond became Jurat’s favorite band. It was his encounter with the Hong Kong band’s first album, which was originally published in 1986, that inspired him the most. “I remember in 1994 buying their first album, Goodbye Ideal (再见理想). There was this song, called ‘Myth,’ the arrangements were so complicated and beautiful. I listened to the song all night long, crying. I found out what kind of music I needed in my life”. 

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Over time Goodbye Ideal has come to be considered Beyond’s most experimental album. The record leans closer towards a heavy metal sound than their more famous pop stylings, something that came to influence Jurat indelibly.

Jurat’s first band was formed in Dushanzi, a district of Karamay. The group was made up of five people and played popular and ethnic songs. In 2002, he left the band to settle in Beijing, then the center of China’s flourishing independent music scene. It was in Beijing that Jurat would find his distinctive and unique sound with his band, Dark Lake. Dubbed the “Xinjiang Pink Floyd,” Jurat and Dark Lake brought their blend of Uyghur and psychedelic rock music to bear on major Beijing independent music venues, such as D22, Temple, V.A. and Hotcat.

His masterpiece was released in 2010, entitled Sans Famille. The 13 track album sees Jurat sing in Uyghur about life and death and is influenced by both Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, while maintaining a very distinct Xinjiang rhythm.

The title of the album is inspired by the French book Sans Famille (Without Family) written in 1878 by Hector Malot. That book’s plot fits the mood of Jurat’s record, as an abandoned child tries to solve the mystery of his origins. “I bought a translated version of the book for my birthday in 2001,” he says. “I read it in one night, it inspired me to write these songs.”

The cover of the album is also very revealing, Jurat is in the middle, caught between a traditional Xinjiang village and a modern city, in front of a graveyard. “The graves symbolize the end of my journey, it also represents the content of all the songs on this album.”

Jurat’s sound has taken a more experimental turn these past few years. For example he uses fewer lyrics, but each of the songs combine to tell the intimate story of Jurat, his longing for his hometown and memories from his childhood. His songs are infused with his emotional pain, his feelings and memories. As he says, “I am not afraid of suffering in my life, I am only afraid of the pain in my heart.”

 

Earlier this year, Jurat released his latest album, Mr. Tree’s Story II, a sequel to Mr. Tree’s Story, which was released in 2019. Both albums tell the story of Mr. Poor, who recalls both his happy childhood memories and also his losses, family pressure and career failures while sitting under a tree. The two albums combine as a diptych, a long experimental story of sad and happy memories. “There are three songs that I particularly like, ‘Nice Dance Spirit’, ‘Hometown Ballad’ and ‘Dark Garden,’” Jurat tells us. 

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Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Jurat has had to postpone all of the performances he had planned for the album’s release.

“I was about to play a show for the release of the new album at 798 [a major art district in Beijing], but it got canceled. I’m good, despite the virus, for different reasons these past few years I don’t like to go out anyway.”

Jurat is already thinking ahead to when the outbreak comes to an end, at which point he would like to organize a special kind of performance combining his last two albums, “some kind of musical, with performances and dances, to tell the complete story of Mr. Tree.

Nathanel Amar
    Nathanel Amar is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Hong Kong working on Chinese popular culture and trying to reconcile his passion for Chow Yun-fat, SMZB, and Master Gao's Baby IPA.