The first snow of 2002
Came a little later than before
Stopped at the second-rate car on the eighth floor
And took away the last fallen yellow leaf

So begins Dao Lang’s “The First Snow of 2002,” the single from his eponymous debut album released in 2004. His husky voice commands a whole gravity of its own. Coupled with a desolate melody and inspired pipa strumming, the effect is immediate: under Dao Lang’s spell, you’re made to long for something you left behind long ago in the deep snows of Xinjiang, far out in the wild northwest of China. It’s no wonder that this song sold millions of copies even with zero promotions and became Dao Lang’s biggest hit, turning him from a nobody to a popular singer.

A friend told me Dao Lang is a singer from Xinjiang — it is a testament to the success of his image, since he is actually a Han Chinese (i.e. not an ethnic minority). Although he was born in Sichuan Province in southwestern China, he evokes a kind of folky northwestern authenticity. Like the godfather of Chinese rock, Cui Jian, he has a trademark baseball cap that radiates lone wolf and a growl that commands respect. His singing name, Dao Lang, is literally the Chinese name of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang (“Dolan”) whose musical traditions inspired him.

The first snow of 2002
Is the emotional complex I didn’t want to give up in Urumqi
You are like a fluttering butterfly
Flickering in the season of falling snow

What have you lost? You don’t know. Dao Lang’s use of the so-called Uyghur spirit — what some call appropriation — might be questionable, but the emotional power of his music is undeniable.

Those behind the Great Firewall can watch “The First Snow of 2012” here.

Yin (, “music”) is a weekly Radii feature that looks at Chinese songs spanning classical to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between. Drop us a line if you have a suggestion: editor@radiichina.com.

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