Soldierman Nature and Lio D.

The Diplomat’s Jonathan DeHart spoke with Ugandan Afrobeat artists Soldierman Nature and Lio D. about the rise of Afrobeat music in China and the duo’s upcoming tour on the mainland, planned for September 14 to November 3. Shanghai-based artist manager and music consultant Ina Schroeder also comments on her role in organizing their tour and China’s music scene today.

Soldierman Nature and Lio D.
Soldierman Nature and Lio D.

“I think I can speak for all people in the industry when I say that we are really happy to see China opening up and welcoming more and more foreign artists and performers.”

For those unfamiliar with the musical style, what are the key elements of Afrobeat?

Soldierman Nature and Lio D.: The main element of Afrobeat that sets it apart from other music genres is the five note rhythm that matches with the human heart beat and goes hand in hand with nature. Other key elements are call ‘n answer (interactive), vitality of word and sound, and message.

We hope to find a natural interest in Afrobeat in China, as Chinese are human beings and will succumb to music that is in synch with nature. We live in a global village now, and the interest for Chinese in African music will be similar to the interest in Chinese movies in Uganda.

You have been invited to come from Uganda to perform in China. This is a very intriguing connection. How much interest in Afrobeat is there in China? Further, how did this invitation come about?

Soldierman Nature and Lio D.: We believe in music as an international language, and even if Afrobeat is new to many Chinese, we heard that people there are curious and welcome to new things. Also, it was the positive feedback that made us plan to stay for two months instead of the originally anticipated one or two weeks.

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Earlier this year we received an invitation to perform at a festival called Vision Africa, which is designed to bring Africa and China closer together, and also as a fundraising event to support charities in Africa. Until then performing in a country like China was just a crazy idea for us, but then it became a dream and now it looks like this dream is becoming reality.

Unfortunately the Vision Africa Festival now can’t happen like originally planned, because not all of the bands could get their performance licenses from the Chinese government in time – so the festival itself had to be postponed until next year. But once we knew we would have the chance to go to China, we started to look for other performance opportunities there and in Hong Kong.

Vision Africa is still supporting us for this trip and has booked the flights for us, a club in Shanghai called The Melting Pot has invited us for a performance series, and a few festivals are in the line-up. Other highlights we are looking forward to will be performances at ATP Tennis Masters or an invitation to Hong Kong by the German audio company Sennheiser.

Besides that we are planning to go to the studio together with local Chinese artists and bring our cultures closer together musically. We have also arranged to shoot two music videos while we are there. And of course there will be a video documentary about the trip to show what is on the other side of the globe for us.

We are also hoping to visit many concerts and festivals during our stay and meet other foreign musicians that live there. Looking at all this, the two months we will stay don’t seem to be so long anymore.

Ina, for a bit of background, how did you become involved with bringing Soldierman Nature and Lio D. to China? Have you brought over similar artists from Africa?

Ina Schroeder: This is the first time we are bringing over an act from Africa, before that I mainly worked with bands that are based in China (both local and international), trying to promote them here and taking them out to the rest of the world – the other way around.

I met Soldierman Nature & Lio D. in March 2013 when I went to Uganda to visit friends. Then of course I was also interested to scratch on the surface of the local music scene, and met quite a few great musicians of different genres.
Touring internationally is very challenging for small acts, and none of us expected that we could make this happen so soon. But things came together nicely, plus back in China I got great feedback and support for the new venture. Now we are even looking into officially releasing their CD.

If you were to make a few general comments on how vibrant/restricted China’s music scene is today, what are a few things that come to mind?

ina-schroederIna: I think I can speak for all people in the industry when I say that we are really happy to see China opening up and welcoming more and more foreign artists and performers. There is still a long (and expensive) procedure in place, which artists have to follow if they want to perform in China legally. This includes submitting translated song lyrics and live performance videos. Unfortunately there are many cases where the costs of the licenses keep especially smaller artists from coming, because it can be hard to earn enough money to cover the costs of the license(s).

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A good indicator for how the scene is changing is all the festivals that are happening, especially in the big cities. Many times the government is even acting as organizer or co-organizer and also bringing in bands from abroad.
Unfortunately incidents like with Björk in 2008 or Elton John earlier this year were set backs in the process, but China keeps opening up.

Have any noteworthy Afrobeat Chinese artists emerged? Further, will any Chinese artists perform alongside Soldierman Nature and Lio D.? 

Ina: There are no Chinese Afrobeat artists so far who could make a name for themselves, but one also wouldn’t really expect to find that here. We have a local band waiting to perform alongside Soldierman Nature & Lio D., and we are also preparing a duet with a Chinese female singer for the song “Vuvumila”. Furthermore, the Chinese rock band Tian will go to the studio together with the two Ugandan musicians… and I am already very curious to hear the results of that cooperation!

I really hope the trip of Soldierman Nature & Lio D. will not be a one-time visit, but will be the foundation to build on a following in China, who will welcome them back many times.

To your knowledge, does Afrobeat have strong followings elsewhere in Asia?

Ina: I have to admit that I just started dabbling in the scene when I started to work with Soldierman, although I have heard of acts in Japan. African artists that came to China before mainly went to Guangzhou in the south, because this is where China’s biggest African community is living. But I have put a focus for them to perform for Chinese audiences, coming to China and performing for Africans might be nice but still won’t be much different from the gigs they have at home.

The video for Soldierman Nature and Lio D.’s song “Number Moja” can be seen here.