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The Uyghur Rock Star Perhat on the Voice of China

It has been two weeks since the Uyghur rock star Perhat Khaliq took on The Voice of China. The Uyghur Internet is still buzzing about the way he delivered his songs of loss and longing to the national audience.

Perhat surprised everyone with the painful tension in his voice. Strumming an acoustic guitar he started his song in a low, almost spoken -word register that slowly evolved into a full roar.

Like so many young Uyghurs, Perhat experienced the loss of those he loved far too early.  First his brother died, than his parents died at well below the average Uyghur life expectancy of 63. As he told the judges through his tears, “it’s just me now,” but the legacy of his parents and brother live on in the songs he sings. As he explained, the song he sang for the judges called “How Can You Let Me Be So Sad” was a song introduced to him by his brother before he died.

Perhat’s Uyghur fans are ecstatic to see someone they knew as a local singer at Ürümchi restaurants succeed in such a major way. Unlike many other famous Uyghur musicians, Perhat is not affiliated with a danwei or government organization.  One fan said, “He is just an independent musician who leads a precarious life as a performer in Urumchi.” He also thought it was important to note that Perhat never studied music formally. His major at the Xinjiang Art Institute wasn’t performance at all – it was painting. Perhaps because Perhat’s music emerges out of a personal passion, he and his wife seem to be more invested in reviving older Uyghur traditional art forms and turning them toward more contemporary and international modes.

Like the original Uyghur rock star Exmetjan, Perhat has taken on the Uyghur classical music epics – the 12 Muqam – with his electric guitar. For Uyghurs who are proud of their heritage this makes them like Perhat even more. The fan quoted above said, “Perhat is really good at singing folk songs in rock style. My favorite is his rendition of the Dolan Muqam.”

Through his collaborations with music ensembles in Germany and elsewhere he has brought Uyghur musical traditions to an international audience. In the video below, Perhat’s wife Pazilet Tursun introduces the one of these transnational collaborations by reciting a poem by the contemporary poet Adil Tuniyaz.

Now with his exposure on the Voice of China Perhat is drawing in fans from across the nation as well.

As the video at the top shows, most of the judges were blown away by Perhat. The judge, Wang Feng, who Perhat eventually chose as his mentor, told him it is clear that Perhat understands that “to be the very best possible singer, you need to speak from your own life. That kind of melody is a melody you think has already been overlooked. It already comes straight from your heart.”

On the Chinese Internet, Perhat’s voice has been compared to the voice of many other singers: Axel Rose, Bryan Adams, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen among others. Like Eddy Vedder he has the sort of voice that you either love because of the passion and freedom of range and emotion or hate because of his growling disregard for perfectly pitched melody lines.

According to some reviewers, he is the most controversial contestant to have ever appeared on the show. Those that love him think that his ability exceeds that of the show’s judges. Some go as far to suggest that “Pa-er-ha-ti is going to prevent Wang Feng from dominating the headlines!”

Filed under: Celebrity


Dr. Darren Byler is an Assistant Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University where he teaches and writes about social theory, urban ethnography and the technopolitics of life in Chinese Central Asia. He also writes a regular column on state violence and Uyghur decolonization for SupChina.


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