Superbaby's got talent (from right), hand drum player Liu Sicheng, bassist Jiang Xinyi, guitarist Peng Yibo, vocalist/guitarist Qiong Wenwen and drummer Zeng Boxi, at Beijing's Tango Club. Zou Hong / China Daily
The next generation of rock 'n' rollers in China are pre-teens and they're marching to a new drum. Chen Nan reports.
It's 7 pm and the live music venue on the third floor of Tango Club is almost packed. On stage are the lead vocalist/guitarist, bassist and drummer. Wearing T-shirts and white jeans, they jam up a storm and are cheered when they finish the song.
"Hi everyone, we are Happy Fire: I'm Wang Yuewei, 9 years old."
"I'm Ba Yufan, 7 years old."
"I'm Wei Shilong, 8 years old," say the trio from Henan province, giving their standard welcome. And as they wave, smile and give everyone a big thumbs-up, they move on to the next song.
Founded in June 2009, Happy Fire has just returned from a Japan tour. They also won the championship at the First Kid Rock Band Competition, held on Aug 13 in Tianjin.
As Happy Fire wave goodbye to their fans, four Tianjin natives, otherwise known as 20088 - the first kid rock band in China - trigger another wave of cheers.
"Everybody clap your hands with me," shouts the vocalist/guitarist, Guo Xinyue, a slim pretty girl with a red guitar.
"I want to run as fast as Liu Xiang. I want to play ping-pong and win the gold medal. I will say, 'Hi!' to the red flag, smile loudly and jump high," Guo sings in her high-pitched, smooth voice.
It's the song, My 2008, which was released in 2007 before the Olympic Games. "It's our original song, expressing our wishes for 2008," she says to the audience by way of introduction.
The four youngsters started studying music at the age of 3 or 4. Now, they are shining stars at various galas across the country.
"It's great fun to play on stage," giggles Guo. "I like playing the guitar because it makes beautiful sounds. It's much easier than doing math."
"Sometimes I see them setting up their instruments on stage before the show. I can't believe it. They look like any adult band," says Li Hongyu, their teacher, who founded 9-Beats Modern Percussion Music School in 2003 and established the band 20088 on June 1, 2006.
"These children really love music and they are devoted to practicing and rehearsing," Li says. "Teaching them about the importance of being persistent is the core of education."
Also the teacher of Happy Fire, Li didn't expect kid bands would fly so high.
A former bassist, Li started the school with the idea of getting children to learn more about rock 'n' roll at an early age.
"Rock music has been considered angry, unhealthy and is linked with drugs, crime and other bad things," Li says. "But when you listen to the kids singing, you will know that rock music is healthy and optimistic, not only in the lyrics but also the upbeat rhythms."
The most difficult thing in the beginning was to persuade the parents. Li kept calling them and gradually won their trust. When the parents saw their kids playing happily together with the longhaired teacher, they were soon enthusiastic.
"I believe rock music is suitable for every person if he or she takes the time to listen. So we try to provide a home for that kind of thing," he says. "Kids can be creative while learning modern music. Unlike classical music, they can produce their own sounds without any limitations."
He took the idea a step further by inviting musicians who learned to play instruments at a young age to host weekly lectures and opened the stage to anyone with the desire to foster their children's musical interests.
Now Li's school, one of the country's largest contemporary music and percussion teaching institutions, has more than 50 branches across the country.
Like Li, Huang Yang, the head and founder of Huang Yang Modern Art School, based in Yichang, Hubei province, wants to position rock 'n' roll in a positive light.
"I also want to tell more people that playing rock 'n' roll can be a good hobby like basketball and skating," Huang says. "I want kids to enjoy the music at an early age. When they grow up, they will have a different view of rock music, which is a great way to express themselves."
Like Li's, Huang's school was not accepted by many parents in the beginning, but now has more than 200 children learning various music instruments, including percussion, guitar and bass.
The 31-year-old rock musician started his own band at the age of 19. He started the school in 2006 and founded the kid band, Superbaby, in March 2010. The band comprises 10-year-old drummer Zeng Boxi, 10-year-old vocalist/guitarist Qiong Wenwen, 8-year-old hand drum player Liu Sicheng, 11-year-old guitarist Peng Yibo and 10-year-old bassist Jiang Xinyi.
They are the closing act at Tango Club and have won lots of awards at national kid music competitions and played at TV galas.
The only girl in the band, Qiong Wenwen, has an exotic appearance, with her trademark dreadlocks fashioned by her mother, who is a fan of rock music. Qiong started learning guitar at the age of 4 and performed soon after.
"She is a very energetic and extrovert kid. How to get her to spend her vacations was a big headache for me. I tried to make her learn piano, English and painting but all failed, until she learned guitar," the 35-year-old mother, Chen Hongmei, says.
With the band, the girl learned about teamwork and practices guitar every day. The band has a rule: Anyone who doesn't do his or her homework will have to leave the band, which encourages them to study hard.
"I like The Eagles and Beyond. I never feel bored in the band," Qiong says. "We also write our own songs."
American rock guitarist Joan Jett is Qiong's idol and her rendition of the rocker's song, I Hate Myself For Loving You, stirs a storm at the concert.
"I don't understand the lyrics but I will learn English to sing more songs in the future," she says with a big smile.
For the teachers, their efforts are rewarded when the kids play like superstars.
"We don't expect the kids to be professional rockers when they grow up. They can have their own dreams. We just want them to be happy with rock music. That's all," Huang says.