Time for something different: instead of looking at the work of one artist this post looks at a single song sung in different styles by some excellent singers. Comparison is a great way to see how subtle vocal changes drive style just as much as instrumentation. It's not always possible to take some vocal recordings and change the genre of the music using only instrument changes - but I still love you Tronicbox.
The song is called "Qingzang gaoyuan" (青藏高原) which is variously translated to Himalayan Plateau, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Qing-Zang High Plains and variants of the above. The Himalayan plateau refers to the vast plateau in central Asia that has an average elevation over 4,500 metres (~15,000 feet)! This has many of the highest mountains in the world, including Everest. These versions of the song are typically sung in some combination of Chinese Mandarin and Tibetan languages. It's challenging to translate songs, but here's a discussion with several translation attempts.
Singing-wise, this is a difficult song to sing requiring perfect control building up to a powerful climactic ending. This means that the song is butchered at drunk karaoke - not quite as often as "My Way", but yeah the cringe is real. You'll be able to hear how different singers and singing styles vocalise the same song. The singers are Li Na, Shila Amzah, Tan Jing, Soinam Wangmo. The first two are pop styles, and the last two are more traditional. The songs are ordered to help understand the style changes, but if you instead only want to listen in order of which I think you'll like most, then listen to them in order of Soinam Wangmo, Shila Amzah, Li Na and then Tan Jing instead.
We have to start with the version that catapulted the song into popular culture. Li Na (李娜) - is Chinese folk singer most famous for singing Qingzang Gaoyuan as the theme song for the 1994 TV series Heaven Road (天路/Tian1 Lu4). She is now a Buddhist nun living in the USA. Her version uses popular music voicing from early 1990s Chinese music mixed with some Tibetan trills at the start and during the power notes.
You can hear how pop music has shifted in this rendition by Shila Amzah (NurShahila binti Amir Amzah), a Malaysian singer who sings in multiple languages. She is the first Malay artist to break into the Chinese music market, and after you hear this rendition, you can see why. I particularly love Shila's rich SH sounds and clipped J. She takes some notes in a more contemporary pop direction while still managing to keep Tibetan flavour; often with a lift on the end of the lines. Shila flips the microphone near the end to simulate a few of the Tibetan trills. I think this rendition is a little unpolished, but I still love it for the new directions it takes the song - it's much more accessible to modern ears.
Tan Jing's (谭晶) version is sung in an operatic Chinese National Music style. Tan Jing has a polished performance and my Chinese friends particularly like this version. Not my favourite, probably due to a few to many forced watchings of Chinese Pageant shows at family festival times, but much respect to Ms Tan's skill.
I've saved my favourite for last. Soinam Wangmo (བསོད་ནམས་) sings the song in Mandarin and Tibetan languages with lilting Tibetan style vocals. There's a deceptive amount of power in how she sings even the quieter parts of the song. Her facial expression channels a fickle Himalayan mountain goddess tsk-tsking your hubris at thinking you could ever pretend to ascend upon her soaring heights. The trills in the power notes are perfectly controlled - there is absolutely none of the wavering when lesser singers get speed wobbles. This is confident skill at it's most enchanting.
Bonus: Tan Weiwei, who I profiled in an earlier post, also sings Qingzang Gaoyuan in Tibetan vocal style but with a western orchestra. Consider Tan Weiwei's version like halfway in between Tan Jing's and Soinam's versions. Unfortunately, the only recording I can find suffers for terrible sound mixing.
Many other singers attempt this song, and I've made some controversial omissions. Let me know in the comments if there are different renditions you think are interesting. Until next time.